Battleborn detailed review

On first glance it might seem that Gearbox has gone flat out insane by deciding to challenge Blizzard's Overwatch with their own team-based FPS, but the truth of the matter is that the games have very little in common once you get past the cartoony graphics and ability-based gunplay.

Whereas Overwatch is a pure team-based FPS most similar to Team Fortress 2, Battleborn draws its inspiration from both Borderlands and Super Monday Night Combat, with the end result being a MOBA that plays like a fast-paced FPS, rather than the opposite. Another key difference is that Battleborn actually features a fairly lengthy campaign that can be played in either singleplayer or co-op, though the overall focus is quite clearly on the competitive multiplayer.

 

Video version of this review (10:40 minutes)

Let's leave the player-killing aspects aside for now, and focus on the campaign that starts with one of the most bizarre, yet intriguing cinematics I've ever seen. Instead of using the usual overpriced CGI intro, or in-engine video, Battleborn starts with a distinctly 80's looking anime short that features a variety of characters doing badass things, with the backdrop being an oddly fitting rap song. It all feels weird and slightly unnerving, but for some reason it fits perfectly with Battleborn, and I even found myself smiling at it, despite starting out with mostly a shocked expression.

The tutorial mission that follows the cinematic is also well done as it manages to swiftly introduce you to all of the gameplay elements, major characters, and yes, the humor that will be with you through its entirety. I'm one of those people that take pleasure in childish and slightly random humor, with Tiny Tina and Mr. Torque being my favorite characters from Borderlands 2, so the dialogue for me, while not always funny, was an enjoyable tongue-in-cheek experience. You, however, might not feel the same as there is an overabundance of really crappy puns, obvious jokes that aim for the lowest hanging fruit, and humor that completely relies on characters shouting their lines out. If you're not a fan of low-brow humor the one comforting thing I can tell you is that the multiplayer features only tiny amounts of it, and that the one-liners present are there to help add some real character to the...uhh, characters.

Battleborn's intro cinematic art style

Strange, but pretty damn cool

In total the campaign will take you around 7-8 hours to beat if you're simply going for story progression, but if you're looking to complete all of the challenges and the optional hard mode, you can easily double that amount. For the most part I would say I had a great deal of fun with it, especially in multiplayer where you have a whole bunch of people roaming around and cleaning out hordes upon hordes of robots and demons. In many ways these campaign missions feel like dungeons you might find in an MMO, with simple layouts, clear objectives, and tons of 'trash' enemies you need to wipe out before proceeding to a big bad boss. Sadly there is one gigantic issue, even bigger than the bosses, that I still can't wrap my head around - you're unable to chose which mission you want to do when playing the campaign in multiplayer!

In other words, you might run in to repeat missions while just trying to progress through the story, and hunting down a specific challenge in multiplayer is next to impossible unless you feel like constantly rolling the dice and hoping the correct map appears. I will fully admit I could be missing something here, because none of this makes any sense, but despite trying my damnest I haven't been able to figure out how. This was especially aggravating when my team wiped out on a particularly difficult, and obnoxiously bullet-spongy boss, and then simply dispersed rather than attempting to fight him for another 10 minutes. Since I didn't feel like doing all of it myself, I returned to the matchmaking queue and desperately tried to get the same map again, but to no avail as the system kept tossing me wherever it felt like, which naturally meant anywhere besides the one map I wanted to see.

That puzzling issue aside, its also worth mentioning that you should not be going into Battleborn's campaign with the hope for a good story, because the barely connected shambles of one certainly don't impress. If you're looking for a ton of enemies to explode, power-ups to collect, and bosses to stab in the kneecaps then Battleborn is the game for you, but if you're after a compelling narrative, or characters that are capable of conversing in anything other than puns, then I would suggest you run far, far away and never look back.

Battleborn's attempts at humor are hit and miss, especially with Kleese

Only the writers Kleese, only the writers...

With the potatoes of the campaign now out of the way, its time to switch over to the real meat in Battleborn, the competitive multiplayer. As I've mentioned before, Battleborn is at its core a MOBA game that just so happens to involve a whole lot of shooting, rather than an FPS with a bunch of NPCs running about. I don't mean this in a derogatory way, however, as the gunplay and overall movement in Battleborn is far more satisfying than what I've experienced in the recent Doom beta, but the long time-to-kill and the need for good ability usage in order to bring down enemy heroes is something that people looking for a pure team-orientated shooter might not appreciate, so its well worth repeating again.

As for the actual multiplayer game modes, they come in three distinct flavors that all seem to play differently enough to earn their place among the roster:

Capture is your standard king-of-the-hill inspired game mode, but instead of being generic and boring, its the one mode where Battleborn's mechanics and the player's skills are put front and center to some great effect. With short matches and nearly constant action you will be gaining levels at a greatly accelerated rate when compared to the other two game modes, which means that Battleborn's already diverse cast of characters becomes a whole lot more interesting as each player further specializes their hero with various talents.

