Gearbox is close to putting the wraps on their new game, Battleborn, and we’ve been invited to play an early access, but near final, preview version. If you are unfamiliar with the title, it’s easiest to think of it as a 1st person MOBA with a story. It’s no secret that the genre is booming. This summer we will see the release of Battleborn, Overwatch, and Paragon, all sharing enough similarities that they are bound to be compared, but let’s get to some Battleborn first impressions.
At this point in early access, we are able to play two of the three PvP multiplayer modes and two of the numerous story missions. All 25 characters are available, although many are locked behind distinct in-game achievements. Even though Battleborn isn’t a 3-lane MOBA, it still has the large character pool, in-match leveling system, and persistent account leveling (called Career Rank here). While the game has a built in chat system, we have also been using Discord to organize and chat in game. You can play with single player story or PvP with bots, but live player games are so much better.
(Tabs) Gearbox certainly knows character design and personality. The cast of 25 is diverse from what I’ve seen. I’ve unlocked and played 12 of the 25, and partnered or faced much of the remaining Battleborns. Each character takes multiple matches to feel comfortable with, and many more to get to proficiency. For me, this is where the longevity and draw of the game comes from. There is so much to unlock, so many possible builds with the Helix trait system, and tons of gear. Of course you want to win matches, but the character progression is addicting. They also seem to have covered the archetypes well, like tanks, carries, supports, and assassins. A well balanced team seemed to be a necessity in the PvP matches I’ve played.
(Tabs) For the most part, Batlleborn feels and plays like Borderlands. I’ve played with both keyboard and mouse and PS4 controller. Standard advantages and disadvantages apply. I didn’t have a problem playing with either one. The diversity of the characters shines here too. For instance, all the ranged characters play so differently. Oscar Mike has a standard feeling assault rifle and grenades. Thorn uses a bow that can be charged and always has a delay at the beginning of a shot as she pulls the string. Benedict fires only rockets and Orendi plays more like a ranged spellcaster.
There are a few issues at this point for me. When a full team fight breaks out in PvP with minions involved, targeting becomes nigh impossible. There are so many particle effects going off in a mix of friendlies, minions, and enemies all on top of each other, I feel completely helpless and just fire into the mass. Melee can also be terribly frustrating. Part of that is my own bias against trying to implement melee classes in a FPS, but with fast moving targets, a limited field of view, and that mass of particle effects and bodies, I sometimes can’t tell up from down, much less zero in and attack the right target. It’s a catch 22 though because the melee classes are also interesting and fun to play, just really frustrating at key moments. Lastly, there seems to be an inordinate amount of low obstacles that you actually get stuck on. Whether it’s lumpy wires on the ground, the small edge at the bottom corner of stairs, or any number of little rocks and terrain debris, I seemed to get stuck everywhere. I really hope that is something that can be addressed because it often meant the difference between life and death in both PvP and story.
(Chris) Most of my game play experience came from ranged characters. I did play Rash, a cool dual wielding swordsman, a bit and enjoyed his gameplay. That changed when team fights broke out. As team fights started, on most of my games, the majority of the opposing team seemed to focus on the melee characters. As Tabitha mentioned, it's nearly impossible to tell what is going on during a team fight. Even more so if you are up close and personal in the fight. I stuck with the ranged characters simply because it was easier to survive with them. As with before it is hard to see what's going on in a team fight so thankfully, there is no friendly fire. There is one issue I had with ranged characters. I spent a lot of time with Orendi, a little four armed freak that uses shadow magic. All of her abilities are impressive looking and fun. One of her abilities is casting a large pillar of shadow fire on the ground. When you activate the ability, a targeting hologram appears on the ground showing you where it will be cast. On more than one occasion, a very small movement of my mouse caused the targeting to move great distances and cause me to completely miss. It took several matches to get used to, but I still found myself missing if I wasn't careful. Also if there was a friendly turret in the way it seemed to stop the targeting hologram and refused to let me target anything on the other side of the turrets.
(Tabs) When early access started, we only had the two PvP modes, so I spent a considerable amount of time there. It took a couple of single player matches to understand the layout and rules of the two maps, and I always take a new character for a ride in single player so I get some idea of how they play and experiment with a build. Don’t assume that a small number of multiplayer modes or maps means a lack of content or replayability. Think about LoL or Dota 2, both dominated by a single maps and still two of the most popular games on the planet to play and watch. Incursion is a long map (mostly a single lane) where you push with minions to destroy the opponent’s sentinel at their base. Meltdown is two-lane map where you try to escort your minions into disposals units on the opponent’s side in order to earn points.
I had fun with both maps and feel like there is enough strategy involved in each to hit that sweet spot of simple rules with really deep tactics. We’ll have to see how that holds up over time though. There is a certain satisfaction of making good plays for your team, and it doesn’t always mean getting kills. It could be a key heal that swung the momentum of a fight, a monster stun that allowed your carry to take out a key opponent, or peeling the assassins off your ranged damage dealers.
I’m really mixed about the story mode at this point. For starters, it can be done in single player, although it’s not balanced well for that. Some characters have a much harder time alone than others. Story is much more fun with a group, even if it’s only a duo. The couple missions I’ve seen are filled with Gearbox charm and humor. Enemy and encounter variety is kind of weak, but there is not much to offset that. It’s because the story mode is lacking in rewards. There are no new crazy weapons or augments in wondrous loot explosions after killing enemies. Instead you get cooldown reduction orbs or extra shields or “points”. After the mission you may get a new character, a skin, a taunt, and/or a card pack, but it’s less satisfying during the mission. I don’t know, the missions just feel awkward because of the MOBA rules of always starting from level 1 and picking your traits against PvE in a Borderlands style level. To be fair, I think the appeal is going to be attempting higher difficulties with a well formed team, but I haven’t gotten there yet.
(Chris) The story mode for me is really fun. I really enjoy the idea of being able to bring any of your unlocked Battleborn into a story mission however, you only get a certain number of lives to complete it. The missions they have allowed us to play are fun and challenging, but not impossible with one player. The MOBA aspect of starting characters at level one during the story campaign wouldn't bug me as much if the rewards were a little better when completing a mission. Maybe the rewards do get better on the later missions, we won't know until the full game releases.
It's good to see the new take on MOBAs PvP that this game brings. Battleborn seems to simplify it and forces team fights more often as there are usually only one or two different lanes to take. This might change some in the third mode we haven't been able to play yet, capture. The modes are quite different from any other MOBA out there and I like to see the new innovation in the genre.