Why unfair comparisons with Overwatch killed Battleborn

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It’s not uncommon in the gaming industry for two similar titles to go up against each other for sales. Games are compared all the time, especially by fans of a particular series or platform who stand behind their chosen title with almost tribal allegiance. Prototype vs Infamous, Halo vs Killzone, Sonic vs Mario, comparing games with even a passing similarity to each other is something that’s always around, and sometimes, it’s not a good thing. So why not look at the latest head to head around, Overwatch vs Battleborn?

Let’s start with Battleborn, which was a very promising take on the standard online FPS from the makers of the highly successful Borderlands. It was revealed amidst much mystery, with attractive artwork, typically Gearbox-style characters, and we eventually discovered that it would be a unique take on the now enormously successful MOBA genre. This alone was enough reason for many to be excited. The idea of a more newbie-friendly MOBA that could act as a kind of entry level introduction to the genre, giving people an easier route into the fiercely competitive genre, was promising.

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“Run away, Pharah is coming.”

Riding high in the success of Borderlands, Battleborn had quite a head of steam initially, and it looked like it was going to be a big hit for 2K. Then, Overwatch happened, and things changed.

Coming from Blizzard, without a doubt one of the most beloved names in the industry, Overwatch, with its striking art style and Blizzard’s past studio pedigree instantly raised brows of gamers the world over. Bearing a very heavy Team Fortress-vibe, Overwatch quickly became one of the most anticipated games around, and for many, the battle lines between 2K/Gearbox and Blizzard were drawn.

The MOBA genre was already at full steam, with massive titles like DOTA 2 and League of Legends commanding huge fan bases, and millions of viewers in esports events. These games have popularised the idea of games featuring a roster of unique heroes with differing abilities. Of course, this is nothing new, and games have done this for decades. Just take titles like Street Fighter 2, or even older RPGs like Dungeon Master if you really want to get picky. Games with a cast of varied characters are staple video game fare. MOBA’s, however, revel in this, and the entire game is based around the tactical possibilities that come from players picking the best possible line up of heroes to achieve an optimal tactical synergy.

FPS titles have also touched upon this in the past, most notably Team Fortress, with its class-based action, and other titles that feature the usual array of snipers, engineers, assault, medics and so on. Barring Team Fortress and some lesser-known clones, most of these don’t really feature recognisable characters, instead opting for generic soldiers. This is where Battleborn and Overwatch come in, and partly why both games caught our eye, and that of the MOBA community.

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Cyberpunk ninjas are always on our priority list.

Here we had games that both offered very MOBA-esque heroes. Not only did they all look unique, but they all had totally different abilities and skills. Each and every character was clearly heavily influenced by the MOBA genre, only with skills more suited to an FPS. With MOBAs being intriguing, but too daunting for many to get into, it seemed an answer was on the way for the MOBA to expand into a more mainstream audience.

So, we awaited both games, hoping they’d scratch the MOBA itch, and when they arrived, only one really provided that relief, and that was Battleborn. 2K’s shooter featured various games modes, which included the Incursion MOBA-lite mode. Like traditional MOBAs, this pits teams of five against each other with the goal of escorting their minions to the enemy targets (in this case, large sentry robots) to destroy them. The heroes are split into classes, such as attack, defence, support, and so on, and there are numerous ‘lanes’ in the maps to control and dominate. It’s all very MOBA, with an FPS twist, and it’s actually very good. There are genuine MOBA-like tactics you can build up with the right combination of heroes, and the addition of gear, which is unlocked from packages you earn, can augment your heroes in useful, but never unbalanced ways. It doesn’t possess the much larger scope of actual MOBAs, but it does a fine job of straddling both genres and making something new.

Overwatch, on the other hand, is a very different kettle of fish. Yes, it has colourful heroes with unique and varied skills, and yes, you can come up with tactics using specific line ups, but that’s it. As far as the gameplay goes, Overwatch is a pick up and play shooter, much like Team Fortress or any other online shooter, only with character classes as more of a main feature. Matches are far shorter, and the most complex game type at the moment is the combination of point defence and escort. There are no minions, lanes to control, or any real MOBA elements aside from the heroes. Don’t get me wrong, Overwatch is a fantastic game, arguably the better actual game here, but we’ve already reviewed both titles, which you can read here and here. This is about Battleborn‘s fate at the hands of Overwatch, and it’s why I’ve been babbling on about MOBAs.

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“Ice to meet you.”

You see, probably due to both games featuring a cast of unique, cartoon-like characters, Battleborn and Overwatch, since both were announced, have been compared and unofficially pit against each other. Many saw the pre-release as an eventual confrontation in sales and online popularity. This led to many, many comparisons, and the inevitable gamer camps fighting over their chosen champion.