It is also the game mode where I discovered one of the most annoying things in the entire world, players who only run away. Since you can enter full-sprint even while being hit, its incredibly easy to avoid your pursuers unless they play some of the bigger characters and physically block your path. This isn't that big of a deal if you play a ranged hero as you can just fill their butt with arcane magic and call it a day, but if you're melee and make even a single misstep they're bound to run away, and you're going to be left in the dirt with the swordsman's equivalent of blue-balls.

Battleborn's capture game mode

To be fair, who wouldn't run if this thing charged at you?

Incursion is the 'main' mode in Battleborn that simply asks of you to destroy the enemy's main building by escorting a whole bunch of allied minions in there, and then promptly medieval on it. As you might expect from a MOBA game, destroying enemy minions, heroes, neutral camps, and crystals found all over the map will net you a certain amount of currency, in this case the aforementioned crystals. On its own this wouldn't be very special, but in Battleborn you meager resources are constantly split between summoning strong minions to push into the enemy base, building equally powerful turrets that help you defend yours, and most importantly, buying the expensive items you brought with you into the game.

These items can be gained as post-match rewards or by purchasing various loot-boxes, but don't worry, its all done through in-game currency and there is not a single shred of micro-transaction nonsense anywhere to be found. Best of all, especially for new players, the better and more complex the item, the more crystals it costs. What this means is that if you only slot common and rare items into your loadout, you will have all of the them active before someone with epic and legendary items even activates their second one, thus giving you a massive power advantage early on.

While all of this is well and good, I can't help but feel that Incursion is the weakest mode of the three, especially if you're a melee hero. Since the whole match takes place in a single lane of a standard MOBA game there is almost no way to flank the enemy, or secure any kind of 'out of nowhere' advantage. What this means is that almost every Incursion match ends up being a 30-40 minute long slog with no clear winner in sight, before abruptly ending as a couple of the key heroes die, and the main building gets overwhelmed.

Incursion in its current state is fairly bland, but its not the game mode itself that's at fault, its the one-dimensional map design. If the maps had multiple lanes, or better flanking routes so melee heroes didn't feel absolutely worthless, I could easily see it being the best game mode as it truly has some unique and exciting ideas. What I'm saying here isn't even speculation, all of this is done in the third and final game mode, Meltdown, albeit at a smaller scale.

Battleborn's ISAAC character is particularly good at defense

Defending the base, one plasma shot to the face at a time

Meltdown is my favorite game mode out of the three, and instead of requiring you to destroy enemy minions, it tasks you with escorting allied ones to a giant furnace in order to have them re-purposed in to washing machines, mobile phones, toasters... and yes, I am being completely serious. The reason it works far better than Incursion is because the maps are wide open and filled with flanking routes, cower, and various obstacles that allow you to get a tactical advantage over the enemy.

You can play as a sniper, a tank, a healer, a melee orientated assassin, a hero that's all about crowd control, and pretty much anything else without feeling like a worthless sack of rocks. To put it simply, Meltdown is pure fun, and it showcases the potential Battleborn has to be one of the most interesting MOBA hybrid games out there, but unfortunately there are some issues that will need to be steamrolled before it gets to that point. Besides the balance which I feel is in need of a couple of updates, the biggest problem is the fact that Battleborn does little to discourage people from quitting the game, which means that almost no match ever gets properly finished.

The most infuriating example of this is when players quit a match before it even begins, and then instead of searching for a new player or just canceling the match Battleborn starts it anyway, balance be damned! It might not seem like that big of a deal right now as you read this from the comfort of your toilet seat, but after you invest 20 minutes fighting tooth and nail in an insanely close match, the last thing you want to see is "PLAYER X HAS LEFT THE GAME". The moment that message appears you know the pendulum has started swinging, and that no matter how much you struggle, you're going to lose anyway!

Battleborn's Meltdown game mode features wide open spaces

If there are no minions nearby to shred, an enemy hero will suffice

Verdict

I initially had slightly mixed feelings about Battleborn, but after spending a couple of days getting to know its mechanics, heroes, and the overall gameplay style, it began to grow on me. Rather than settling down into a couple of heroes as one might usually do in a new MOBA, I found myself constantly switching around as each hero brought in a new and fresh way of playing that always managed to remain fun.

With all of that said, however, I don't think I'm going to be playing more Battleborn until the matchmaking gets fixed, because there is no worse feeling in a competitive game than doing your very best, and then losing due to factors completely out of your control. Once that gets ironed out I will absolutely return and work on unlocking the rest of the heroes, but until that day comes I would suggest you either wait on Battleborn, or buy it only if you don't mind having the occasional match ruined by someone leaving.

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