Everybody loves a champion, but I sometimes root (and to a degree feel sorry) for the underdog.
In the video game industry, it rarely happens that the underdog comes out on top, and unfortunately this seems destined to be the case with Gearbox Software’s Battleborn.
On its reveal, Battleborn was touted as the “next-best thing” when it came to hero-shooters. Then Overwatch stormed onto the scene and it became evident that Battleborn was a David facing a Goliath.
On the day of Battleborn’s release, Blizzard rather-unapologetically opened the beta to Overwatch, possibly pulling a massive amount of joysticks away from people who would have bought the game on day-one.
Battleborn review: Premise
Much like Overwatch, Battleborn is a first-person hero shooter that works through an on-the-fly hero upgrade system. Each hero starts with no boosts or upgrades, but as you level up you can choose from a selection of abilities and attributes.
Gearbox has never categorised Battleborn as a MOBA – and it isn’t – but it definitely contains some MOBA characteristics.
Battleborn has a campaign mode, which offers co-op play, and a competitive multiplayer mode. The former does a decent job explaining the lore of the game’s universe and players can use it to level up their hero – with or without up to four mates in tow.
Admittedly, the campaign is much better if you play with friends. Not only do you have company, but the game is rather unforgiving; in the early stages before their hero’s powers start to develop, players will find Battleborn tough to progress through.
All of the power-up and goodies that are available throughout the multiplayer section are also scattered across the PVE world, so on that front, Battleborn’s campaign is cell-shadingly good.
Battleborn review: Character development
What sets Battleborn apart from games like Overwatch, is the way in which heroes are developed – and this is where the MOBA aspects come in.
Every hero starts (both in multiplayer and story mode) at Level 1, and the more kills they score the more XP they rack up. Once they have the requisite XP, they can level up, choosing between two ‘augmentations’, which vary depending on your hero. They basically fall into three categories: killing, moving and protection.
There are 25 heroes to choose from, but unlike Overwatch, not all heroes are unlocked from the start. Initially, you have a choice of one of eight characters, and as you increase your Command Rank – that is, your overall in-game ranking – you can unlock more characters to play with.
That skews things again, as players who have invested more time in the title will have better, faster, stronger characters to compete with. But if you want to play the game, you have to do the time. Characters also belong to different factions, but that is by and large unimportant.
Battleborn review: Multi-player action
So once you have picked your favourite character and trotted through the seven or eight levels in the story mode, it is time to take on other players in Battleborn’s semi-PvP mode. ‘Semi’ is being used rather loosely, as there is an element of AI involvement.
There are three modes to choose from. There’s Incursion, which is essentially your standard MOBA battle in which teams are tasked with destroying the opposing team’s base, Meltdown, in which teams guide their minions to their deaths and Capture, a typical capture-the-flag scenario mixed with a touch of Deathmatch.
There are five heroes per team, and no duplications is allowed – meaning that once a hero is picked by a player, nobody else can pick the same hero. This can, however, be toggled depending on the host server settings.
The objectives of the multiplayer matches almost seem irrelevant, as it ultimately centres around who can kill the most heroes in the allotted time. It might sound a bit trivial, but without heroes to push minions along the linear route they have to go, you have a very good chance of winning the round.
And that is pretty much all there is…of
As with Overwatch, I feel that Battleborn’s multiplayer is incredible fun for the first couple of rounds, but it starts to lose its lustre after a couple of hours. The fact that it only has three modes doesn’t help much.
Battleborn review: Verdict
Is Battleborn going to be riding second fiddle to Overwatch? Probably, but I don’t think that is because Battleborn is a bad game. On the contrary, if it was released earlier it might have had a fighting chance.
I really enjoyed the mechanics of the game, and after playing the Overwatch beta, it was good to experience the differences between the two titles for myself.
On the surface the two might seem the same, but if you dig a bit deeper you will soon realise that there are pretty big gaps between how they both operate – which will appeal to two different kinds of players.
If it hasn’t been made clear before, Battleborn really isn’t as bad a game as a lot of reviews have made it out to be. I think it is just the victim of timing. The only question now is whether Cliff Bleszinski’s LawBreakers will suffer the same fate as Battleborn, or will it actually pose a threat to Overwatch.
- Battleborn was review on an Xbox One. Review code was provided by the publisher.