E3 2015 Day 2 Recap – Battleborn, Total War: Warhammer, and SWTOR!
The concept of Battleborn may elicit cheers and groans from the same audience depending on who is present. To describe it in a one liner, this is the closest we’re likely ever going to see to the creators of Borderlands building out a full MMOFPS in their signature style. And while it may not be open world, the fact that you can battle through 20+ minute missions with a party of up to five players as quality voice acted surrounds you with live action story telling, we honestly aren’t too worried about the rest of the missing elements of an MMO. The fun factor is here, the challenge is here, and if you what a ridiculous roster, try twenty-five characters at launch. Downright astounding that they even thought up twenty-five wildly variant ways to create a FPS character, but when the Universe is the limit, Gearbox certainly delivers.
Marketing Producer Erica Stead gave us an initial rundown of their inspirations before we witnessed an introductory training school that felt straight out of Borderlands in the Wildstar universe. The ambitiousness of this project astounds when you consider its about as much of a melding pot as the Americas experiment. Battleborn throws elements of the FPS, the RPG, the 3D fighting, the moba, and the platformer genre into the mix for fast-paced scenario driven action. As for the story, the made it a point to call out Guardians of the Galaxy as inspiration, which might just be her way of drumming up more attention. I’ll get into the story for those unaware to let you decide inspiration for yourself.
Most evil pointiest chin, all chins, all time.
Rendain is a bad dude. This isn’t your complicated Handsome Jack mind ninja bragging about his butt stallion kind of enemy. Well sure, he kind of sold out the final alliance that stood against the star devouring Varelsi, a sort of zerg/protoss hybrid goony race with a mission statement that involves universal genocide, and the destruction of every star along the way as a way to salt the earth so to speak to prevent any future life, at least as we know it. I’m not exactly sure how anyone in his faction, the Jennerit Imperium, could benefit from this, and clearly some agree since this faction has playable characters on roster. Nonetheless, Rendain is one cocky asshole for someone that bowed his head and overthrew his own leader to take the safer bet against overwhelming odds. Though our knowledge of the story is pretty sparse, they now seem to portray him as the man calling the shots behind the Varelsi, or at least a sort of spokesperson that makes sure each world’s last moments are spent being berated by gloating Disney villain lines.
So the girl with four arms uses magic, and the girl with two arms has five flying swords. Makes Sense.
Now normally that’s the part where you then turn to the rebel faction of technologically sound, altruistic heroes that are making a stand to protect the Star Wars council from certain doom. Yea… that all already went to hell. Rendain is gunning for a perfect season with about as much intensity as Lebron trying to win a Cleveland Cavaliers championship. And just like Lebron, all was going swimmingly until they came to the podunk backwater star Solus with a simple tiny habitable planet orbiting it, not too unlike Oakland. While on the greater scale of things, this world was so meaningless that Rendain saved it for nearly last, there is one teeny problem with it. It seems the ultimate warriors from the final surviving civilizations across the universe have gathered here in desperation. Turns out while they all fell helplessly to the Varelsi when fighting alone, their united styles, technology, and veterancy has created an alliance that has managed to delay the Varelsi’s march to the end of time but an astounding six hours. Will the Battleborn badasses hold out for a full day, or even a week? That’s all going to be up to you!
Battleborn’s focus seems to be focused on MOBA head to head confrontations between players. But the E3 demo our content lead JamesBl0nde experienced was a scenario out of the PvE story mode instead. Playable as a single player experience, as well as open for up to five total players to jump into at once, the story mode expands on the above mentioned struggle with everything Borderlands players would expect from a story mode. Solid voice acting from Kleese and Rendain keep the banter popping as you struggle through all the scifi scenario tropes like securing landing zones, blowing up sparkly crystals, dealing with the fall out that inevitably ensues when blowing up sparkly crystals, angering cocky bad guys into taking you half seriously, securing control panels, blowing shit up, AND… escort missions. Well not everything about it can be fun.
The story scenario plays out almost like a MOBA. We had the choice of ten characters at the demo, each packing unique kits that you can get further details on via the character guide found HERE. James went with Thorn, a ranger support class that, while not dealing as much damage as the gun totting bad asses, offered a consistent volley of fire and AoE poison ticks to keep the damage flowing while not getting too close for comfort. While Thorn was quite squishy and lacking the shielding mechanic, most characters present had the iconic fast recharging shield that gives you some leeway in damage soak before things get critical.
Another key difference here versus Borderlands is the gravity is much lower. It’s not uncommon to see your entire group bunny hopping wildly in a circle strafe fest around the bosses, though the enemies won’t sit tight on the ground for long before they take to the air as well. Overall each section of the mission presents itself as a total warzone. The preview trailers don’t exaggerate the sheer numbers of Varelsi you may face on screen at a time. Though balance numbers are always subject to change, this didn’t feel like an AoE slog fest either. The Varelsi are portrayed as the universe destroyers the story says they are, with plenty of variety in their archetypes to keep you pressured up close with bulky damage soaks, as well as afar with nasty sniper types, and everything in between.
We faced quite a few mini-bosses as well that moved slower than their minion counterparts, but punished players harshly for failing to read their attack tells. Don’t expect circles of death like WildStar here to save you either. If a big baddy locks eyes on you and flexes, it’s time to stop firing and get out of the way. Most basic boss attacks chunked James’ Thorn for a third of her health on each slam.
As the scenario progresses, the opposition gets inevitably more overwhelming. To compensate, your character’s bad ass ranking upgrades MOBA style to give you the passives necessary to keep up with the slaughter necessary. Don’t worry about needing to scroll through countless menus to find and upgrade stat boosting items though. This is just a basic DNA helix UI with two options and ten tiers of options total. While alone they may not amount to much, once you’ve stacked all ten your character may play distinctly differently each match based on the choices.
As you blow your way through the game, you can be sure to snag augments to permanently customize your characters through RPG progression, as well as achievements to showcase just what kind of bad ass you are. Borderlands games have always been top tier in these two areas, so I don’t see Battleborn skimping on continuing the tradition.
While the demo was fast, furious, and fun, we had a few reservations with the game. Some of the animations seem quite similar, and some of the explosions utilized 2D carding. The character models seemed a bit all over the place as well. In melding so many inspirations and genres, the game becomes a bit of a wonky arcade explosion fest as you spam all the buttons indiscriminately while half listening to the quality banter between voice actors. This is all well and good for the PvE side of things, but Battleborn is pushing its PvP as its defining feature. It goes without saying that this game is going to be a monumental nightmare that will be keeping the Gearbox Q&A up for more sleepless nights than I dare imagine.
Battleborn is hitting Xbox One, PS4, and PC this winter, and its core gameplay is already rock solid. But Gearbox has quite the small window to tackle a balancing job of epic proportion, not to mention what is certainly going to be the debugging assignment of the decade as five players hit every nook and cranny of the world with unique skills, all in the efforts of exploding the game’s code. Imagining this game hitting without a few speed bumps on at launch is about as tough a reality to swallow as these galactic redneck gun totters and steam punk warlocks finally getting their act together to save the last star. But if there was ever a development studio with the hero power to make it happen, this is it. Godspeed Gearbox, show us your MMO chops this winter.
Battleborn Character Guide Profiles
All ten playable characters from the E3 show detailed below:
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