Feel the wrath of, well, Rath.
When you think first-person shooters, publishers like Activision and Electronic Arts are often the first that come to mind. As far as diversity within the FPS marketplace goes, however, it’s hard to argue that 2k doesn’t belong at the top, led by BioShock and Borderlands, but also with the likes of The Darkness, Spec Ops: The Line and Evolve.
Its latest venture comes to us from Gearbox Software with the MOBA-inspired Battleborn. This is the combination that gave fans the Borderlands series, so let’s fire it up and see if they have still have magic in their trigger finger.
Although the most interesting thing about Battleborn is the number of available characters to choose from, that brings with it different sets of abilities and attacks, so things can get a bit confusing. What it all boils down to is that each character has two attacks bound to the triggers, and then three unique abilities: two available from the start on the shoulders, and one ultimate that unlocks as you play.
What this means for FPS veterans is that there is no aiming down sight… well, not unless that’s counted as a specific character’s secondary attack, like Oscar Mike. From a developmental standpoint it makes sense given there’s a mix of ranged and melee characters, but as someone that has typically played shooters with a methodical, engage from distance approach, it can be missed — especially when you’re fighting enemies at long range.
Sprinting, basic melee strikes (read: ones not counted as a primary or secondary attack), and jumping round out the essentials. Also of interest is the in-game upgrade system. Here, every time you level up, you’ll earn a new ability. To activate it, simply hold down on the d-pad to bring up a helix with two choices and then pull the right or left trigger to select the one you want.
Despite our characterization of moments of confusion, that was due in large part to wanting to sample the available roster for the review. In reality, all but the hardest of hardcore players will zone in on a handful of fighters, learn their ins and outs and be all the better for it. With 25 to choose from (and more on the way in future DLC) you’re bound to find ones that match your sensibilities.
To its credit, Battleborn doesn’t tread the same cel-shaded ground as Borderlands, nor does it adopt the dark realism of most modern shooters. Instead you get a bright, colourful world that would’ve looked at home on Saturday mornings — the opening anime cinematic shows it works in that arena as well. It tends to lean a little on the silly side but never at the expense of the action.
As strong as the character variety and design are, the environments feel lacking whether you’re playing competitive multiplayer or the campaign. It doesn’t help that the game’s three game modes feature only two maps each. The game also has a tendency to get really hectic, and the sheer amount of visual effects going on can make it tough to follow.
Audio is a mixed bag. Voice acting, always a strength of 2k, is good with plenty of humour in both the lines and the delivery. Music is fine as well. Some of the in-game sound effects are irritating, though, like the cartoonish grunts from melee attacks and random banter.
While there’s a paper-thin narrative behind Battleborn, it’s mostly there for a few gags and to loosely tie the eight story missions together. You’re free to tackle them solo or as a group, but clearly the intention was for the latter as things don’t scale down to make it a fair challenge. Best case scenario is a painfully slow, ultra conservative trek on your own.
It’s better co-operatively, but that brings up its own set of issues. First off, you can’t simply select a level and then find teammates to play it in public matches. Instead you’re given a choice of missions and then everyone votes — and if it’s not the one you wanted you’re out of luck. Dropping out doesn’t free you up to try again, and you’ll have to play out the lengthy (30-plus minutes) mission.
Competitive multiplayer is spread across three game types: Capture, Meltdown and Incursion. The first one will be instantly familiar. There are three zones; capture and hold them to earn points — the more you hold the faster you score. A couple unique elements are added, such as the ability to build and upgrade turrets to assist in holding or taking an area as well as experience-rich NPCs to kill, but you should be able to hit the ground running.
Meltdown and Incursion offer more innovation by bringing lots of A.I. characters into the fray. In Incursion you and your team try to eliminate your opponent’s giant sentry robot while simultaneously defending yours. Meanwhile, Meltdown tasks your squad with shepherding small robots to sacrificial furnaces to score points. Both include liberal use of friendly/enemy bots and cannons.
Where multiplayer shines is in the different roles it asks players to fill. Smartly constructed teams, able to heal and shield teammates as well as deal damage — on which people play characters as intended — are going to have a leg up in any match. It’s also a fun departure from everyone scattering and trying to kill as many foes as possible.
One issue worth mentioning, however, is how tedious getting into a game actually is. Load times are lengthy, and you end up going through multiple screens — finding a game, map voting, character selection — before starting a match. Once you’re in, it’s very stable, but you pay a price in the amount of time spent in the lobby.
There’s plenty to like about Battleborn, most notably its unique style and diverse cast, but it also has some issues, feeling thin on content in some ways and offering little for lone wolves.