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Battleborn Review

Whether you are a fan of MOBAs, first-person shooters or adventure games, Gearbox’s Battleborn has something for you. The latest release from the team who brought us Borderlands has managed to combine these genres into a fast-paced, crazy fusion of chaos, and the game is both polished and focused in most parts. Unfortunately, some minor flaws and some unfortunate release timing in regards to Overwatch (those damn Blizzard saboteurs!) might make it hard for this game to build a community, which is really the make-or-break point for a game of this ilk.

A High Five Can Save A Life!

Battleborn takes place a million years in the future in a universe where all galaxies and worlds have been destroyed bar one lonely solar system. This has seen all remaining lifeforms descend upon this solar system to survive and as fate would have it, some lifeforms aren’t as great a fans of cohabitation as others and would much rather attempt to eradicate all other species. This ideal is mainly held up by the Varelsi, a horde of inky shadow-like creatures with skull-like heads who have plans to take over the remaining planets. You play as a Battleborn, a group of elite warriors drawn from many species who are keen on teaming up against the Varelsi and establishing harmony in the last bastion of hope for the universe.

Go Home Geoff, Nobody Likes You!!

This story plays out in the Campaign Story Mode where you and four others team up using one of the twenty-five selectable characters to complete the missions. The missions do not flow in a particular order so it’s always a mixed bag as to where the plot of the mission takes you, and in the end the execution of the story is a bit garbled and the larger narrative generally takes a back seat to everything else going on. Luckily, where the Story Mode lacks in compelling narrative it excels in providing interesting gameplay sections and that classic Gearbox humour we have come to love in Borderlands. The missions tend to flow between sections of wave attacks and control and capture elements, with boss battles riddled throughout to break things up. These are all used well throughout most missions, though on occasion missions would require back and forward travel over long stretches of the map to defend points which did make for frustrating results.

Where the story mode gameplay may seem familiar to Borderlands players, the PvP multiplayer is anything but. The gameplay and character development is an exciting, diverse and new form of multiplayer I personally haven’t come across before and I loved it. The PvP is split into three game modes: Capture, Incursion and Meltdown, and these are played across six different maps. Capture pits teams of five against each other for domination of three points on the map. Incursion (which is my favourite mode) has teams attempt to take down two giant mechanical spiders whilst defending your own big, giant mechanical spiders. Finally, Meltdown has teams escort packs of minions across the map to feed a giant mechanical tiki head whilst stopping the opposing team from escorting theirs into your giant mechanical tiki head. Yes, there is a theme and it appears to be symmetry and giant mechanical things.

Teams escort packs of minions across the map to feed a giant mechanical tiki head whilst stopping the opposing team from escorting theirs into your giant mechanical tiki head. Yes, there is a theme and it appears to be symmetry and giant mechanical things.

Cool Guys Don’t Look At Explosions, But Penguins . . . That’s A Whole Different Thing!

The game modes may come across as nothing overly new to MOBA players, however the character selection and levelling system means that teams can play to different strengths and players can use their characters in different ways. This is achieved using the Helix levelling system and Gear. The Helix works like a standard levelling system with a twist (yes, pun intended), which sees the player choosing between two options at each level-up. These two choices can be very similar or worlds apart in terms of the effect they have on the characters. For example, using Orendi, a four-armed, chaotic, unhinged witch, many of the levels had me choosing between powering up my standard attack and extending the length that my abilities would last when activated. This allowed me to play as either a more frontline attacker or sit back from a distance and help assist in attacks. The ability to unlock certain 3rd options through ranking the character’s mutations also added a further twist to the gameplay and a strong reason to continue using a certain character rather than swapping between different ones every game.

Going Full Hipster With My Pocket Watch Gear

Gear is the other means by which players can customise their character’s ability within the multiplayer (it also translates to Story Mode). Gear is obtained by opening packs which can be obtained by levelling up or spending in-game currency. These packs contain multiple items that can affect health, shields, and resistance and can be slotted into a loadout of three which can then be activated within the game by spending credit points that are earned by collecting shards around the map. These credit points can also be spent on arsenal upgrades strewn around the battlefield such as turrets, speed accelerators and healing stations which are designed to give your team the upper hand.

Even The Giant Mechanical Spider Gives You The Middle Finger . . . Glorious!!

Graphically, Battleborn is gorgeous to look at, especially in its more chaotic moments. The characters are well designed and all are extremely unique.  From a penguin in a mech suit to a one-eyed mushroom healer, no two of the twenty-five Battleborn look (or play) the same. The landscapes and weaponry within the game have also had the same level of detail applied to them and although the maps have similar three-lane designs, they still manage to feel distinct. However, where Battleborn graphically stands out is in the attacks for each character. Gearbox have spent an insane amount of time making sure each character’s unique abilities looks amazing. The sheer spectacle of suddenly having three or four foes all unleashing their attacks in a chaotic flurry which fills the entire screen with flashing colours and particle effects, only to have it end in a peaceful calmness once the battle subsided is sublime.

Cutting Sushi By Day, Cutting Skulls By Night!

The gameplay within both the PvP and story modes gives a fresh take on the online shooter/adventure game, though it does have its flaws and some setbacks which may prove worrisome. Firstly, the game lengths are quite long, with the average game taking around twenty minutes to complete. This means there is a lot of dying and a lot of walking back to the objective over the course of the match, which can get a bit tedious. Although the levelling system normally combats this tedium, I often found myself at level 10 (max) by halfway through the game and nowhere to go from there.  Secondly, there is a lack of Team Deathmatch. Some will argue it isn’t the right fit, but I tend to disagree. I don’t think there would be anything more fun than levelling up your character and focusing on taking down the opposition with skill. Although you do this in the other game modes, there is no real reward to the player other than stats at the end and a small (read: large) amount of pride. It should be mentioned though that every time you are killed in a PvP map, it takes longer before you can respawn to the game. Lastly, I feel like the game has been overshadowed by Blizzard’s Overwatch and it’s a real shame as the game really does hold its own. Prior to its release, Battleborn was already being pitted against Overwatch in a marketing sense but it lost out primarily due to the ‘Blizzard’ factor, which doesn’t make the game necessarily better or worse but just splits the community. Really they are quite different games, but due to the close release windows, Battleborn will still have a bit of a struggle on its hands of it wants to step out of Overwatch’s shadow.

In The Words Of Uncle Jimbo . . . Oh My God It’s Coming Right For Us!!

Final thoughts

Hybrid genres seem to be the flavour of the month at the moment, and overall Battleborn is an exciting blend of FPS and MOBA gameplay elements. With the extensive roster of varied characters and addictive levelling system for each of them, Battleborn is a great fit for a player looking to invest serious time in the online world. While it will mostly cater to those who want to dabble in the competitive multiplayer side of things, it’s got a level of accessibility that will also endear it those who just want to jump in and enjoy themselves. The game offers a lot of play time and some really unique gameplay styles which keep it fresh, fun and always evolving. Given the level of effort that Gearbox has poured into crafting and polishing this title, I’m hopeful that it will manage to find its online legs and establish a strong community. For those on the fence this one is definitely worth a look.

Reviewed on PS4