Now that both are available, and figures known, we all know the outcome. Overwatch has soundly beaten Battleborn, the latter of which has now mostly faded away from public sight in the wake of endless Overwatch features and videos. Blizzard’s game instantly dominated the two titles, and is now one of the most popular online games around, pushing for major esports recognition.

This needn’t have happened, though, and indeed, it shouldn’t have. The simple reason for this is the difference between both games. Comparisons between Battleborn and Overwatch were never viable, as they’re two totally different games. Aside from the roster of heroes, the actual gameplay of both games is radically different. Yes, they’re both FPS titles, but the actual games modes are like chalk and cheese.

Both can exist perfectly well on the shelf next to each other if you’re into both genres, a fact that only emphasises the faults in any comparison. Overwatch is the title for FPS players who like fast twitch-style action, and Battleborn is for players who like a slower-paced, more tactical game that rewards patience and slow-burning plans.

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Born to battle.

If this is the case, why did things turn out the way they did? There are many reasons, but one of the most important lies with the publishers behind the games. Specifically, this means advertising and build-up. Blizzard launched a huge ad campaign, and put Overwatch out there for everyone to see. The massive action figures appearing in cities around the world, the plentiful coverage in the press, reaching out to the player community, those superb CG animations, and generally going that extra distance to promote the game. In this campaign, Blizzard focused on the most important element of the game – the characters, and long before launch everyone was very familiar (perhaps too familiar if certain adult sites are anything to go by) with the likes of Tracer, Winston, Widowmaker, Soldier 76, and Co.

2K, on the other hand, seemingly put only a fraction of that effort in ahead of launch. Despite having equally interesting characters, Battleborn just wasn’t pushed anywhere near as much as Overwatch, and you’d be hard pushed to get any character names from those who don’t own the game. I certainly found a total lack of build up. This meant the public were far more familiar, and invested in Blizzard’s title, even before release. This lack of push in terms of characters was only one slip up, the biggest of which was the actual game. It would have benefited Battleborn no end if the game was pushed on the strength of its more complex MOBA content. 2K had a whole market of MOBA-hungry players at its feet, something that Overwatch couldn’t match, and by pushing this prior to, and after the earlier launch, the game may have fared better. Sadly, even to this day many ill-informed gamers still believe both games are the same in terms of gameplay, writing off Battleborn as the inferior title.

This ignorance, fuelled in part by 2K’s misguided lack of push, surely contributed to the fall off in sales, and to a great number of people holding out for Overwatch, skipping Battleborn entirely. Even slashing the price of Battleborn prior to Overwatch‘s arrival did little, and a casual glance through gaming sites and YouTube now yields endless stories, opinions, and videos on Overwatch, and nary a nibble on Battleborn.

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Overwatch certainly dresses provocatively.

Battleborn‘s player base has now diminished to low levels, especially for a new title, which isn’t good news for a multiplayer-focused title, and this means there’s even less attraction over the much more popular Overwatch.

Lastly, and this is another very important issue, comes the very nature of 2K’s game. Battleborn headed quite heavily into MOBA territory. Indeed, this was its major feature, and it headed into a genre that’s ruled by free-to-play titles. Both of the biggest names, DOTA 2 and LoL are free, Battleborn at launch was a full price title. Console players may not currently have the option of playing DOTA 2 or LoL, but there are options such as Smite, which is also free to play, and the upcoming Paragon. Battleborn, in its attempt to win over MOBA fans and tempt new ones would always struggle to compete against the more complex titles, and the lack of a price tag. Throw in microtransactions, which in Battleborn can give players an advantage thanks to gear, and you’ve got a big turn off.

Overwatch, on the other hand, only benefited from Battleborn‘s downfalls. It’s no MOBA, but it certainly rode on the comparison wave, and came out pulling a major hang ten. This is a fight where Overwatch really did take the play of the game.

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Seen here nuking the opposition.

In the end, and on a purely game-based level, is the result fair, and which is the best game? As always, it’s subjective, but it’s certainly fair to say that both Battleborn and Overwatch are great games in their own right. Overwatch is undoubtedly the most accessible, smoother and more ‘fun’ game, purely based in its simpler design and pick up and play feel. Battleborn is harder to get into due to its more complex nature, and the game engine isn’t as smooth, but for deeper and more tactical matches, Gearbox’s shooter is where it’s at, even if the players aren’t.

Personally I like and play both. I’d have to say Overwatch is the better overall game, but Battleborn really deserved to do better, and with more TLC on 2K’s behalf, and a clearer outline of the game’s strength’s prior to launch, may have made this happen.

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