Oh hey there. This is that other game. You know, the one that was overshadowed (and that’s putting it mildly) by Overwatch. While Overwatch has been a monumental success, Gearbox’s poorly timed shooter has been dealt a relative deathblow, and that comes as no fault of its own. A distinct lack of marketing or hype buried Battleborn before it got out of the gates but for those who refused to give it a shot will be missing out on a clever and enjoyable shooter.
Battleborn is a co-op first person shooter with a MOBA element thrown in for good measure. You play as any number of 25 Battleborn, a mixture of races that have settled on a star named Solus following the rest of the galaxies destruction. The perpetrators, the Varelsi and their master Rendain are looking to end it all by destroying this sanctuary.
The story isn’t remarkable. In fact, to put it bluntly, it’s an afterthought. There are sporadically placed cut scenes that are given the anime treatment and while they are impressive, they just don’t gel at all. It’s only real saviour is Gearbox’s trademark humour sprinkled throughout each level.
Weak narrative notwithstanding, Battleborn more than makes up for it with a diverse group of heroes. There are several unique characters from different factions and they are an eclectic bunch. There are no weapon loadouts or the ability to swap firearms in game, instead the variation lies in choosing different characters. They range from melee based like Rath – a samurai with twin swords – and Shane & Aurox – a young girl bonded with a towering space creature, to shooters like Toby – a penguin in a mech warrior suit – and Oscar Mike – a familiar soldier type.
Look, I don’t want to completely sacrifice the (quasi) professionalism of this review but it’s high time I mention how stupidly, bat shit crazy and fun Battleborn is. You’re going to have a tonne of enemies shooting, charging and slicing at you and Gearbox have done their darndest to make sure dispatching them is as cool as possible. Reign down an airstrike, conjure a pillar of fire and shadow, stomp a shockwave beneath you – the possibilities aren’t endless because that’s a silly cliche BUT they are voluminous and with 25 characters, you’ll be discovering and refining your skills for a long time to come.
Battleborn gets absolutely hectic, man. There were a couple of wave segments where I honestly wondered how we were going to avoid repeating the last 50 minutes of gameplay and I dread doing them on a harder difficulty. It may look like a cluster **** on screen but without the proper amount of strategy like playing with healers and defenders, you can only get so far.
Battleborn isn’t as deep as Gearbox’s seminal loot shooter Borderlands, but it definitely eschews that series formula by adding in important factors. Building drones and traps, managing cool-down times and equipping the right gear set (similar to Borderlands’ mods) is paramount. Each character is stocked with a helix strand too, which consists of ten augmentations that reset after every level, letting you adapt to each mission. These range from buffers to duration increases and occasionally altering a move completely (eg. firing three missiles instead of the standard one).
Battleborn may seem shallow on the surface – equip character, do 9 missions – but under the hood, it’s quite extensive. Command rank unlocks new Battleborn, character rank unlocks skins and extra augments and credits are used to buy loot packs which grant gear on a rarity system. It has a very enticing replayabilty attraction thanks to bonus difficulties and and an alluring progression system, in a move that people have come to love Gearbox for.
It all runs like a dream given the pandemonium taking place on screen at just about every moment. Gearbox’s latest shooter exhumes charm with its colorful and simple aesthetic. There isn’t as much going on as Borderlands and it’s a comparatively toned down affair but it works, employing simplicity over a visual assault on the eyes. Levels can be a tad bland in that they don’t lend to the combat, providing more of a background than anything but when you’re just trying to stay alive, it shouldn’t be of much concern.
Each level sees you attacking the Verelsi’s infrastructure or staving off the odd wave in order to defend a piece of machinery. Beyond that, Battleborn’s missions structure isn’t exactly robust but each level clocks in at around 45 minutes to an hour so there is a sense of fulfillment when it’s all done.
There are a few multiplayer modes that work in tandem with single player, combining your progression and rankings. It might take a while to get a game but there is a surprising amount of fun to be had, dropping in on a battlefield, protecting sentries and capturing bases while a vast array of characters all duke it out.
Battleborn is a lovely little experiment from the team who has been pouring their talent and hearts into Borderlands for so many years. It acts as a delightful break while still allowing Gearbox’s signature traits to shine through. They didn’t hit a home run – the earnest nature of their quest for innovation produces the odd miss here and there but unique and fun characters are vessels for frenzied and gratifying action. It’s all assisted by a rewarding and compelling progression system and the idea that this company can craft utter enjoyment without having to take a trip to Pandora.
Review Score: 8.0 out of 10
Highlights: Brilliant mix of characters; Fun and diverse gameplay; Great progression system
Lowlights: Dull story; Levels can be bland; One note mission structure
Publisher: 2K Games
Released: May 3, 2016
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Reviewed on PlayStation 4