A little bit Borderlands and a little bit MOBA, Gearbox’s new game Battleborn promises to keep the action high and the bullets flowing in 2016. Initial fears that the game will be too much like Borderlands are well grounded: Battleborn looks like Borderlands, it kind of plays like Borderlands, and it almost has the exact same amount of letters in its title as Borderlands. But if the demo at PAX Prime 2015 has proven anything, it’s that Battleborn feels different than its predecessor.
Yes. Battleborn looks a lot like Borderlands, that much is a given. And unless you have a preconceived hatred for the colorful art style of Borderlands that isn’t a bad thing. I always thought one of the best aspects of Borderlands was how it looked; specifically how it stood out from other shooters. Battleborn is no exception: walking through the others demos and booths at PAX Prime (with the exception of Nintendo) everything else on display was dark, brooding, desolate, and almost colorless. Gearbox made a smart decision to keep the vivid art style of their past game in tact here: it instantly causes the game to stand out. The humor of the Borderlands world is also present, with the game’s narrator spewing info into our headsets with a comedic-yet-brutal undertone.
Gameplay is also heavily lifted from Borderlands. After selecting your class (which we’ll get too in a bit) you’re thrown into the world with a few goals to achieve, highlighted on your mini-map by a familiar yellow diamond. Get to the location, shooting anything that moves, and press on to the next target. It’s simple, effective, and fun. Seeing little numbers fly off enemies as you blast them from afar is as satisfying as ever. As you gain EXP you can level up your character, enhancing their skills in small but impactful ways. For example, my sniper-class character was able to improve her arrows, allowing her to shoot through multiple targets and deal damage to several enemies at once. These customization options let you build a character that caters to your play style, as well as making you feel rewarded for your work.
Perhaps our group was excessively skilled, but I felt the difficulty was turned down. We played the Incursion game mode, where our squad of five Battleborn stopped the invading AI controlled enemies from advancing. There was never any scenario where I felt overwhelmed, even during the final bit where enemies were spawning and approaching from multiple entry points. We were able to handle everything. I was expecting more foes to be on screen, since Battleborn is more of a MOBA, and we’d have to split up or designate tasks to one another a la League of Legends, but that never happened. I’m sure, though, this will be alleviated in later levels of the final game.
When the game releases in 2016, it will supposedly have 25 characters with different abilities to choose. During the demo, only 10 were playable. I choose the Elf-like Thorn, a female sniper class character. Her ability to fun faster than any other class on my squad made it easy to find the next goal, start chipping away at distant foes, and escape from battle when necessary. She was always able to get out of a pinch if a group of enemies were near by blasting a few arrows at once before running back. I found playing her natural and exciting: with my squad of a couple melee types and another distant shooter, I had a purpose and contributed to our eventual success.
And that feeling was the best part of the Battleborn demo. Right after completing the 15-minute or so mission, I immediately wanted to play again with a different character. Not because I didn’t like Thorn, but because I wanted to see how another class would have handled that situation. Considering there were less than half of the playable characters present on the demo, I can only imagine what that feeling will be when the entire roster is present!
No doubt Battleborn is meant to be enjoyed as a multiplayer game. Thankfully, a local split-screen option will be available upon release, with online multiplayer supporting up to 10 players at once in 5v5 matches. From what I gathered at the demo, playing by yourself (yes, there is a single player mode in development) would seem kind of lame. Part of the fun of Battleborn was watching other players use their powerful special abilities to decimate foes. That would presumable be lacking if you’re going solo. That being said, if you don’t have any way to play multiplayer with Battleborn, it’s going to suck.
I was impressed by Battleborn, but that praise also stems from my love of Borderlands. One could argue Battleborn is nothing more than a modded version of Borderlands, with extra characters to play and arena-like levels to overcome. If you’re like me and totally okay with that, then Battleborn will be a game to look out for next year. Those hoping Gearbox would do something different from the games set on Pandora (Duke Nukem Forever 2?), then you can keep dreaming.