Battleborn Review: The last badass starfighters
A tremendous band of badass heroes fight to protect the universe’s very last star from a mysterious evil in this next-gen shooter by the creators of Borderlands.
The universe is dying and there’s only one star left that hasn’t been destroyed by an impending threat. What do you do? Naturally, you call in a whole bunch of different factions and let them band together to stop the impossible threat. It’s a ridiculous premise, but that’s what makes Battleborn so endearing. In true Gearbox fashion, it doesn’t take itself seriously even when serious things are happening and that’s what makes it so much fun to run through.
Battleborn tells the story of renegade factions fighting over the last star in a galaxy, which is being destroyed by a race of aliens called the Verelsi. Unfortunately, the story mode, while kind of interesting, quickly becomes repetitive as you fight across a handful of episodes often re-engaging enemies seen before. What if you’ve already completed all three story choices when you queue for a game? Too bad, you’re replaying something you’ve already seen.
You can play through the story solo, but it’s almost impossible and not at all enjoyable. Battleborn is absolutely meant to play co-op with your friend list or randoms, but be aware that randoms like to troll and refuse to stand on checkpoints to progress the story mode, and you can’t do anything about it except yell at them and hope they straighten up. And don’t even get me started about how failing checkpoints requires completely restarting and re-queuing up to hopefully take another crack at the mission you just failed. Ugh.
Completing the story missions with high scores will unlock multiple characters, but you can simply unlock everything just by playing multiplayer, and that’s where Battleborn truly shines. While Overwatch plays like Team Fortress 2, Battleborn is a MOBA-lite.
Incursion is a mode where you push a creep wave down the center in order to attack your enemies’ sentry bots. You can deploy elite bots to help push the wave, as well as clear mercenaries in alcoves on the sides of the map (this is basically jungling) and they’ll convert to your team and continue to help push the wave while you fight against the enemy team who’s also trying to clear the wave and clear you out too. This is a traditional style MOBA game mode, but you’ll wind up having players ignore the minion wave and just killing each other. This makes games hard to win, the same way that people fail to pay attention to objectives in other games.
Like Overwatch, Battleborn also does not have a Deathmatch mode, so ignoring the objectives just makes games take longer, no matter how good you are at killing the enemy team. Capture is your typical “control” type game mode for a shooter, but my favorite is Meltdown because it’s a lot like the Arena in Smite. You have to guide your minions into an incinerator and as they die to the flames, you collect scrap metal. The team with the most wins.
Battleborn also features a pretty good loot system which allows you to build equipment upgrades as the match goes on, but it’s not always so clear who you should build what on. Trial and error or googling for builds will help alleviate the confusion, but Gearbox just put it in there like “okay, here’s this, figure it out.” You can spend in game credits to buy new loot packs, or you can buy loot packs with real money. Obviously people with epic and legendary upgrades will ultimately be stronger, but the cost of that is being good enough at the game to gain enough credits to actually build them – a smart approach at keeping people from buying a bunch of loot boxes until they were overpowered from the very beginning of the match.
Switching gears back to the MOBA-lite aspect of things, Battleborn characters all start at level one for each match and max out at level ten. As you level up, you get skills on what looks like a DNA helix, and as you gain levels with that hero they gain a third option in between choices at random intervals such as level three, five, etc. These are smart and make every game feel like there’s a sense of progression, unlike Overwatch where you pick a hero and you have full access to everything from the get-go. If that’s not enough of a sense of progression or accomplishment, which unlocks different skins or more background information you can learn if you choose to go read.
Completing all the lore objectives will unlock goodies but also a cool little picture of that hero behind all the locked puzzle pieces. It’s nothing game changing, but it’s a nice touch and feels like you’re actually accomplishing something as opposed to just playing for a while and then doing something else. It also rewards you for loyalty to one specific faction or character.
While as of now, Battleborn is decisively the more complete feeling game, there are a few things that hold it back from being excellent. One major problem Battleborn has is the extremely long loading times between finding a match and the time getting into one.
The opening sequence animation looks like something that would give fans of MTV’s Liquid Television a boner, but once you’ve seen it play, it wears out the welcome pretty quick. The same can be said about the roll call as matches begin to load – I don’t care who’s playing what character, just load the damn match.
The other glaring problem Battleborn has is that your shots don’t go through your allies. While this makes the game more about pure skill, nothing is more frustrating than playing ISIC and charging your cannon for a killing blow just to have some asshole run up in front of you and block your shot so they can easily steal the kill.
Those two things really hurt Battleborn, which is sad considering it’s a lot of fun. The characters are all interesting though not terribly well balanced. There’s a genderless mushroom named Miko who you can either spec to heal or hurt, a masked luchador named El Dragon who you can you spec for glass cannon or slightly more tank power, or a duel-wielding madman named Rath who only wants to slice apart anything in his way. Sadly, a lot of characters feel niche (like Caldarius) and can easily be outdone by someone with a similar skill set.
The Borderlands humor still exists here, with lots of profanity cleverly bleeped in ways that turn it into great comedic fodder such as ISIC yelling “SH***************T” after you capture him in the story mode and Geoff the spider has terrific dialogue. ISIC’s speech in general is reminiscent of the dog with the collar from the Disney movie Up.
Battleborn is great, but it just isn’t as inviting it could be – and the marketing has made it look more like a direct competitor for Blizzard’s Overwatch, despite being considerably different. It’s a shame more people aren’t getting onto the Battleborn bandwagon because while it isn’t a smooth as Overwatch it’s far more complete and feels like a full game instead of paying to continue playing a demo.