There has been a lot of hype for Battleborn since its announcement and one thing that can hurt a game more than poor quality, glitchy gameplay or terrible animations is hype. The Battleborn open beta has launched and after a couple of days’ worth of casual play, I have to say that the hype isn’t all that blown out of proportion. Developed by 2K, this first person slaughterfest stands up well on its own merits from the content I had access to in the beta.
There are a couple of different modes available: The co-op story missions will pit you and a team of players in a scenario against AI enemies. There were two missions available and while the standard layout of the missions were the same, there is diversity to be had in the environments. Battleborn has a huge Borderlands vibe (being designed by the same company I suppose it would) and could easily be mistaken for Borderlands: Badasses. Item and credit pickups work in the same way as the Borderlands games and there are some fairly similar assets in use. It doesn’t feel like a rip off or cop out though, it is similar to, but not reliant on one of Gearbox’s largest franchises.
The gameplay is fast and frantic, more so than Borderlands, in fact, Borderlands feels sluggish in comparison. There are plenty of characters to choose from and all of them have different weapons, abilities, strengths and weaknesses (my personal favourite is Oscar Mike, the wise-cracking generic trooper who once shouted “NADES! It’s short for Grenade”). In the story missions, you will battle through a map with your team, activating checkpoints and fighting mini-boss battles before you get to the big boss at the end. Both of the maps played out in the same way and if truth be told, there wasn’t that much diversity between the types of enemies you will encounter. It is a pleasant romp, made all the more enjoyable by the fantastically funny writing. The narration, chat and character vocals are on point and they genuinely had me laughing out loud at times. The AI is as brainless as you would expect in an arcade style FPS and other than the Boss fights, the only time I was ever in any real danger of dying was through the sheer volume of minions being thrown my way. I can’t fault the controls, they are responsive and do a great job at keeping up with the frantic gameplay.
Special abilities are unlocked through a simple levelling up system that is streamlined for upgrading on the move. On your way to the top level, you gain enough experience you get the choice of two perks. This is an “Either/Or” system that does lack the ability to tailor your skillset to your own playstyle. I found it was frustrating when trying a new character as it doesn’t tell you the abilities that will unlock as you progress. I played through one particularly painful game as what I assume to be a medic with throwing knives as a primary weapon and no clue as to what the abilities actually did. I expect that the full release will give a little more background into the characters before you launch into a game.
The second game mode is the PvP multiplayer, the mode that always had a longer queue to get into a game. There were two different kinds of missions available, the first would see you and your team of 5 battle against opponents in an attempt to destroy their sentinels to win the game. AI minions will spawn and can be purchased or subdued to fight for your cause. There is a nice tactical flavour to this mode: if you focus solely on attacking the enemy then you will find yourself without any backup fighting superior numbers, on the other hand, a defensive posture would only allow the other team to advance, deploy turrets and buffs before they come in guns a-blazing. It is a fine balance and one that is more suited to a Party gameplay than random matchmaking.
The second mode will see players escort AI minions to a grinder, each minion that makes it successfully to this grislily death will award your team a point. I have to admit to not enjoying this game mode all that much, the map was more cluttered than the reasonably open maps in the other modes. Turrets can be built using credits earned in game by either destroying large Shards or picking it up as it falls on the ground but the overall gameplay of this mode felt lacklustre, a minor addition to what could be a huge game.
There are some serious balancing issues in Battleborn, as it stands. Some characters simply won’t be able to kill specific enemies. I am still confused as to how my character with a massive minigun can be killed by a guy with a sword after hundreds of rounds slammed into him. There is an element of the MOBA genre to the PvP modes but it is outside the normal “lane” system that is so often deployed. The abilities are what win matches in PvP so it is worth learning what your chosen character can do. Unfortunately this is going to take a lot of trial and error and with matches that often run for over 20 minutes (and no option to change your character once the game begins) it can be a rather tedious learning curve.
Battleborn falls into the same pit that Rainbow Six Siege suffered from. It will only allow one of each character on each team, this means that when you start and haven’t unlocked many characters, you may be stuck as an unfamiliar or frankly rubbish character for that play through as you will find the “good” characters tend to get snapped up fairly quickly. There are other issues with larger characters getting caught on scenery which can make manoeuvring through tight confines a real struggle.
From the taste that we have had in the beta I have to say that I am liking the way Battleborn is shaping up. Funny writing and pleasant visuals go a long way to make up for some troubling issues in the gameplay. The fundamental gameplay is fun, fast and frantic, taking me back to the arcade styles of older FPS’s. If the developers can fix a few problems with balancing and collision detection before launch, then this is a game you should definitely put on your wish-list.