Hands on with Battleborn

At this year’s Insomnia Gaming Festival I was lucky enough to have the chance to play a short demo of 2K’s new sci-fi MOBA/FPS Battleborn, or should I say lucky enough to have the chance to gamble away precious LAN time on a game that I had no idea existed until then. Let’s just say that I broke even.

Because it took me a while to work out exactly what Battleborn was as I languished in the queue, I will endeavour to break it down for you quickly. The game essentially has two halves. One half is a co-operative mission-based campaign, and the other is competitive 5v5 multiplayer (the demo was only showcasing the campaign). As far as I can tell, the multiplayer is very reminiscent of a MOBA, with each team “supported” by hordes of minions and the rapid levelling up of abilities. The trailers for Battleborn seem to emphasise this 5v5 action, as it would appear that it intends to form the meat of the game after the inevitably limited co-op campaign.  Apart from this I cannot comment on the multiplayer.

What I can comment on is my experience with the co-op demo. As I stood in the queue I was first bombarded with a looping trailer showcasing all of the characters available for me to play, followed by a person handing me a glossy Character Guide to help me decide who I would choose to play as during my short hands on session. “Ooh, this is shiny and colourful”, I cooed like a simpleton. “Oh, there’s only ten characters”, I bemoaned like a cynic. Don’t worry, it turns out that in the final release there will be 25 playable characters, enough for any self respecting MOBA. Except, well, it seemed to me that 2K had already used up their “oh-so-edgy-and-wacky twist on an old class type” cards on those first ten characters. You’ve got your heavy gunner, you’ve got your sniper, you’ve got your melee tank, and so on. Yes, the character designs are unique and very pretty, and they each have some neat abilities, but you can’t help but wonder if there was a reason that 2K’s Borderlands restricted themselves to four well-developed classes. For a game that quite vocally sells itself on the class variety that you didn’t have in Borderlands, you can’t help be worried that the more they expand the character roster the more diluted it will become.

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But let’s talk about after the queue. 10 of us are herded into a small room and sat down to watch an introductory video explaining the setting and premise of Battleborn, voiced by John Cleese’s fifth cousin thrice removed (a voice that acts as your mission control during the levels). We are told that a “damnable dark force” has destroyed all but one of the stars in the universe. It is now up to all the remaining heroes from a myriad of worlds to stop the evil “Varellsi” from destroying/eating/making love to the last star, Solus. Oh, but because there’s multiplayer, you’re also fighting each other? Yeah, the story wasn’t very clear to me either, but I’m sure the campaign will explain things more clearly.

Finally, I got into the game. I was given an Xbox One controller and a headset to talk to all the strangers I had been coerced into playing with. I chose the heavy gunner Montana, because I thought he looked like a good mix of firepower and hilarious melee shenanigans. Turns out that his hulking mass must have been made out of marshmallows and beer, because my attempts to recklessly unleash hell on my enemy resulted in multiple downs and many pitiful requests for a revive. I was pleased to realise that there was some complexity and nuance to playing each character, however I must admit that I only reflected on this after the session, and as such was mildly embarrassed at my performance during the mission.

Battleborn, coming

We were all given a number of ability upgrade points to start with so that we could progress more quickly during the demo. Each upgrade point, gained with the equivalent of monster XP, allows you to choose between one of two modifications to your abilties to better fit your playstyle, giving each character a deeper level of complexity. As there is no loot system a la Borderlands, it is this rapid (you will upgrade many times in one mission) upgrade system that makes your playthrough more unique. Furthermore, the UI of the upgrade screen instantly reminded me of Borderlands. In fact, so did the overall aesthetic of the game, down to the little damage figures popping off enemies as you murderated them, which many players will be gleefully pleased with.

The mission we played through was fairly standard, with some area clearing, gate unlocking, wave destroying, mech escorting, and boss killing. There were a few glitches that prolonged our game time, but the visual style, humour, and satisfying feel of mowing down hundreds of enemies made for a fairly enjoyable level. By the end, however, I felt that the real enjoyment, or at least the enjoyment with any longevity, would be mastering each of the characters. If all the characters are equal parts challenging and fun to play, redoing the co-op campaign over and over with new people will undoubtedly be more appealing, as will the multiplayer. The future of Battleborn, therefore, surely lies in the reveal of the last 15 characters on the roster. I am waiting with baited breath, as secretly I hope this game will be a success.  

With its manic minion mashing and teased MOBA multiplayer, Battleborn is undoubtedly the bastard offspring of Borderlands and League of Legends. Although, much like a child, it remains to be seen whether it will inherit the psychotic charm of Papa ‘Lands or the endless replayability of Mama ‘Legends until it reaches maturity. What I saw of its adolescence was much akin to a child who is competent in maths and English at school but only draws crude pictures of ducks in art, and as such you can’t help but be just a tiny bit concerned for its future.

Battleborn is set for release in May. Pre-order your copy now from Amazon