Games Pulp MOBA-lise for battle. Are you ready? You can check out our first impressions of the full game right here.
Gearbox’s latest game, Battleborn, is a loot-filled slash-and-dash, run-and-gun MOBA – basically, it’s a competitive online version of Borderlands. Without the millions of awesome weapon variants but all of the flippancy.
The humour’s the same, the gameplay’s almost identical, the storyline is just as throwaway. Even the cartoonish locations, space-based and fantastical as they are, maintain that familiar Gearbox look. It’s either the developer’s idea of auteur theory, or a total lack of imagination/absolute rip-off.
But that’s no bad thing.
Borderlands is as solid a game for inspiration as any other – even if it’s from the same studio. And besides, no-one’s going to play Battleborn for the scenery. It’s all about the gunplay, swordplay, and the fisticuffs.
There are eight campaigns to play through – there’s space for five players, and yes, Battleborn has split-screen online, just like Gearbox’s other great shooter. Comparisons are inevitable, mostly because the game is pretty much what Borderlands would be if, if there were a competitive multiplayer add-on.
Each of the campaigns has been sold as TV-style episodes – which thankfully isn’t the same as ‘episodic content’. Telltale it ain’t. According to Gearbox…
The game’s Story Mode is structured just like some of our favorite episodic television shows; from Star Trek and X-Files, to cartoon throwbacks like X-Men and Transformers. Collectively, the “season” included with the game has one large over-arching story spanning eight episodes (plus a prologue), and each episode tells a self-contained story about the Battleborn’s fight to save the last star, Solus.
The beta featured two of these ‘episodes’, The Void Edge and The Algorithm – and thanks to their TV stylings, it doesn’t seem to matter in which order you play them (Although if you’re not playing chronologically first time around, you should be burnt at the stake as a heretic). These campaigns feature different enemies and artistically identifiable settings, culminating in a classic boss battle.
As you go along, players can complete challenges like ‘Pick up 20 items’ or ‘Defeat 10 enemies in 10 seconds’, which adds to the general co-op camaraderie. Completing these will earn your character credits, which can be used to activate your loadouts (See below), boost NPCs like the hilarious S1 Wolf sentry bot, or power-up drones – temporal, assault or repair – to aid your team.
Battleborn’s tone is flippant to the point of nihilism, and it’s achingly self-aware. But that’s pretty much precisely what the more casual gamers will want.
Of course, some players will look to master every stage, defeating the story campaign on every difficulty setting. But without the narrative gravitas, there’s less pressure to perform, and more emphasis on just having a blast – literally and figuratively.
Versus mode is where Battleborn really comes alive – but it’s also where it requires a little more thought. Think Team Fortress 2, but with 25 characters to choose from. Think about how your character fits within the team. Think if there’s a tank on your side, you’re going to want a healer to back him or her up. That sort of thing.
That’s not to say you can’t play however you want, but your team will almost certainly lose if you’re all agile long-shotters facing off against a team with three heavy-hitters and a healer (Spoiler: This is precisely what happened to Games Pulp).
Again, the open beta offered two modes for versus: Incursion and Meltdown. The former is more along the lines of team deathmatch, where players have to defeat the opposition’s minions and defend their own robot sentry. But really, it’s just an excuse to smash up the other human players with your super-sweet signature skills.
Meltdown is, as you guide your minions (weak as cats piss NPC robots) across the battlefield to the grinder – which is masquerading as some religious sacrifice for a nutcase god. For every minion, boom, you earn points. Hit 500 points and you win. Easier said – and written – than done, especially when there are enemy combatants trying to lead their own minions to their doom.
It’s hectic, and it won’t make a lot of sense at first. Seriously, the tutorials are next to non-existent, save for a voice-over at the beginning of the match that loosely describes the aim. Expect a fair amount of death, destruction and defeat when you start playing.
But eventually, something clicks. You find the character that best fits your play-style, and you utilise it to your advantage. And then you start enjoying the game far more. You’ll also be able to pick up shards – credits – that can be used to either get your loadouts going or build and upgrade turrets and cannons on the map.
Earning your loadouts is an interesting extra, as it means no-one’s going onto the battlefield more overpowered than anyone else – although some characters, such as the sword-wielding Rath and Phoebe seem lighting quick and impossibly strong. It’s a nice extra touch, that means you won’t just be killing enemies; you’ll be hunting for shards to boost your character as you go.
