Gearbox is at it again. No, it really is. Borderlands may well have been setting the bar for co-op shoot and loot FPS games, but their sights have now been set on something much more team focused and something much more competitive, despite the inclusion of a story mode. Battleborn is the studio’s latest attempt to look at the competitive scene and maybe break in to that much coveted eSports arena.
It’s something 2K hoped to crack with Evolve but, regardless of how good the game was, the amount of people playing it and the fairly long nature of play and upgrading characters hasn’t taken off as well as they’d have wanted. But Battleborn aims to capture this market, especially when Blizzard are releasing Overwatch, and give a decent and enjoyable story mode for you to play as well.
That mode should allow for five player co-op online or via splitscreen and is what 2K are referring to as “Modular”. What that means is that you have a voting system of what missions to do next within your party, but you can also replay missions you’ve already done for better loot. So each mission is its own module or block. Loot and experience, much like Borderlands, is a key element here but, because of the competitive nature of the game, it is much quicker and easier to implement. The DNA helix is a very nice system, quite similar to those you find in MOBA’s for quick levelling and adapting your play style to suit the objective. The helix has a tier of ten different levels and you select the path you want by hitting (on the controller anyway) left or right trigger to select it. It’s quick and easy, it works well, it doesn’t take you out of the game, and it is very… Modular.
Battleborn is going to boast twenty five playable characters, some of which you’ll see in the video below. But you’ll get characters with a lot of different specalities like healing, massive destruction, speed… The usual you would expect. But it was definitely interesting to see a bit of the behind the scenes of these characters. We were treated to a look at the test game area in the game engine to see how the destruction skills of these characters are over an area and how much damage they actually do. Ambra for example can command a meteor down from the sky and compared to her small three space area staff attack, this makes the battle area look like game of Guess Who that’s close to the end – flattened. These powers are also helped by your loot improving your player. But this kind of talk doesn’t make for a great preview. So how does Battleborn play?
Well… It plays like Borderlands really. I’ve spent a good week trying to work out, from a single player co-op perspective anyway, how I can separate the two so that I can talk about the game in a bit more depth. But with the gameplay, the style, the humour, and more, everything is Borderlands-esque. When I say that, I don’t mean it’s Gearbox-esque. Gearbox is a good studio (regardless of what you think about the ex-magician in charge) and they’ve had a great success with the Borderlands games. So really, there’s no need to change the formula. But this feeling of similarity goes beyond just the basic mechanics that make those games.
Our four player co-op mission saw us going through a fairly cavernous and empty futuristic storage complex that had been built in to an otherwise barren rock. We went through as a team, defeating the minor enemies in the way, to get to a certain checkpoint where there would be a mini-boss and then progress through to the bigger boss. On the way we can open up containers to get some power ups or health packs in the shape of little green balls, and all around us was amber shards of rock that we could destroy to earn cash. We were being guided though with a bodiless radio communication between characters at the top of the screen giving us the exposition we needed to fulfil our objective.
Our objective was to get this automated tank like unit called a “Wolf” safely to an area where it can open up a big door and where we get ambushed by these dark gangly creatures with white faces. The cash we’ve earned allows us to activate upgrades on the Wolf to help defend itself such as a big healing shield. There’s a lot in this co-op that would be good with friends albeit possibly a bit easy and, if you’ve had the six years of Borderlands, you might be asking where the differences are.
The differences of course are going to be in the competitive arena which will have three game types. Incursion sees you trying to destroy the enemy base whilst AI minions battle it out for mid-ground supremacy, Devastation is a deathmatch-come-king of the hill type game and Meltdown which sees you throwing minions to their deaths for points (much like a reverse Lemmings really). The humour of Gearbox is there and there’s a lot of different character choices with their own styles to make that experience a lot more fun and unique, and there’s going to be a lot of differences in the arsenal that can keep it fresh at least.
But even with the new colour palette and the slightly more fantastical art look, I still felt the game was a bit too close to Borderlands to have its own identity at the moment. Although that maybe exactly what you want. It certainly works well enough and the gameplay is fun but there wasn’t enough there yet, and I stress the word yet, for me to be sinking hours in to this and enjoying that time. I think what I want at this stage is just a bit more of Battleborn’s lore to come to the front, a bit more of the weapons and loot to be explained and more examples of how it all implements to your gameplay and character progression. Battleborn definitely looks like a game that can stand on its own but still has that air of a younger sibling about it. I’m sure as soon as we get towards the end of the year and some beta testing starts appearing, we’ll be able to see how much it has grown up.
Battleborn is currently due for release on February 9th 2016 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One