Battleborn Review: Ode to the 80s
By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW)
I’m no spring chicken anymore. These kids keep practically on about their Watchermcwizards or whatever fancy nonsense game companies are spending more money on advertising than they actually spent to develop their game. But what about us that see through it? That want something familiar and yet entirely new at the same time? It seems the answer is right in front of us, but not enough of us have seen that reality just yet. I’m here to tell you why Battleborn is the first online action game to give me an adrenaline buzz since TERA. And why I’ll still be playing come Monday when the herd moves on to the next Blizzard offering.
At its core, Battleborn is a true blue next generation hybrid. It’s half shooter, half third person MOBA. This sure to be the next big thing combination is catching the title of Hero Shooter, but what a hero shooter is defined as is still out for debate. Battleborn though brings some key elements that leans it far closer to the MOBA side of the tracks with fellow competitors Paragon and SMITE, than the other hero shooters leaning more towards the CS:GO spectrum.
Shards: Collecting Shards gets you turrets, supply stations, building upgrades, and personal gear. You get shards by smashing respawning crystals, killing minions, or wrecking enemies. Shards essentially allow MOBA jungling to exist within the shooter spectrum. On that note, the ability to purchase power minions or capture jungle mobs to push on your side takes a solid nod out of Heroes of the Storm gameplay. I love its inclusion in PvP so much.
Objectives: Whether you’re sieging enemy spider mechs in Incursion (straight MOBA), pushing robotic minions into the enemy’s portal in Meltdown (akin to SMITE’s arena), or battling over 3 control points in Capture, you can be sure that teams only aiming to play team death match will be outwitted by craftier opponents.
Helix System: Merging MOBA Skill Leveling with basic MOBA build customization, Battleborn takes a crack at Gigantic’s in-match leveling system and melts it down to a simplistic fast paced core while still providing meaningful development that rewards players for reactive smart advancement decisions.
The Heroes: I could write an essay glorifying my love for Battleborn’s heroes. Each moves differently, carries a distinct personality, has matching skills to reflect their lore and personality, and just feels like organic believable aliens. And best of all, they all feel so alien. Just human enough to be related to, but just alien enough to make you stare at them cockeyed. Which brings me to my most important point.
Battleborn: Living the 80s Saturday Morning Cartoon Dream
Ignoring the incredibly new feeling PvP, and classic humorous narrative driven Borderlands PvE, there is something more core to the experience that makes people love or hate this game. It feels straight up Ninja Turtles, Street Sharks, Transformers, or so many other 80s/90s kids cartoons in presentation. Sure it’s a grown up plot with serious business story, but the same feel is there. Right out of the gate the opening animation confirms that this game was a love letter from the developers to that era of goofy rag-tag glory. Only now, you get to take up the mantle and be the hero saving the world!
That’s how this game works. To enjoy it, you have to squeal with glee as Montana lifts his railgun over his head spraying lead into waves of foes. You need to feel your heart beat slow as Thorn flips through the air landing a moving fully charged head shot at the alien beasty screaming in your face. You have to stare in awe and dread on Advanced PvE difficulty when some of the bosses stand before you in all their fluffed up splash art glory, all the while pessimistic narrator Kleese says you’re all going to die. There is no middle point in this affair. You will love it, or you will hate every minute of it. Let’s transition that into the next important factor of if you’ll like this game.
Battle Together, or Die Alone
PvE in Battleborn MUST be done in a team. Preferably the first play through with one or two real life friends in a LAN party setting. Add a few brewskis to the mix and turn on Advanced difficulty and random heroes for a true 80s challenge that will keep your heart pounding. If friends aren’t available, the PvP offers enough diversity and intense showdowns to keep you entertained. But it’s really just filler for the core of this game, sitting around with friends bragging about how hard you just shot that fool in the face.
Battleborn manages to keep the challenge level high, especially for those part timer FPS fans. They don’t do it with the cheap FPS methods you might be used to though. Random head shots aren’t going to take you down. You ARE a universal BADASS right? That’s what Gearbox told us for a year leading up to launch. If you go down it’s because you consistently performed poorly, and you will recognize it. Or in true 80s fashion, you suck at platforming. Git good already!
Thankfully controls and game pacing isn’t stuck in the era of Golden Eye. Even the bulky Kelvin and Montana can feel decently fast, with true agility characters like Rath sprinting through maps like bunnies on Ritalin. Back to my point about hero diversity, these extremes work amazing when unified with friends. There’s no better feeling than joining as a group, recognizing what your strengths are, and utilizing them in the nick of time to overcome each mission’s challenge.
And tying it all together, doing so reflects the tales of our childhood. Pinky might not have been the smartest mouse, but his strength and luck would always overcome when Brain’s plans had a giant hole blown through them. It’s that same narrative rush as your most agile player stops a missile barrage on your base, while your tank jumps in the way of said barrage to suck up just enough damage to save the day.
Quality of Life
While some minor (and believe me it wasn’t as bad as the Internet police decried it to be) balance issues were in place at launch, the overall polish of the game was fantastic. Voice acting is spot on throughout. Sound effects nail the feeling of being in a constant warzone perfectly, while background music keeps you in your groove. Cel shaded Star Wars-esque battles lighten up the vista scenery, rationalizing why not all 25+ Battleborn are on the ground battling in your party. The story manages to stretch what you’d expect to be one or two battles into a full season of epic struggle without feeling like the arbitrary book being split into two movies syndrome. I can’t stress how satisfied I was with the package when looked at as a whole. With the immediate and continued support of Gearbox backing additional updates and PvP balancing, I can say few games in recent memory have delivered an online experience of this caliber.
