Gearbox software has had a polarizing history. Whilst being loved for the zany fps series Borderlands they are equally loathed for releasing terrible iterations of Alien and Duke Nukem, both titles that gamers had unprecedented anticipation for, that were quite frankly both terrible games. Most gamers soon felt that Gearbox should simply stick to what they know best, the Borderlands franchise. Now without the expectations that a beloved franchise brings, Gearbox has decided to release a brand new IP, in what could be described as a new genre. But are gamers correct, is Gearbox a one trick pony, and can a new genre be enjoyable?
Battleborn has been described by Gearbox as a “Hero Shooter”. Like me I am guessing you have no idea what the hell that is, a shooter of heroes? A hero that shoots? Well it seems that Gearbox’s definition of “Hero Shooter” is an fps, with zany characters that includes a story that isn’t really a campaign but instead of broken up single missions, with the inclusion of PVP that is part capture the flag and part MOBA. Confused? As you should be, see “Hero Shooter” is not really a new genre but a game that throws a few differing genres into a blender to create some sort of weird gaming smoothie, one that could either leave fantastic new flavour on your playing pallet or make you want to throw it up and throw the rest in the bin. It is an acquired taste that like beer takes more than one go to enjoy.
When entering the game for the first time you are greeted with a short anime clip that explains the state of a universe close to extinction. It is thoroughly entertaining, with splendid art work. You are then introduced to the games mechanics via a tutorial level in which you partake as one of the games characters, badasses or Battleborn, depending on which description via Gearbox you prefer. Melka (the character’s name) used in this tutorial (although not available to select, more on this) is quite versatile and gives you a great understanding of abilities. You instantly have a feeling of familiarity with the game, the graphics, controls, and over the top characters gives Battleborn a strong resemblance to Borderlands. The similarities don’t end there.
Battleborn’s campaign/story mode is broken into single chapter campaigns. Like Borderlands, this mode can be played either solo or in co-op play with a squad of five players with the difficulty going up a notch in co-op mode. The mini map, character chatter, level design, enemies and boss introductions all feel like a Borderlands game. During play, in either story or PVP, your hero levels up from one through to ten, with each tier giving you a perk or ability to choose from. The skill tree or helix tree as it is known, unlike Borderlands consist of two choices only for each level and seem to either passive or aggressive. Unlike most games each match or story chapter has you starting at level one, so the helix’s can be mixed and matched due to the situation. Strangely the story missions are offered in a choice of three random chapters each time the mode is selected. Here you choose which level you wish to play, if in a co-op squad then the highest voted level is chosen. This can be frustrating; it took me so many games to be able to play all the missions due to either being out voted or the selection not being available.
The PVP modes on offer are Capture, Incursion and Meltdown, each with two maps of which can be played on. All are played with two squads of five battling it out. Capture has three map points of which to control, basically being a traditional capture the flag mode. From here though, things change. Both Incursion and meltdown are MOBA style contests. Incursion sees teams defending their base from waves of AI-controlled minions while working together alongside their own minions to destroy their opponent’s base. In Meltdown teams must guide their minions as they march to their death in an incinerator located at the centre of the map. Points are scored for every minion who throws themselves into the incinerator, and the team with the most points wins. Both of these modes can be finished by either completing the necessary score or being in front at the conclusion of the time limit. Having a time limit seems a good thing. Yes it is disappointing when a close match ends without a finalised result but in one sided matches you find people disconnecting at around eight to ten minutes through. Gearbox have tried to battle this with a surrender vote enabled and also if you prematurely leave you cannot join another match until the round you quit has ended. I do feel though that a harsher penalty needs to be introduced.
The controls are quite fluent, Gearbox have become proficient with the fps genre over the years and it shows here. Melee is also fun and many of the character classes embrace this. The classes are varied with sniper, assassin, tank, controller, brawler and stealth. Picking the right team containing the right classes for each match is very important as team synergy is needed for success. The need for competent class players is needed too, there is no use playing as a healer if you wish to fight at the forefront, nor is it viable to pick a tank if you wish to have space. Turrets can also be erected in the battle zones adding a tower building strategy to the game. This adds to the emphasis on synergy, something that is required among all MOBA type games, lone wolves are not required.
Aesthetically the game is great. If you are not a fan of cell shading you may be a little turned off, but when coupled with the crazy world, zany characters and over the top abilities it all feels perfect. Too the sound score which seems to match the activity, upping the ante to match the action in heavy battles. The level design is also excellent and present variation. The only issue with the build of the game is the servers. The waiting is excruciating, and even worse a disconnection at the beginning of a round is frequent. You can join back in near instantly but lose the option to choose a character which can make for a painful match.
Overall Battleborn is unique in the way it blends genres. It feels as familiar as it does unique and it should not be ignored if you don’t like MOBAs. In fact, I don’t like MOBAs but have fallen slightly in love with Battleborn. The servers frustrate, as does playing with team mates that believe there is an I in team. But honestly I really dig this game, the characters are great, the action plentiful and the universe is enjoyable. If you’re a fan of Borderlands you should check it out, if you like squad based shooters or MOBAs you will like it.
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