Reviewed on PC, also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
With all the elements of a 90s Saturday morning cartoon, Battleborn is a colourful game filled with distinct heroes, snidey villains and vibrant sci-fi settings. The blend of FPS and MOBA elements makes for an interesting game and a fun one at that, but it’s still a title that suffers from flaws.
From the get go Battleborn catches your attention with highly stylised graphics and a bunch of visually appealing characters to pick from. The story kicks off with a brief history of the universe, in which all the stars and most of the planets in the neighbourhood (the entire galaxy) have been destroyed, leaving only one star left, Solus. After all the alien species left in existence converge upon Solus, they send forth their fiercest warriors to battle the cause of the catastrophe, the Varelsi. These warriors selected from each species are known as the Battleborn, and in general they kick a lot of ass, unless they’re Marquis in which case they just do weird stuff with owls.
The campaign for Battleborn takes place across eight missions, well sort of… if you manage to play them. The weird thing about Battleborn is that it’s all online, meaning you kind of have to rely on playing with strangers with this odd system where you vote on which level to play. Each level can take upwards of half an hour, so relying on the level you need to complete to come up and win the vote can be a timely process. If this sounds terrible then you can play the story in private mode, but after trying it out I’m not entirely sure why you would want to. The strength of games like Battleborn is pairing unique skills together to form a team, but in private you can’t add AI in to play with, so if you have no friends online you have to go in solo, which is all kinds of terrible and leaves you squishy.
What I’ve played of the campaign is alright, but it’s not ground breaking, in fact it’s pretty basic in a lot of respects. You generally fight waves of enemies in escort or defence missions and eventually fight a bullet sponge of a final boss. The settings are all stunning in their cartoony glory, however the atmosphere is let down by a lack of ambient noise and music, something which makes long action sequences seem oddly flat, no matter how pretty they may look. The dialogue you hear whilst zipping around levels ranges from hilarious to “dear god shut the fuck up you annoying preteen jacked up on energy drinks.” As with Gearbox Software’s Borderlands series, quirky humour is heavily used throughout the game, and a less is more approach would have been very much appreciated with this one. Every single character is vying to be the comedic relief, which ends up turning a bunch of arse kicking aliens into the Jar Jar Binks brigade of awfulness at times.
As you battle your way across the universe in both single and multiplayer you have a set of skills at your hero’s disposal. Each character differs and fits into categories most gamers should be familiar with, such as Tank, Support, Sniper etc. Initially there are 25 heroes to pick from, some of which are unlocked via story completion or through overall rank. Once ingame as your selected hero, the more enemies you slaughter the faster you level up, allowing you to choose between various upgrades as you go. The thing is once you’ve completed a mission or match your character resets, meaning you can change your leveling approach to suit the level, or your preferred play style next time round. It’s a neat system and one of the more MOBA like elements at play.
The real reason most will be playing Battleborn is for its multiplayer, which features three distinct modes. Capture, which is pretty much king of the hill. Meltdown, where you need to escort your minions to sacrificial grinders and prevent the enemy’s from reaching theirs. And Incursion, which is the most MOBA like of the three. Each mode is fun when you manage to grasp the objective at hand and how to play as a team, but these are things that are relatively hard to pick up. However even when you have no idea what to do the game still proves to be pretty fun with its chaotic energy and tense hero clashes, so that’s a plus.
Incursion is perhaps the most ambitious mode and it is in essence good, but it still has flaws that need ironing out. The battlefield often stagnates in the middle as both sides’ minions and heroes clash in the same spot in every match, with the stalemate sometimes lasting what seems like an age. To attempt to break it you can defeat Thrall (pig like aliens) to the side of the map and recruit them to your side, but later ingame this is relatively fruitless as they are easily dealt with by an organised side.
For my money Meltdown is the mode to pick, as it has the familiar MOBA setting of multiple lanes filled with minions that creep forward, resulting in some great clashes and a variation in strategy from the headbutting that is Incursion. Capture is also a good yarn, but it lacks the depth of the other modes, as it tends to finish quickly and requires less thinking. As played out as it is, I’d like to see a traditional MOBA mode introduced with towers, bases and a jungle, as the game could use something more time tested than what it currently offers.
One thing that keeps the battles interesting is the use of an ingame currency known as shards. You collect shards when defeating enemies and through random drops across the map. They can be used to purchase special minions and turrets to aid your cause, and strategically selecting what you buy can shape a battle. It’s a great addition and makes Battleborn feel unique in its own blend of genre way.
If all of this sounds good to you then you’re most likely similar to me and enjoy FPS games and the odd MOBA, however if you’re also like me you fucking hate waiting for that shit to load up, which is an area where Battleborn is absolutely atrocious. Matchmaking can take as long as 10 minutes when server times are estimated as short, and even longer when they’re not. Playing the game multiplayer is almost impossible at times. In fact I would have loved to get some more time in before writing this review, but it wasn’t anywhere near feasible considering how much time it would’ve taken me to even find matches. You can however play multiplayer with bots, which is still fun, but it’s just not the same. So on that note, kindly get your shit together Gearbox and maybe you would have gotten a higher score.