The Nit Picks
I can’t gush fanboy the whole way through and still label this as a review. As such, there are some key elements that held Battleborn back.
AI: Your opponents feel obviously scripted and can be gamed to ease the game’s difficulty. Not every hero is as skilled at said gaming in every situation, but with a team present you can usually push the advantage quite hard.
Difficulty: Some of the mid-PvE missions feel lack luster compared to the early or later levels. My best guess at why is Gearbox underestimated how long it would take their players to adapt and learn the game while playing through. But some bosses just feel like stationary pinatas while others make you grit your teeth and bend over as you struggle to somehow survive their onslaught. Certain scenarios become full on SWAT stand-off shootouts as you wonder how you can ever break through. Only to find the remaining level a boring cakewalk.
Stages: On that note, many of the mid-game stages feel a bit uninspired. Gearbox sells them well enough on the presentation and story, but the actual gameplay seems meh. This stages tend to be far shorter in duration than the epic stages as well, as if the programmers simply ran out of time in developing them and had to settle.
Not all PvP Modes are Equal: Capture maps are so formulaic and get dull unless you’re really into king of the hill gameplay. Meanwhile the tactical options in Incursion maps set new standards for the industry. It’s clear not all maps were created with the same amounts of love and man hours.
PvP Scoring: I will just flat out say it. Gearbox based their official ‘player score’ on being a solid mindless team deathmatch FPSer. Proper jungling, objective control, and other elements that directl
Replayability IS Grind. Grind is Not Imbalanced
I can see you seething nerds already waiting to jump on my note mentioning the gear grind and helix mutation unlocks from hero ranking as a nitpick. Nay these elements are what gives Battleborn a lifespan beyond the story draw. Both gear unlocks and mutations require something vital in PvP to be imbalanced. The player with the better stuff has to take an early lead and punish their opponent with it.
Guess what? You still need the skill to make it happen. A bunch of low leveled accounts on fresh heroes can still trounce a bunch of level 90s if they have the skill and reflexes to do so. Especially in the more tactical modes like Incursion and to a lesser effect Meltdown. The skill cap between mastering melee tactics in a gun fight, bunny hop reflexes, and map design nuances is so high, that only the truly great deserve esports status in this game. That’s not even to get into the theory crafting or whether it’s more efficient to be jungling, which helix mutations to take against which enemies, and how to counter build should you fall behind. Balancing Battleborn is a true nightmare of a feat for a company that has never even dabbled in MOBA design before. And considering the state we got the game at launch, Gearbox devs are either geniuses, or got very very lucky.
Conclusion: Excellent 5/5 (if they stick the landing!)
Battleborn, like its quirky heroes, isn’t perfect. But it’s the best chance we’ve got in our shitty game industry circumstances to get a refreshing light of hope. When Battleborn shines, it shines as bright as Solus. Sure there are some sunspots sending out interference in the experience from time to time, but if played with the right mindset, you will adrenaline burn through them without much notice.
If you prefer gaming with close friends and can appreciate the old school maturely immature humor they’re pushing, Battleborn is easily worth full price. The PvE with season ticket alone is worth that. And if you enjoy any of its three PvP mode types, this game just might hook its claws into you for half a year or more. If you’re a bad ass that is. This game IS after all for any kind of bad ass. But not everyone can be a bad ass. Though my love of this game is partially dependent on how Gearbox continues to improve balance in PvP and stick the landing in the continued PvE story. Don’t let us down!
Graphics: 5 (3 for non-badasses) – If you’re feeling the retro style, this game’s graphics are a work of art worthy of awards. If you’re not, you can still appreciate the style. But you won’t feel it’s something to brag about.
Controls: 4 (3 for non-badasses) – If you don’t mind a steep learning curve, Battleborn controls are fantastic! If you’re a hardcore FPS player, you might be put off by the floaty gravity or large hit boxes on minions. MOBA fans won’t mind, but shooter fans certainly will notice and be annoyed.
Features: 4 – Gear loadout customizations, 3 PvP modes, skin and emote unlocks, an expanding PvE season complete with advanced and hardcore difficulty, and one of the most ridiculous lore achievement combinations I’ve ever seen. I imagine there could be more things available in a hero shooter, but what’s on offer is beyond adequate.
Customization: 4 – The skins leave something to be desired, but considering everything is unlocked through effort instead of cash shopping, I won’t complain beyond that. Oh and the fact the emotes are all earned adds an extra layer of bad assery when you bust out a rare one in the kill cam at your just slain enemy.
Community: 4 (2 for non-badasses) – They’re passionate. Friendlier than I expected for a shooter or a MOBA community to be honest. I think the PvE elements just attracted a unique audience. There’s some rare ragers but it’s easy to mute them. But again, just play with friends whenever possible. This game is so much more rewarding when you bring your own community to it! Though if you aren’t part of the target bad ass audience, expect to have a hard time convincing your friends to play it with you.