Battleborn has been a confusing game to follow. The marketing throughout the course of the game’s development never really painted a clear picture for me what the game actually is. It appeared to be a game that wanted to be many different things at once. And while I’m a huge fan of what Gearbox has done over the years, particularly with the Borderlands series, the muddled messaging had me sort of write off the game up until now. Thankfully, I finally had a chance to sample Battleborn this past weekend and figure things out for myself.
Battleborn is essentially a first person ‘hero shooter’ à la Overwatch, Paladins, and the like, but it does things a bit differently. For one, there’s gear in Battleborn. As you play the game, you’ll earn points you can spend to buy packs (in-game currency only) which reward you with loot. Three pieces can be slotted into a loadout at a time and you’re likely to want different loadouts for different types of characters. For my favorite character, Montana, I tend to stack items that provide me tankier stats such as bonuses to my maximum health, shields, and health regeneration. Bringing your loot into a match doesn’t automatically enable its effects, though. You’ll need to earn shards throughout the match that you can spend to equip gear from your loadout onto your character.
There’s also in-game progression, and I’d say it most closely resembles Heroes of the Storm. You’ll earn experience as you kill players (or NPCs) and complete objectives, and on each level up you can choose between two talents as part of the game’s Helix system. For Montana, this can be a choice between increasing the distance of my charge move and adding accuracy to the fire of my minigun when using one of my skills. As you continue to play each of Battleborn’s characters, you’ll rank them up outside of the match as well, which grants you access to a number of cosmetics such as taunts and skins, but also “mutations,” which provide you with additional talent choices on your in-game Helix tree. It’s all well executed and I enjoyed both the in- and especially out-of-game progression. It’s nice being rewarded for dedication to a character.
The beta weekend featured two of the co-op PvE missions and two of the three PvP game modes, namely Incursion and Meltdown. A third PvP mode, Capture, will also be available at launch. For me, the main draw was the game’s Incursion PvP mode. The story content and Meltdown PvP mode were all right, but nothing really to write home about. Incursion reminded me a good deal of Super Monday Night Combat, however, and I really enjoyed that particular title, so it’s where I spent most of my time during the beta.
Incursions are 5v5 PvP matches where you are trying to take out the enemy’s sentry before they take out your own. It’s the most MOBA-y of the game’s PvP modes, but it’s also a bit like SMNC in that you can earn currency and spend it to upgrade emplacements throughout the map. There are also camps with mercenaries you can “hire” by beating them into submission. Do so and they’ll make their way into your creep wave to help add some pressure to your force. I felt that this game mode was the most fleshed out and where all the game’s ideas sort of gelled together to make the most sense. The matches were a bit long, though. It’s technically possible to end before the 30 minute timer is up, but most of my games ended up going the full duration.
Despite the fun I had over the weekend, I did run into two major showstopper issues and I’m not sure I’ll be picking up the game due to at least one of them. The first issue I have is with the game’s collision. You’ll collide with everything in Battleborn, creeps, allies, level geometry, enemies, etc. Using collision is fine in theory, but the implementation is definitely lacking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten stuck on allies or allied creeps or, and this is the most frustrating, getting stuck on some small piece of geometry in the level that ends up getting me killed. Spatial awareness is important, sure, but collision feels oversensitive right now and matters aren’t helped by the game’s weapon models which often take up a huge part of your field of view.
My biggest gripe with the game is with its aesthetic. Don’t get me wrong the cast of characters look great, with some fun visual designs all throughout the roster, but when you take to the field and start doing battle, everything kind of blends together in this colorful VFX soup. It’s incredibly hard to parse through all the different colors and effects flying around in order to tell if that thing over there is a creep, an ally, or an enemy, and this issue is exacerbated in close combat when the effects really fill your screen. It’s as if someone decided to detonate a box of crayons over and over in your face. It’s just far too noisy. I actually do best when I try to ignore what’s happening on screen and find my targets on the minimap. Not fun. In fact, things are so bad that I can’t really play more than a match or two before feeling sick and needing to stop. I’m all for a colorful, cartoony aesthetic, I mean, Gearbox nailed it with Borderlands, but I feel Battleborn takes things a bit too far.
There’s been enough outcry from the community on collision that I can see Gearbox making some adjustments there, but I’m not really sure what Gearbox can do about the visual noise. If you can deal with both though, Battleborn is definitely worth considering. I still feel the overall experience is a bit more muddled than say the straightforward aims of Blizzard’s Overwatch, but if you’re in the market for a hero shooter with a bit more meat to it, you should probably take a closer look at Battleborn.
How was your experience in the Battleborn open beta? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!