Battleborn Review – A ‘Jack of all Trades’

Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games

This month has already been a busy one, with the likes of the Overwatch open beta, World of Warcraft: Legion beta, Uncharted 4 and also one of the latest FPS games, Battleborn. Gearbox’s latest game is a first-person shooter with prominent MOBA features.

So what’s Battleborn about?

Well, Battleborn is a tough one to get into, story wise. There’s nothing really exciting or anything about it that makes me think “wow”. Battleborn’s story takes place in a universe where a crazy evil-doer is trying to destroy the last star, but a band of heroes have come together to stop the madman. So it’s generic story line with the classic group of heroes fighting the villain and it’s not very interesting.

Battleborn Story

Unfortunately, the start of the game requires you to take part in a tutorial mission that doesn’t really teach you a whole lot apart from kill this, and kill that and the character you play isn’t all that interesting either. As soon as I finished the prologue, however, I jumped straight into a multiplayer game. The one thing that makes up for the lack of story, are the variety of characters. Each character feels and plays differently, even two sniper characters play vastly different because of the way their skills work. That’s the biggest selling point of this game, the characters (and the combat), and where the focus of the game lies.

Most characters must be unlocked in order to play them. and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, in fact I wouldn’t have such a problem with it if more than half of the Battleborn roster is gated by a level/challenge requirement. Yeah it’s nice having some characters available only via unlocking, but 80% of them must be unlocked before you can play them. You unlock characters by levelling up your command rank, which is basically done by gaining experience points from matches and individual character rewards are earned by increasing your level with individual characters. As an example, you can be level 10 (command rank) overall, and level 6 with Thorn. Or if you’d like, you may unlock characters by completing specific challenges (which are displayed under the level required option of unlocking them). This is a much better option because it rewards you for actively doing things, outside of levelling, and instead, having you reach for different goals (instead of simple levels).

Playing online against other players can be great fun, but at times, it can be frustrating when matches become imbalanced, especially with the longer game modes that can last up to 30 minutes. This is as a result of people leaving mid-game and no replacements being made. With these types of games, leaving mid-game is meant to be punishing and that’s absolutely fine, since abandoning your own team is considered quite rude. I get that it ‘punishes’ leavers, but it’s far more destrimental to the team in the game session because players can’t be replaced (most likely because replacements would have to join at level 1, whereas everyone else may be level 5 or so).

A ‘Jack of all Trades’

Battleborn seems to have everything you’d need, but it’s not clear what the game is supposed to be. There’s a campaign, multiplayer, individual character progression, lots and lots of rewards and hell, there’s even split-screen (unfortunately a rarity these days). Sure there’s more to do in multiplayer, but you can stick to single player if you wanted to and still unlock the vast majority of items. In every game, the should focus should be on one thing, even if it supports different types of play. Call of Duty focuses of multiplayer, with its story mode on the side. Uncharted 4 has multiplayer but the main focus of the game is, of course, single player. With Battleborn I’m not sure where the focus entirely lies. That’s what makes me believe that this game is more of a ‘jack of all trades’, with very little special about it.

One of the things that keeps me going is the fact that you need to unlock over half the character roster before you can touch them (25 in total), and this involves a lot of play time to do so. But because I’m the type of person to master one thing before going onto the next, I’m sticking with Thorn, the ranged sniper. Another reason to stick with one character is so that you unlock additional lore for that character, so as you continue to play, you’ll be uncovering individual character stories.

Battleborn Thorn

Regarding actual combat, it’s very fun, there’s no doubt about it and it’s one of the strongest points of the game. Well…until it gets frustrating. Playing as melee characters in first-person with heavily inspired MOBA elements is one of the most cluttered experiences of my life. There’s a lot going on, with all the NPCs and effects everywhere, it’s tough as a melee player. This is also why I’ve only focused on a ranged character (Thorn).

Playing the role your character is meant to play is rewarding itself, and getting better at the character you play most often, is a great feeling. Playing as Thorn (my favourite) feels like your a hunter, marking your targets from afar, picking them off one by one. But as soon as you head into melee combat, you’ll have a hard time against melee characters. Trust me, I’ve been there. The best thing is to not treat it like Call of Duty by not running in blindly and hoping to one shot people. It’s a game where you take much longer to kill enemies, especially when they have a healer with them. You have to play with strategy and use the play style of your character to their most effective. This is what’s good about the game, tactics, team play and team composition over anything else.

There is also a level system in-game where you must level up each time you get into a game, and that can feel like a chore, particularly when you’re a character that doesn’t start to get strong until levels 4-10. On the other hand, growing as you play does feel rewarding because you’re getting stronger as you fight the enemy, which is a mechanic that works well. Let’s not forget the fact that it puts everyone on an equal playing field at the start of each game, as everyone starts at level 1 in each game. Each time you level up, you’ll have the option to choose between 2 or 3 (the 3rd being unlocked as you unlock them) skills from your Helix DNA tree that enhance your current abilities, for example with Phoebe, you can increase your shield strength or melee damage. It’s things like this that change your play style and make the combat more dynamic as you mix and match enhancements.

Battleborn Phoebe Helix

Battleborn also comes with a feature called, ‘Loadouts’, which is basically three items, or gear pieces, that you can use in battle. These gear pieces can be earned through packs that are bought using the in-game currency and only via the in-game currency. So no real money in exchange for gear! But I’m not that much of a fan of gear because they don’t add much except that you should equip the thing with the best stat, for the character you mainly play as. They serve as enhancements in-game that you have to purchase in-game for, or you can focus your currency on providing your team with turrets. It’s up to you.

Very similar to Borderlands

Sure it’s understandable that art styles creep through different games by the same developers, but when two different games feel almost identical, in terms of style and design, it makes you question whether this was meant to be a Borderlands spin-off. I was hoping for a game with it’s own unique style and some originality, but I fail to see any of the sort. Don’t get me wrong, I like the art style, especially the 2D nature of the opening cinematic and some of the spell effects, but I still have the problem of seeing what’s unique.

Battleborn Boss Intro

Throughout the game, humour plays a big role and if you played any of the Borderlands games (a franchise I thoroughly found to be very solid), you’ll know that it has been done well, however in Battleborn, it’s more tiring than anything because it’s been seen and heard before in the Borderlands series. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all dead humour, there are some funny moments, just don’t expect to be ‘laughing out loud’ to it.

Moving on, the game suffers from a sluggish UI and awful wait times. Navigating through main menus, waiting times between matches (horrendous minute- a minute and a half wait times after you’ve chosen your character, who you can’t even switch if you change your mind), so you’re waiting for nothing. Feels a little unpolished. Not to mention the split-screen design, which let’s be honest, it isn’t the best. There’s no need to have 1/3 of the screen taken up by two maps and a couple of stats. As a result of this, the text size is very small and in order to read your own abilities when you upgrade, you have to move closer to the screen. That screams bad UI design and despite how fun split-screen is (one of my favourite modes in any game) Battleborn, I’ve found it difficult to return to, and the same is said by people who I’ve played split-screen with.

Battleborn is a fine game, and that’s all it is. Just fine. But there’s very little about the game that makes it stand out, apart from being unique in the sense that it’s a FPS MOBA. The combat and gameplay itself has some depth and interesting mechanics, but everything else don’t seem as polished. I still play the game because I find the Thorn a great character to play as, and as much as I adore the combat, Helix enhancements and first-person style MOBA gameplay, I don’t see the game lasting very long, especially with Overwatch coming very soon.

Score: 70%

What’s your take on Gearbox’s latest game?

 

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