All the chatter in the new hotness that is team-based online shooters seems focused on Blizzard’s upcoming release. But for my money, the spotlight shines on Battleborn from Gearbox Software. I know it’s bad form to compare games, but since this isn’t yet the official review let’s be “that guy”. There are tons of team-based shooters coming out these days. Overwatch, LawBreakers, Paladins, and so forth. But of all these, the one I find myself having the most fun with is Battleborn, which just launched this week on PC, XB1, and PS4.
What makes Battleborn stand out? Yes, Gearbox’ shooter wears a stylized cartoon look and atmosphere that is definitely reminiscent of another big shooter release in May, but coming from the house that Borderlands built that can be understood. Indeed, the humor is there too that will remind Borderlands fans of their favorite shooter RPG. But this is a whole new IP for Gearbox, one with loads of lore heaped upon it, and some slick looking motion comics to tell the story.
But what about the gameplay? How is Battleborn different from Overwatch, LawBreakers, Paladins, and the rest? Well, for starters there’s actually a PVE campaign. That’s right, folks – while it’s only about 5-10 hours long there’s an actual mission based PVE mode that will be expanded with new episodes as DLC is released over the coming months. Each mission is repeatable, but not super randomized a la Left 4 Dead or anything. The main reason you’ll repeat the missions is to rank up your Battleborn, get new gear to equip in your loadouts, and unlock new Battleborn, level up your own commander rank, get achievements, finish challenges, and so on.
Additionally, each hero has a helix with two upgrades to choose from per level. Levels reset every PVE or PVP match, so you’re never locked in with your choices. They can fit the need of each individual fight, though you can’t change them mid-battle. As you use heroes, they rank up, which is permanent out of each match, and doing so unlocks more augments on their helix tree, as well as skins to make them look more badass. One of my favorite heroes so far is the hulking huge lumberjack with a minigun known as Monatana. The ability to make him a sort of berserker living on the edge or giving him flaming bullets and lots of CC is pretty great. I tend to go for the latter.
I mentioned gear above, but it’s not exactly like Borderlands. Loadouts in Battleborn are a collection of three items you can place on your character’s inventory, and then throughout each match or mission you need to unlock their use with shards (essentially the game’s in-match currency, like gold in other games). These can be highly customized for each hero you like to use, but when you start playing you only have access to one loadout until you either buy another one with credits (another currency, only earned through playing). The gear itself gives you nice boosts to skills, healing, cooldowns, CC, or whatever else you might need. So there’s loads of progression for folks like me, who think that part of online games is a large part of what keeps me coming back.
The PVP side of the game is pretty standard stuff. The matches are 5v5 and fall under the usual suspects of game modes with fancy names. From the website:
- INCURSION: Teams of heroes must defend their base from waves of AI-controlled minions while working together alongside their own minions to destroy their opponent's base.
- CAPTURE: Teams of heroes face off in a fast-paced death match and must capture and hold objectives on the map to win.
- MELTDOWN: Teams of heroes must guide their minions as they march to their death at the center of the map. Points are scored for every minion who throws themselves into the incinerator, and the team with the most points wins.
Incursion is the most like a regular MOBA, while Capture is pretty much your usual capture and hold mechanic. It’s Meltdown that’s the most fun so far, because it’s actually pretty unique. You have to guide your minions to this incinerator, basically feeding this big bad “god” and meanwhile the other team is headed to the same area. You can shoot their minions, and obviously the more of the opposing team you take out the easier it is to make sure your minions are fed to the god first. It’s a big giant fight in the middle with good use of terrain on its maps. The good thing about Battleborn is that even when you lose a lot, you still progress.
If there are qualms I have with the game so far, it’s that match-making is a bit screwy. I’ve had times where matches never seem to find a group, and other times when I am grouped with nothing but high ranked players. I suspect this will level out over time, but the longer the game is live, the harder a time new players will have finding decent matches because Battleborn is buy-to-play, not F2P. Ranks don’t necessarily get you a huge lead on players, but the longer players spend in the game, the more and better gear they get and the more perks and stuff they’ll have over you. We’ll see how it progresses over the coming weeks.
I also get why our own Mike Bitton had issues with the game’s crazy in-your-face lights and sounds. There’s a whole lot going on with the screen of Battleborn. It’s a very noisy game both visually and audibly. I can see how it bothers some, maybe seems like sensory overload, but I don’t find it to be a bother. It’s part of why I love it, really. Its over-the-top nature is key to its charm.
It’s also worth noting that Battleborn may be a premium priced game, but that there’s a lot of content in that $60 price. The Season Pass will give you access to all five new story missions, five new heroes, new skins and taunts for $20. So it’s definitely a costlier investment than Overwatch (which is $40) that’s for sure. Still, if like me you like PVE mixed with your PVP, and you’re a fan of the co-op action of Borderlands, the $60 might not seem like such a bad deal. There’s also a load more meaningful progression and customization in Battleborn than what you’ll find in Overwatch, so there’s that to consider too.
Battleborn is live now, and our copy was provided by 2K Games PR. Our final review will come in the next couple weeks once we’ve seen how the live game matures after a couple dozen hours of playtime.