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Interviews: A Mix of Genres, Ripe for MMO and RPG Fans

By William Murphy on October 19, 2015

A Mix of Genres, Ripe for MMO and RPG Fans

A lot of our readers may not know it, but Gearbox and 2K’s Battleborn are poised to bring a much-needed sense of co-op PVE to the land of competitive online shooters when the game launches in February. We reached out to Creative Director Randy Varnell to ask about Battleborn’s more RPG and PVE sensibilities, and we think you’ll like his answers…

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MMORPG: When we heard about Battleborn initially, we wondered if it would really interest our readers... then you announced a full-on PVE campaign. Can you give us an overview of the story of Battleborn?

Randy: Sure!  In the distant future, the stars are dying. Many of them through the natural course of heat death, but also now due to the invasion of a dark and mysterious foe, the Varelsi who are accelerating the darkening of the stars. Civilizations rose up to fight against them, but unwilling to abanding their previous struggles and wars, they could not unify to slow the unyielding tide of the Varlesi.


Now, there is only one star left in the entire universe--Solus, the Last Star. One of our universe's own, Lord Commander Lothar Rendain of the Jennerit Imperium, has turned against us, sided with the Varlesi and how leads an unholy alliance to end the last star.

With the end seemingly inevitable, a band of heroes rise from among the factional squabbling and resource struggles to stand up against these foes. They are called Battleborn--heroes from many different places and civilizations, but joined together for one purpose: to save Solus, the last star.

MMORPG: And you can play through this campaign, sort of like a more linear Borderlands, with any of the game's heroes?

Randy: Yes! The story missions let you play through the narrative of saving the last star, through a series of critical missions and battles in the fight for Solus. In each of the missions, you select from any of the 25 Battleborn, and experience some of the personal story of that character during the mission. While there is certainly a full story arc for Battleborn, most of the missions are presented more like TV show episodes with a beginning, middle and end, focusing on a part of the broader story.

MMORPG: Why did you decide to add a PVE campaign to the game, when all the rage right now is PVP battle games? (I ask, snidely as a PVE fan...)

Randy: Non-competitive co-op play has always been a goal for Battleborn. Our desire with the game was to create a base of exceptional and varied characters, and give players lots of ways to explore their combat styles and customizations, both through competitive play and through story missions. We know from making Borderlands that a lot of folks really enjoy digging in to solid, challenging cooperative play, and wanted to bring this experience into a hero-focused game.

MMORPG: Are there weapons and items to collect, akin to Borderlands?

Randy: Yes! While we are putting more emphasis on the number and variety of characters, Battleborn does feature an extensive gear system, with thousands of procedurally-generated items or various abilities, rarities and strengths. Our gear system has been designed to help scratch that loot itch, and to provide interesting options for the collector, the achiever, and the focused min/maxers who want to compete for victories in competitive matches or for high scores in particular story missions.

MMORPG: Can you tell us about character progression, how it works? Do you start at level 1 each mission or...?

Randy: I like to think of Battleborn as having layers of interesting progression.

In matches and missions, yes - you start at level 1 and earn character levels during the course of the match as you play to level 10. Each level, you get to choose between two binary upgrades, customizing your character's abilities for that match. Next match, you start over at level 1 and get to make those choices again. It’s sort of like re-spec the game, blending build tweaking from Borderlands and MMOs with some of the rapid growth in match in the battle arena style games.

As you learn more about the character and the challenges you face, you will make different choices, tuning that character to your preferences in playstyle, but also adapting the character to your other teammates and to the enemies you face, whether those enemies are other players or hordes of NPCs and bosses you’ll face off against during the story missions. Experiment with character tactics and builds as you compete with other players directly in Versus, but indirectly (through score!) in the story missions.

Outside of match, characters grow persistently through character ranks. Each of the 25 Battleborn has 15 Character ranks for you to achieve, by earning rank experience from playing matches as that character. Each character rank will unlock new rewards for that character, including new gameplay skills for your Helix (these are called “mutations”) as well as aesthetic customizations (skins and taunts) and more loot (rare gear packs!).

MMORPG: Can you take a leveled hero from PVE to the MOBA-like PVP mode?

Randy: Yes, of course. Because growth is a key part of gameplay (leveling from 1 to 10 each match), characters are absolutely playable in Versus and Story at any time. The persistent unlocks for the characters (mutations) are designed to offer you more choices, but not necessarily be inherently stronger. Some power growth progression is gained from gear, but Battleborn offers skill-based matchmaking that helps keep the competitive playing fields as fair as possible.

MMORPG: Are all 25 heroes unlocked from the word go, or is unlocking them part of the point of progressing the campaign?

Randy: We love to unlock stuff and we think you do too!  A bunch of characters are available at the start of the game, and the others are rapidly unlocked as you play through aspects of the game and complete some early challenges.

MMORPG: Are there plans to add to the campaign as the game ages?

Randy: We certainly hope so! Battleborn has a deep and rich fiction (with over 20,000 years of lore in the timeline!) and I have a lot more story I’d like to tell about the darkening universe and the amazing heroes fighting to save it. We hope you guys like the game enough for us to have the opportunity to expand the story in the future.

MMORPG: So the end of the story here is not the end of the overall world of Bliss?

Randy: Not even close. :)  Unless you fail, of course, and let the star die. But you’re not going to fail, are you, Battleborn?

As a bit of lore housekeeping – Bliss is one of three planets you visit as you play through the missions and matches of Battleborn. Bliss is an icy, barely habitable moon of a gas giant where the faction – the United Peacekeeping Republics (U.P.R. or “Peacekeepers” for short) have bunkered in with their mobile bases to try and fight to save the star. Ekkunar is a lush, green planet shattered in recent years by strange anomalies caused by the Varelsi incursion into our universe. Tempest is the homeworld of the vast and militaristic Jennerit Imperium. Orbited by the massive constructed moon-ship Exodus, Tempest is the current base of operations of Rendain and his final military push to darken the last star.

MMORPG: Thanks for your time! Anything you want to tell our readers? MMORPG.com gamers tend to be picky, but when we love something we CRUSH IT WITH THAT LOVE.

Randy: Battleborn is a broad game with a deep story, great characters, and lots of ways to play, grow and progress. Part shooter, part RPG, part action game, part fighter and part battle arena, Battleborn lets you choose from a wide cast of awesome and colorful characters and test yourself against other players or the foes of a dying universe. I really hope you’ll give it a shot by either helping us test it in the upcoming closed technical test starting October 29, or in the open beta that we’ll eventually share more info about as we get closer to launch! If you want to register to participate in the closed technical test, you can do that at http://rsvp.battleborn.com. You’ll be able to experience a mission from the co-op story mode, as well as play competitive multiplayer for the first time, and we’re really excited to hear players’ feedback.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.