Part MOBA, part FPS, Part RPG; Battleborn certainly throws a lot of mechanics into its frantic action, drenched in humour and cartoon style. It’s a mixture that doesn’t quite come together in the end but the striking aesthetic and those few moments of solid cohesion are thoroughly impressive enough to make up for the shortcomings.
If you’re at all familiar with the Borderlands series, then you’ll feel very much at home with Battleborn’s aesthetic and humour. The cartoon visuals are bright, over the top and splendidly detailed; meanwhile, the meme heavy humour is thick with laugh out loud moments and superbly delivered lines from its voice cast. It’s an impressive presentation, and despite the strong similarities to Borderlands, it manages to eke out an identity for itself thanks to a wide range of unique characters.
25 characters are available for you and up to four allies to choose, allowing you to form a team of superbly different individuals in your quest to save the last remaining star from being extinguished by a mysterious evil over eight missions. Each character feels entirely different to use, possessing their own strengths, weaknesses, weapon sets and abilities, allowing you to find a character that best suits your playstyle. Moreover, the character’s unique personalities provide further incentive to experiment and try them all, giving you such chooses as a towering tank of a human with a minigun, to a samurai vampire, peculiar sorcerer, Viking warrior, and a whole lot more at differing levels of strangeness. It’s a tremendously entertaining and diverse cast that’s a pleasure to see in action, using their abilities and weapons to devastate their foes in visually intense ways.
However, all this action and the abundance of abilities certainly makes for a busy battlefield, with particle effects, colourful animations and projectiles, as well as damage numbers all filling the screen. At a bottle neck, such action can completely obscure your targets and allies, making it difficult and frustrating to deal damage effectively. This is especially evident in Battleborn’s competitive multiplayer modes.
Three competitive modes are on offer, all pitting two teams of five against each other in objective-based combat and area control. This is where Battleborn’s MOBA DNA comes out to play, with purchasable and upgradeable turrets strewn across the map, minions spawning and joining you in battle, more powerful beasts posed for recruiting for the team who gets to them first, and an emphasis on controlling the lanes of the maps to ensure your fragile minions can get to the objectives. It’s an interesting melding of FPS and MOBA that unfortunately doesn’t often work. The aforementioned visual overkill when two teams go at it compromises tactics, making targeting tricky for dealing damage or even healing team mates. Furthermore, the first-person view-point makes assessing the battlefield and its lanes difficult at a glance. It is, however, highly immersive, and if you manage to gel with your team it’s terrifically satisfying to score a victory. However, with 25 characters to choose from, finding a team that compliments each other is tricky. The characters fall in to MMO archetypes of tank, DPS, and healer, and balancing your team with at least one of each requires some pre-thought and communication that random players outside of your circle of friends will struggle to comprehend.
In fact, balance is an issues across the board. Not only is balancing your team an important factor, but some characters feel horrendously over powered. There’s often a trick to counter a powerful character, however, with so many character options available, and with each playing so differently, finding that counter is a chore. Moreover, each characters levels up in-match and can be enhanced with new abilities and modifications along two paths, with additional odd modifiers appearing as you gain more experience, providing a great set of options for customising, as well as resetting at the end of each match so not to permanently tie you down, but also adding an extra level of complexity in devising a counter.
The experience you earn works towards unlocking lore about each character, as well as new skins and taunts. Meanwhile, missions can also provide crates of loot – or you can purchase them as micro transactions – which offer items that buff your characters. These can then be activated in-game by spending the currency of shards, making for further customisation and variety. Indeed it’s an impressive wealth of options, but ones that make the balancing issues even more evident.
Indeed it’s the cooperative story missions that will keep you coming back, with their Titanfall-esque structuring allowing you to complete them in any order, and only offering shallow snippets of the story. The humour of NPC and your allies, along with copious amounts of characters to unlock and enhance through lore and skins, encourages replay brilliantly, as do the multiple difficult settings for those looking for more of a challenge. These missions alone can keep you entertained for 6-8 hours. Find a savvy team of players to join you in the competitive modes and you’ll find enjoyment their too, although the community appears to still be struggling with the finer tactics and strategies.
Battleborn is a crazy and humorous FPS with great RPG and tower defence elements, and some interesting but not quite cohesive MOBA elements. It taps into what made the Borderlands games great and provides focused, cooperative multiplayer scenarios based on this same quality. The competitive side of things doesn’t quite gel with the rest of the experience, but give the community a little more time to suss it out, and Gearbox a little more time to balance the characters, and that too could entrain you for hours on end.
Thanks to Xbox and 2K Games for supporting TiX