Hero shooters are the big thing in games right now. Thankfully, each one currently on the market stands out in its own way, with Gearbox Software’s Battleborn leading the charge for action MOBA fans. Blending Borderlands with DOTA2, Gearbox have delivered a polished package with characters that shine, even if the narrative doesn’t.
As an intergalactic team of defenders, the Battleborn are tasked with defending the last star from the Varelsi threat promising to wipe out life as we know it. It’s a cool premise that allows for plenty of cool bosses and huge-scale set pieces, but in the end doesn’t go much further than that.
You’ll play out the story across eight episodic missions, lasting around thirty minutes each. The open style of them leaves plenty of room for replayability with different teams and heroes, and I was rather impressed with the variety. From escort missions to defence based scenarios culminating in pretty epic bosses, they serve as enjoyable bursts of action and levelling to keep you busy. This goes for the environments too, with some really unique comic-styled locations giving these missions a believable place in the universe.Clocking in at around four hours for the campaign experience, it’s clear the characters themselves, the gear you unlock and the multiplayer are a larger focus here. With a roster of twenty five heroes currently, your initially small starter pool will expand, giving you access to a wider variety of specialised heroes. You can unlock heroes simply by playing online, but the co-op experience does a nice job of gradually exposing you to different ways to play and how you like to level, giving it a lot more meaningful place in the game.
I found myself erring on the side of ranged characters like Thorn and support based characters like Toby and Miko for co-op and multiplayer. When playing solo however you’ll want to pick tankier characters like Rath or Oscar Mike in order to survive the onslaught of bosses. Each character manages to feel distinctly different, even within the same classes, resulting in some experimenting to settle on who you like best. This definitely helps shake up the game as a whole, giving you plenty of options.
While in any game mode you’ll level up over time, giving you access to the two main ways you’ll customise your character further. The helix system changes how your abilities grow and evolve, eventually unlocking a powerful ultimate ability. There’s always a tradeoff to be made when choosing which of the two upgrades you’d like – maybe you want more range or duration on a certain ability, but choosing that denies you access to the modifier that splits that ability across multiple foes. There’s plenty of learning involved but you quickly work out how best to tackle the enemies ahead of you, keeping characters fresh.The other way you’ll modify your heroes is by equipping gear, Battleborn’s loot. Available from chests awarded in games or purchasable in the store, you’ll get gear of different rarities with passive effects that activate once acquired in battle. Bonuses like extra attack speed, ability cooldown and extra health must be activated by buying your gear loadout in games with farmed shards, giving you an extra thing to consider in how you play the game.
Opening chests and looking at loot loadouts doesn’t have the same effect as loot did in the Borderlands series, even with things dropping from bosses. It’s a hard as to keep that loot cycle feeling going while balancing a competitive, MOBA styled game, but I would have liked a little more here. The customisation skins for each character are pretty lacklustre – even the colour schemes and head changes that Borderlands used as drops would have been a welcome addition.
Multiplayer is where the game shines for me, offering something meatier with three modes for different styles of play. Capture mode offers a short and action filled battle between heroes, while Incursion and Meltdown take a more MOBA style and adapt it.Both deal with pushing waves of creeps down a singular lane, needed to block damage or disable tank shields so you can complete objectives. It’s similar to League of Legend’s ARAM mode, giving players plenty of explosive clashes around two main objectives. The single lane forces teams to group up and support tanks while making the most of long sight lines, grappling for advantage in big teamfights over more traditional ganking and position changing.
I’d love to see future DLC tackle a three-lane moba style for their maps. The core gameplay works really well, much more accessible to non-MOBA players than something like SMITE. Having a working jungle, the opportunity for ganks and more room to grow your heroes as a team would definitely be a welcome addition.
The only issue I came across with multiplayer was matchmaking. It was hard to find a tonne of games locally, leaving me in queue for quite some time.Battleborn’s biggest challenge is what lies ahead. Finding an audience that will keep this game alive as more heroes and content is added. It’s up against some stiff competition too, Blizzard’s Overwatch most notably, which has managed to ‘coincidentally’ overshadow Battleborn’s big days. Contrary to appearance the two games are very different, but this doesn’t seem like something widely considered. Gearbox have put together a great core game, with the multiplayer especially delivering quite a unique and engaging experience. I just hope there’s an audience that sticks around for them to support over the year.
Battleborn is quite an enjoyable title. While the story never soars as high as Borderlands, it’s good co-op fun thanks to solid gameplay and mostly good humour. The MOBA styled multiplayer really takes the cake though, offering thrilling moments and plenty of options to customise playstyle. While it’ll take time to see if the game can keep an audience, Gearbox have launched a solid platform for further support.
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
A review code was supplied by the publisher.