There are a slew of team-based competitive online shooters coming out over the next several months. From Paragon to Overwatch, LawBreakers to Paladins it’s a crowded market. But there’s one game that tries to be more than the rest, and while it doesn’t always succeed in its goals Gearbox’s Battleborn is definitely a good time if you’re into this sort of game.
The premise and lore, though off the wall and humorously put forth are deep and well written. Hell, the game’s opening cartoon with the vibe of Aeon Flux and probably the first hip hop song in decades I’ve considered downloading, are enough to get you in the mood for what Battleborn brings to the table. But what makes BB different from the rest of the competitive shooters coming out? For starters, not unlike Overwatch, there’s a wealth of story and lore here. Only, unlike Overwatch, Battleborn actually has a PVE campaign that’ll last you around 6-10 hours, can be played solo (though it’s very hard) and there are more PVE missions coming in the game’s DLC plans for about $5 a pop.
If you watch this and don’t want to play, you’re dead inside…
That alone makes Battleborn more up my alley than Overwatch, though as Suzie pointed out this very week: both games can and deserve to be enjoyed by players. Ergo, I’ll stop the comparisons to other games in this red ocean right here and now. Frankly, minus the obvious stylistic comparisons, Battleborn is the most unique of the upcoming team-based shooters and deserves to stand proudly on its own gun-toting feet.
The campaign itself tells a nice enough story about how these unlikely heroes all got together to go after the game’s big bad. There’s a load of humor captured in the cutscenes, but also with the characters themselves. My go-to Montana has some of the best, but eventually grating one liners as anything you hear over and over again eventually becomes monotonous. The missions, while they play out like fairly standard “dungeons” in any number of MMOs, are really fun with strangers and friends alike. If there’s one thing I’d like to see future missions or even sequels expand upon, it’s the replayability of the PVE. You do them over, and it’s fun enough to see how each fight’s going to go as you try harder difficulties, but without much variation in the maps or mechanics they get stale quicker than I’d have liked. A sort of unscripted gameplay element like the AI director in L4D 1 and 2 would have been nice.
Luckily, the PVE is just one half of the game, or maybe a third, as Battleborn’s PVP is pretty robust. Incursion is your standard MOBA-like mode with waves of minions and a base to destroy. Capture is your 3-point king of the hill mode, and the most fun of the three is Meltdown: where you and your team escort your minions into the incinerator to please an AI that thinks it’s a god. It’s silly, and also just different enough from the other two modes to be endearing and unique. The other two modes are fun enough, but Meltdown was the one I kept coming back to, because it seemed to be the most distinctive approach to team-based PVP in Battleborn’s lineup.
As you play the game in either PVE or PVP, you’ll rank up your account’s main level which will unlock new stuff to customize from titles to gear loadouts. Each hero you use also ranks up, eventually unlocking extra skins and new skill mutations to pick during each match. And if that weren’t enough, the heroes themselves will level during matches (though this resets a la League of Legends, SMITE, etc). As you level, akin to Heroes of the Storm, you get to pick one of several talents each level which can fundamentally alter the way your chosen hero plays. It’s a great meta-game, and as you dive deeper into a match, you might find yourself completely changing the way you were playing the hero than when you started out.
While none of Battleborn’s heroes are paid add-ons or part of the DLC, you will have to unlock them. Hearkening back to days of old (I’m reminded of F-ZERO for some reason), you’ll need to unlock new heroes by playing the game. There are multiple ways to unlock each too, but it’s a nice carrot on a stick to work towards.
And while there’s plenty of progression, including gear and loadouts that can buff your character mid-match with life-saving bonuses or life-stealing buffs, the main problem I foresee with Battleborn is the same problem I see with all of these games. How long will a community stick around to playing the same maps and leveling their heroes? It’s wise of Gearbox to have cheap DLC already planned, but I have a feeling that like Titanfall or Evolve before it, Battleborn will be a fondly remembered but seldom played game in a year’s time.
Still, if you’ve been eying the crop of team-based shooters coming out these days, wondering which to pick, I’d recommend Battleborn. The PVE campaign, it’s multi-layered and varied progression systems, and its Borderlands-esque humor make it a cut above the others still on deck. While it can often feel like Battleborn is trying to do too much at once, I’m glad it’s more ambitious than its genre brethren, because in the end there ends up being more meat on Battleborn’s bones because of its sky-high goals.
GAMEPLAY: 9 | With its huge diverse cast of characters, customization, excellent PVE missions, and great PVP, Battleborn does what Gearbox tends to do best – provide a deeply satisfying coop and competitive shooter experience.
VISUALS AND SOUND: 8 | Though the screen clutter with sights and sounds can be too much, the overall aesthetic of Battleborn and its art direction and UI are top notch. Great, but repetitive voice acting, and an all-around solid soundscape keep BB’s score riding high.
LONGEVITY: 7 | There’s a lot here for fans of competitive shooters. Each character can be leveled individually, unlocking new skills, there’s gear to earn and craft, characters to unlock, skins, achievements, titles. Still the PVE campaign is over too quickly, and the while there is a decent set of maps to play, eventually folks will be looking for more to do.
VALUE: 8 | At $60, most MMO fans might wonder if the price for Battleborn is too high. After all, many people believe these sorts of games should be F2P. But since there’s no nickel and diming, I’m inclined to believe that the $60 is a worthwhile price when you throw in the campaign which most other games in the genre don’t have. The $5 DLC plans are also attractive, meaning you get new maps, and new missions with each. Plus, Gearbox is throwing in 5 new heroes for free with each DLC release.
POLISH: 8 | There are very few noticeable bugs in Battleborn, but what you notice will annoy you. Mission objectives getting blocked, game crashes, disconnects, and so forth plagued the early days of launch. Additionally, the matchmaking system on PC seems rough around the edges, often requiring leaving and reentering the queue to get it to work.
REVIEW DISCLAIMER: Our copy of Battleborn was provided by 2K’s Public Relations team for Steam.