Choose Your Character
What gives Battleborn its edge is the range of characters to choose from, each with their own skill trees, called Helixes, that can be modified every time you level up. That’s kind of how Gearbox are selling the game; their marketing department are making a massive deal over the ‘25 playable heroes so there’s a bad-ass for everyone‘ angle.
All the characters fit into the usual classes – healer, tank, rogue, etc. – but each of them play slightly differently.
Sure, you may play as Marquis, a German gentleman robot who’s sure to become one of the game’s major icons, with his pistol-cum-sniper-rifle-cane. Or you may choose another sniper, Thorn, with her bow and arrow and multi-shot skill, and you’ll have a very different experience.
Partly, this is because, with each skill unlock, you’re given a choice of two options, for instance, to add an AoE attack or get extra damage on a certain move. So rather than committing to one particular character build forever, you can change it up every time you play.
This can lead to some tricky choices. You’ll have to analyse not only yourself, but the whole team. Should you be aiming to balance out with decent DPS? Or up your stamina so you’re safe when you’re the last man/woman/robot/animal standing?
This is Battleborn’s answer to the replayability factor, in addition to the inevitable DLC (Did anyone else catch that phrase in Gearbox’s quote above: ‘…the “season” included with the game’). Players who really take to the game will delight in unlocking all characters and their extras, and trying out every kind of skill combo available to them.
Loot and Loadouts
Another major facet of the game is loot. Of course. This is a Gearbox game, after all.
You can grab loot from the story mode, open it up from the main menu, and set it to one of your loadouts. So you can mix and match, or focus on, say, health or damage. Whatever, it’s your call.
It’s pretty obvious why loot will end up being a big deal in Battleborn. Not because you can customise your build in any way you see fit, but because you can go ahead and purchase it from the marketplace. Yep, while you can earn loot boxes by levelling up, or selling loot you don’t want for in-game credits, the option to buy them with real, hard-earned cash it also there.
You know the deal: buy the uncommon loot pack, and you’re guaranteed at least one uncommon item. As well as a couple of duff ones you’ll never use.
The real problem with Battleborn’s loot is… it’s just so wholly uninspired. Having garden variety ‘+25 health’ or ‘+10 seconds shield regen’ pick-ups feels like it’s been tacked on without any thought. In a game so visually creative and imaginative, the loot feels out of place.
Partly, this may be because Gearbox don’t want to unbalance the multiplayer, but in a game where you have strong character models, each one original and (usually) memorable, with skills that are unique to them, it’s a serious let-down. So you open a loot box, which lets you either sell it for a nominal amount of credits, or store it in your Gear Bank in order to add it to your loadout later.
Oh, and if you’re running out of space in your Gear Bank, the devs have been kind enough to let you buy a bigger bank. Basically, loot is microtransaction hell. It’s there for the sake of being there, not because it adds to the game. At least these aren’t pay-to-win upgrades, but frankly, that would probably be a lot more interesting (Although a lot more frustrating too).
And that’s a shame, because outside of that, once you get the hang of it, Battleborn is a lot of fun. The fighting controls are mostly good, though occasionally they feel loose, but the online co-op, with split-screen included in all modes, is always welcome – particularly since other developers are trying to phase it out (Yeah, we’re looking at you, Halo 5).
The skills and character base are extensive enough that there will always be something new to try, and you just know more characters will be sold at a later date. From a narrative point of view, the voice-acting and script is solid and plays out like a hilarious, though slightly sub-par Borderlands.
Speaking of, if you enjoyed Borderlands, but thought it’d be cool if it had multiplayer mode, or you don’t have hours to sink into a story campaign, you’ll dig it.
And if you’ve never though Borderlands multiplayer would be a good idea, and you did sink hours into the story, as Games Pulp have, well… you’ll probably still enjoy it with your pals.
Pros: Ridiculously colourful and cartoonish. A silly game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and just wants you to have fun. Couch co-op gamers are welcome here.
Cons: Uninspired loot selection, initially confusing multiplayer, and a simplicity that may hold it back later down the line. A concern that microtransactions will be used to line Gearbox’s wallet, not add to the game – we’ll see.
Battleborn is released on May 3rd for Xbox One, Playstation4 and PC.
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