Solus is the last star in the universe, and it’s up to a rag-tag group of different factions to band together to save the last light in the sky. Or fight each other for what’s left. Actually, there’s probably time for both.
Battleborn is the newest competitive/cooperative MOBA/FPS from Gearbox Software, the same studio behind the Borderlands series. Instead of making another shooter with Diablo-style RPG and loot systems, Battleborn is a shooter that takes lots of inspiration from multiplayer battle arena games like DOTA, LoL, or SMITE. It then takes the usual MOBA format and extends it from the usual competitive mode to a co-op mission mode that serves as the game’s campaign.
Battleborn does a lot of things that sets it apart from your usual MOBA or FPS. It also does them well and in a fun cartoon style. But how much you like Battleborn will probably depend on how much you like both cooperative shooting and competitive MOBAs.
Battleborn is a very pretty game to look at. It’s full of bright colors, fantastic characters, and lovely locals. It’s even got an awesome animated intro for the prologue mission! It’s like playing a violent Saturday-morning cartoon.
Battleborn is a marked improvement over Gearbox’s Borderlands in terms of graphic quality and design. Animations are smoother and have more character, locations are more unique despite there being only three planets in the game so far, and the characters all look wonderful. It’s easy to tell what faction a map or hero belongs to thanks to the distinct designs. You’ll never confuse a cool and classy LLC character or location with that of the angular and dark crimson designs of the Jannerit Imperium. The game looks really great in motion and every once in a while I found myself stopping to take in the sights or check out character animations.
Tons of Ways to Play
Battleborn’s “For Every Kind of Badass” marketing slogan is pretty spot-on and the large cast does not disappoint. You got a vampire swordsman, a gentleman robot sniper, and even a penguin in a mech suit. Each of these characters have their own unique weapon, special abilities, skills, and upgrades.
Each character plays completely differently from the others. They also feel different from each other thanks to some cool first-person presentation. You’ll feel like a crazed chaos witch as Orendi thanks to her meniachal laughter, flailing four arms, and potent spell combos. Switch to Montana and you’ll feel like a giant mass of muscle lugging a minigun around due to a higher point of view and heavier movement. If your playing as Kleese you can look down at your own body to confirm that yep, your just an old man sitting in a battle-chair. Each hero has a little something to make them feel like their own character beyond just their stats and abilities.
MOBA in My FPS
As you kill things in Battleborn your hero will level up, granting you access to new abilities. It works like a perk system; each level you can choose from two or three bonuses to add additional effects your abilities and weapons. For example, the speedy skirmisher Caldarius gets upgrades that can boost his damage or focus his superior mobility. Further augments can let you specialize his projectile or melee game. It’s a fun, fast, and simple system that keeps things interesting.
You’ll also earn crystal shards by killing enemies or destroying crystals that pop up around the stage. These act like currency and can be used to activate gear (more on that later), set up defenses, or augment your team in other ways. In competitive you use them to upgrade turret defenses or set up healing stations, in co-op you can lay traps in tower defense sections or spend them to give escort characters more firepower or shielding. The bonuses shards provide are never too crazy, but they’re pretty useful and provide good incentive to risk going for secondary objectives to grab some more.
The chatter in Battleborn is almost always amusing to listen to. Whether it’s an omnicidal AI cheerfully cussing you out or Oscar Mike’s military lingo that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Call of Duty game, every mission and encounter has some fun dialogue thrown around. Even some of the weaker characters such as Geoff AKA Arachnis the Spider King have funny lines that keep them above being too annoying.
Basically, if you liked the humor and banter in Borderlands then you’ll feel right at home in Battleborn. If not, you can always turn off the character banter. Personally I like all the silly one-liners and character interactions and could listen to Marquis insult the lower class all day.
There are only nine Story Mode missions and they take anywhere between 30 to 50 minutes to complete, but they’re highly replayable thanks to all the different characters and builds. Each mission offers something a little bit different from other missions and they change slightly based on party size or difficulty level. Even the dialogue changes between runs to make sure you’re not hearing the same exact lines each time you play through. The co-op story mode is best compared to Left 4 Dead than your traditional FPS campaign. It’s less about playing through one overarching narrative and more about making interesting missions with multiple variables and high replayability.
Right now the best competitive mode is Meltdown. It’s a fast-paced version of traditional MOBA gameplay that fits perfectly with Battleborn’s mechanics. Instead of besieging towers and bases you just have to escort bots to the end of the lane. The more bots that make it the more points you get. The more points you get, the farther the bots have to travel down the lane before they are counted. You can buy turrets and buffs to make it harder for enemies to push into your territory or push lanes. These matches are much shorter and more focused than the other modes available and are a blast to play.
The PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game have the option to play multiplayer locally via splitscreen. This is great. More games need to do this.
The Other Competitive Modes
Meltdown is a blast to play. Incursion and Capture? Not so much. Incursion maps are huge and have a lot going on. They usually end up in stalemates unless your team has good coordination. I don’t think I played a single Incursion match without the round timer running out. Maybe it’s because everyone is still learning how to play, but these matches can be a real drag. Capture removes bots and lanes and focuses on a more traditional FPS King-of-the-Hill/Capture Points experience. It’s better than Incursion but doesn’t have the same energy or charm as Meltdown.
Some characters feel great. Their movements feel right, their weapons and abilities feel powerful, and you feel like you are a badass. But other characters feel off. Some weapons and abilities lack that oomph in the sound or visual department to make them really feel powerful or deadly. For instance Oscar Mike’s assault riffle is a pretty decent weapon but is sometimes feels like your shooting nerf darts at people, especially bullet-sponge bosses. His ultimate ability rains down an air strike, but it sounds like the plane is dropping pillows on your foes. Sometimes you get the feedback of a MOBA rather than a shooter. You can still shred through enemies and do tons of damage but it just doesn’t always look, sound, or feel as powerful as it should.
Gear and Loadouts
As you play the game you’ll earn gear that you can bring into missions and matches. Gear has random properties and can augment your abilities in battle (more health, faster reload, etc) if you gather enough shards to activate them. In co-op, gear is fine. You can activate it if you have spare shards lying around and want a buff. In multiplayer, gear isn’t game-breaking but it can be annoying when you’re first starting out. Beginners will start with no gear while higher-level players will have tons to choose from. Gear power is theoretically balanced out by activation cost and downsides. Common gear is cheap, rare gear is expensive and can come with debuffs if it has a powerful benefit. Like I said, gear doesn’t feel revolutionary or OP, but it is one of the many advantages veteran players have over newcomers. You could take or leave the gear system and the game wouldn’t be that different.
First the good news: the currently-planned new characters, competitive modes, and maps will be free for everyone. Hooray! But if you want more co-op story missions you’re going to have to pay up. I mean, fair enough I suppose. It’s a little disappointing if your more of a co-op fan like me but it’s not bad.
Battleborn has a 25 playable characters and nearly two thirds of them are locked at the beginning. Play through each story mission and you might have half if you’re lucky.
Battleborn has a ton of game-changing unlockables that take a lot of time to unlock. You have to wait for gear and loadouts to drop, grind overall character ranks to unlock new perks, and perform repetitive tasks to unlock new characters.
Characters have two ways to unlock them. You can reach a certain Command Rank (the overall level you increase by playing matches and missions) or complete a task. Some tasks are easy (such as simply completing a story mission) other are more time-consuming (kill 800 minions in competitive). For example, to unlock El Dragón you can either grind to Command Rank 20 or win 5 matches while playing as an LLC faction character. Considering you start with just one LLC character, both options are pretty boring or frustrating.
To be fair, there’s a ton of fun, non-gameplay-affecting things to unlock too like additional character skins, taunts, lore dumps, achievements, and player titles. It’s just a shame that a bulk of the meat of the game is arbitrarily behind a wall that takes a long time to get around.
If your going into Battleborn just so you can solo story mode, you’re going to have a bad time. The game is really designed around playing with other people. Only a few characters are really built for soloing, and even then bosses and objectives are clearly meant to be tackled by multiple players. Just playing with random people online is a marked improvement than playing by your lonesome. And aside from the prologue and final mission, the story doesn’t really matter that much. (The writing is still good though.) Come for the multiplayer and cooperation or stay away.
Quitters Never Help Win
In the competitive mode, if a player gets disconnected or quits mid-game then they basically lost their team the game. If you are down a man it is virtually impossible to win a match. Right now there are a lot of people quitting matches or dropping out of the game. I’m not sure if there are options to try to reconnect or if there is a punishment for rage-quitting, but it is problem that has ruined a lot of matches for me.
Battleborn is a game that is right up my alley and one I can easily recommend to fans of multiplayer shooters and MOBAS. It’s fun, has tons of different ways to play, and it’s all wrapped in a pretty and funny package. The game asks you to put in a lot of time to unlock the most out of the game, but if you like team-based crazy-mixed-up-genre-shooters then you’ll likely want to put in that time anyway because it’s so enjoyable.
If you’re looking for a strong and replayable co-op shooter with fun and competitive multiplayer then this game is definitely for you. If you want a solo experience or a solitary FPS campaign, then Battleborn won’t do it for you.
You can contact Zachary Long @invadingduck on Twitter and he’ll get back to you when he’s not laughing at poor space hobos as an opulent robot.
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