Battleborn

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Complete Review & Description

After Gearbox Software’s crowd-pleasing Borderlands series, it must’ve been difficult to know where to embark next. The studio’s faltering steps with Aliens: Colonial Marines, Duke Nukem Forever, and the non-existent Furious 4 game probably didn’t help matters, either. Despite this, they have created something quite ambitious with Battleborn: an online team-based shooter that combines so many ideas that the end product is unique and eye-catching, but ultimately a bit hard to describe.
Battleborn’s art style is even harder to classify, with a peculiar mix of 2D and 3D graphics, and influences from pretty much every genre under the sun: anime, fantasy, steampunk, ancient Egyptian religion, science-fiction, South Korean cartoons – it’s all in here. The best illustration of this is in the cast of characters, which is staggeringly diverse and forms the core of what makes Battleborn enjoyable.

There is literally a character for every player type, whether you’re a traditional shooter fan, or you prefer close-quarter melee combat. Some of them are fairly generic and relatable, such as Thorn (an elven archer cliché), Oscar Mike (a gun touting human cliché) and Caldarius (an evil robot cliché) – these characters are basically ‘all-rounders’ and are good starting points to get into Battleborn.
But then there are the other characters who are so out there, you can’t help but wonder what crazy-good hallucinogenic drugs the creative team must’ve been taking. One of them even looks like a hallucinogenic drug – a mushroom-looking thing called Miko who is lethal with throwing knives and spore-based attacks. There’s also a cute penguin named Toby who tears it up in a giant armoured mech-suit; an elemental ice-golem called Kelvin who can morph between solid and gas states; and Kleese, who is basically a grumpy old man in a battle-ready wheelchair.
It’s all as crazy as it sounds, but none of this is a bad thing. Every character, and there’s a whopping twenty five of them to try out, has a captivating personality and are all fun to use. It’s worth going outside of your comfort zones to try a character you wouldn’t usually, as it offers a completely different experience each time. And it’s this colourful assortment of heroes that gives Battleborn its multi-textured flavour. But imagine cooking a meal and using every single condiment in the spice-rack. There’s so much going on here in Battleborn, that you’re not entirely sure what it is you’re experiencing.

The cut-scenes in Battleborn have strikingly different styles from one to the next, sometimes they are stylish and almost manga-esque cartoons with a mix of renderings; other times they are full 3D cinematics that resemble what the actual game looks like. In between these, there are crude, compacted-frame animations which resemble a budget children’s television animation. It all comes together in a reasonably well put together package, but it also makes the game look like it’s having an identity crisis.
And it’s this heterogeneous design to the game that is actually Battleborn’s biggest problem. It’s not just the characters and scenery that are mixed, the entire game suffers from not having a grounded approach. There are times where the game wants to be a solid first-person shooter with RPG elements, and also a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game with a complicated upgrade tree.
The plus side of this of course is that Battleborn is unique, and the crazy goulash of characters and play-styles makes for extremely frantic gameplay. When you’re online, with a character whom you’ve grown to appreciate, Battleborn is intense and enjoyable. So long as you have a team of intelligent teammates who work together defending bases and collectively completing objectives and gaining territory.
…it also makes the game look like it’s having an identity crisis.
Battleborn is primarily a team-based multiplayer experience, but it does include a story and a single player campaign. As a member of the Battleborn, an uneasy alliance of intergalactic heroes from five different factions, you must work together to stop a dark and mysterious enemy from destroying the universe.
The over-powered weaponry, brightly rendered alien worlds and entertaining dialogue make for an interesting campaign experience. However, the action tends to become repetitive quickly, often with recycled environments, objectives, and waves upon waves of enemies being thrown at you as you grind your way to the next checkpoint. Thankfully it can be played co-op with four others online (or with a friend by your side thanks to split-screen) and naturally, it’s the best place to start before entering the carnage for what Battleborn is really all about – the multiplayer.

There are three different 5v5 team-based competitive multiplayer modes in Battleborn. The first is Incursion, which is where two teams must defend their base from waves of AI-controlled minions while working together with their own minions to destroy an opponent’s base. As players progress, they will be able to earn or collect shards and spend them on building turrets and healing pods which can be placed on the map to help your team.
Capture is a fast-paced mode where teams must capture and hold objectives around the map to win – a concept which is familiar to anyone who’s played shooters online. But Meltdown, the last multiplayer mode, has the unusual objective of escorting friendly AI bots across a map so that they can throw themselves into an incinerator. While guiding your bots to their demise you can destroy your rival team’s bots (and your rivals) to prevent them from scoring.
One of the game mechanics that runs throughout both the campaign and multiplayer modes is a dynamic Helix upgrade system, which is a clever way to add variety and a sense of progression to your character. As you earn points (through kills, collecting items or completing objectives) you’ll work your way through a sequence of upgrades where you’ll get to choose between two options, usually defensive or offensive themed.

For example, you may select an upgrade to increase your primary weapon’s attack strength, as opposed to say, a faster movement upgrade or the ability to activate a temporary shield. It works well, and when combined with the twenty-five characters, the Helix system gives you a huge amount of exploration and experimentation as you discover which Battleborn suits you best.
Newcomers to the game will take a little while to adjust to the chaotic, frantic pace and often confusing objectives. But with a lot of practice, and after getting to know the different characters and their abilities or weaknesses, Battleborn starts to really open up. The problem is, with just three game modes and with a surprisingly small number of maps, it struggles to hold your attention long enough to allow you to truly master the game mechanics. Also the fact that your online experience is completely at the whim of your teammates (more so than other similar shooters) means that it can be a frustrating induction.
Overall, Battleborn is a beautiful looking game with a pleasingly unique look. The shooting mechanics are solid and the “there’s something for everyone” character selection really shines when you assemble a team of committed players online. But the number of maps and game modes is disappointingly limited, which is ironic considering the breadth and depth dedicated to the cast of characters. Of course, with DLC there is always room for improvement and no doubt Gearbox have plans to add more maps and modes in the near future. But until then, it’s difficult to justify spending the hours it takes to really immerse yourself in Battleborn at this stage.

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