Over the last few weeks we’ve had a fair bit of coverage on Battleborn, Gearbox Software’s new hero shooter. We’ve checked out the excellent part MOBA, part shooter competitive multiplayer and chatted to a few talented Gearbox artists on the project about the game, but today we’re taking a look two new missions from the episodic story mode.

In Battleborn you take control of one of twenty-five aptly named Battleborn, warriors from the five surviving in game factions who’ve banded together at the end of the universe. Tasked with defending the last star from destruction by the Varelsi and chief bad guy Rendain, you’ll bite, punch and shoot your way through enemies and bosses to achieve your goals. The premise is as zany in practice as the variety of characters is, and the story scenarios it provides are a testament to this.

I got to try two of the episodic story missions – The Void’s Edge and The Renegade. Lasting around thirty minutes each, they were a great mix of open area exploration, boss battles and horde mode style encounters.

The Renegade sees our band of heroes deployed into an icy landscape with the aim of liberating Caldarius, a Jennerit warrior, from prison. After one of the coolest mission introductions I’ve seen in a long time (you’ll have to wait for launch to check them out!) you’re let loose to shoot and level on the path before you.

In the first part of the mission Deandre tasks you with powering up and protecting a generator, introducing us to a horde style challenge that benefits greatly from teamwork. Hylis, the warden, aims to stop you shutting down his prison by sending everything he’s got at you, but upon completion you walk away with a rather powerful ally.

The Void’s Edge is much more boss focussed, showing off the scale of both enemy and environment the game offers. The central objective of the mission is guiding a less than aware wolf sentry to a Varelsi portal, able to destroy it with the bomb he carries. On your way there you’ll fight some large bosses like Warlord Nix, but these pale in comparison to a final battle with a huge Varelsi conservator. This multi-stage battle was pretty thrilling, reminding me of the huge raid bosses seen in Borderlands – definitely the sort of battle that gets you heart pumping.Conservator2These missions, along with many others, work as prerequisites for unlocking characters to play. Side cast members like Isic will join the Battleborn’s fight post mission, giving you a reason to play the story even if you’re more interested in the multiplayer modes. Adding these heroes helps build narrative momentum too, with your rag-tag band of heroes growing as the impending galactic doom does.

From these two missions alone the story seems to be quite engaging. Neither revealed too much about what we can expect from the climax of the narrative, simply offering a taste of our heroes coming to terms with the scenario they’ve been thrust into. I hope that the rest of these episodes deliver a similar level of variety and interesting dynamics, but so far they felt a lot like some of Borderlands 2’s great levels, delivering cool battles and awesome boss battles.

I played as Toby and Melka in the two missions, each offering very different play options. Toby, a penguin equipped with a mech, focusses on protecting his allies with shields and boosting his firepower while shooting through them. I quite liked how he played and his skills were especially useful when needing to defend an objective or to land those last few hits on a tough boss.Battleborn_Gamescom_MellkaMelka however is a hero that thrives up close, equipped with a medium ranged SMG and poison based melee abilities. Able to propel herself into and out of trouble she quickly covers distance and can apply poison debuffs to enemy attackers. I found she’s quite a fragile hero if locked down, dependant on her ability to get out of trouble fast – a supportive team with tanks that drew damage were big benefits to her quick pick-off style moveset.

These are but two of an excellent cast and ensemble you’ll experience in the game. Banter between Battleborn is varied and amusing, but I found a lot of the humour came from your non player allies and the bosses in the game. Be it Rendain himself or the oblivious wolf mech, the writing was much more hit than miss, delivering a few audible chuckles and memorable lines.

I played all these story missions in a party of five, and even without specific roles being filled it was a lot of fun, making the enemy wave encounters much more manageable. You can definitely play these missions solo no problems, but it’s clear they’re built to be played as a group or with a friend or two on the couch. This is one of the big attractions to the game noted by Technical Artist Caitlyn Trout, highlighting it as  inclusive and finding a lot of value in playing with “less experienced gamers, sitting down and experiencing that story side with them.”Battleborn_IN-GAME_IMAGES-TP-Whiskey-Foxtrot(5)The approachability continues into the very design of the narrative component. Fans of previous titles like the Borderlands games will find a lot of story and exploration to power through – somewhat of a condensation of its more open world tales – while bringing in players who may not have as much time. This episodic structure is a great way to share the game with other people and play through it at their own pace. As each episode I played reached a satisfying close and contained plenty of humour, it’s a very wise way to get players invested in the game without ever seeing it as daunting or overly competitive.

Battleborn could easily be the dark horse of 2016. With a strong team behind it who knows character, story and humour, the narrative component to the game is sure to be a blast. I’m rather impressed with the evolution of this game from something that seemed like an odd move for Gearbox to a game that oozes style and character, all while being super fun to play. With so much going for it, I can’t wait to see what more the game has in store when it hits shelves May 3rd.