It seems Battleborn started off on the wrong foot. Maybe Gearbox Software’s message didn’t come across properly or Overwatch’s message was too good, but the 2 games seem to have given gamers the opinion that Battleborn is a MOBA and is competing against Blizzard’s forthcoming title. To set the record straight, Battleborn is still a shooter at heart, albeit one that has a foot in other genres and, yes, that includes MOBAs.
The boombastic intro animated video is quite stylish but jars with the actual artwork in game. To make matters worse, the rest of the cut scenes in the game are a mix of digital cel shaded graphics for ships and outside scenes and stills for characters. It’s odd that 3 different styles are used and the still just make it seem like Gearbox ran out of money or time half way through making the game.
Story doesn’t seem to be that much of a concern to the developer, though, as it’s mostly told in-game and doesn’t really make much sense. The prologue is fine, even if it’s really just a massive tutorial level (and even this only teaches you the basics) but the game is more concerned with getting you interested in the characters for their unique powers and upgrade paths. Upgrading is pretty essential in order to progress, too and it’s apparently fairly quickly that your own choice of character will greatly depend on how you get on with their fighting style and upgrades.
Rather than branching paths, upgrades come in pairs and you get to choose from one of them every time you reach a new level. Offensive or Defensive, long or short range, they give you the dilemma of choosing which one suits you best by flinging a load of text at you without pausing the game in any way and the menu obscures most of the screen. While this might work in a pure MOBA, in a shooter like this it means finding a quiet corner or risk being killed. Not great if you’re slow on decision making but it does add a new level of strategy to the game, upgrading on the move.
The single player (or co-op) story based gameplay is just one of the options available and is there to upgrade and get used to your character. There are 8 levels and multiple bosses on each stage, all designed to get players fighting as an organised group. I guess I was lucky that I managed to be paired with 3 other players who were willing to talk and play together, which made the whole experience that much better. These levels can actually be played in different orders if one of the team has been through them before and votes can be cast for the next level.
Outside the more linear campaign, the other modes tend to focus less on the shooter elements and more on team play. Capture Maps focus on a shooter standard; capture the flag/base mode and are fun and simplistic, offering the fastest way into the game. Incursion and Meltdown are modes that come closest to this game getting its MOBA badge. Incursion is the middle ground between the two, tasking your team with trying to make headway against the enemy, using your weapons, bots etc while Meltdown goes almost full MOBA, save for the fact that it’s all in a first person shooter perspective which just makes the game mode far more complicated than it should be.
Coming in expecting Borderlands is probably unfair on Battleborn. It has its moments but never really wows like Gearbox Software’s last game, but that’s not to say Battleborn is dull. Given the right team playing together against maps where the bosses keep coming or things just get so frantic that you’ve got no choice other than to come up with a strategy can be great. The bottom line is that the game, like its art style, seems a little confused about what it wants to be and therefore doesn’t really shine enough at anything.