The last time Gearbox smashed two types of video game genres together they came up with Borderlands. A first-person shooter with role-playing characteristics mixed in and an enormous loot driven system, it went on to sell millions of copies and eventually spawn a few sequels. With this success in mind, Gearbox were probably thinking to themselves, “why not have another crack at that,” and that is exactly what they have done with Battleborn – a first person shooter mashed into a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena). While Battleborn is a fun game with a lot of depth, there are a few things in the game that are currently problematic and will hopefully be resolved soon.
Battleborn is primarily split up into two parts: a competitive online mode and a campaign story. Both of which play very differently to each other. The main gist of the game is that you take a hero who has a range of abilities and skills and you work your way through to complete an objective. The campaign mode has a very similar comedic tone and art style to Borderlands. You can progress through a range of missions either alone or with a group of others and doing so will unlock new heroes that can be used in further missions or in the online mode. Most of these missions are built very much like a raid that you would see in an RPG, and end up being great fun to work your way though. Its downfall is that the story and its comedy hooks just aren’t on par with Borderlands; it has its moments, but unfortunately falls flat most of the time.
Over in the competitive online mode is where you’ll see a bunch of MOBA elements which a lot of games have started to borrow from recently. There are three modes to play all up. Incursion, which is the most similar to your classic MOBA gameplay, sees your team of heroes escorting your AI controlled minions across a single lane to the other teams base in order to destroy their sentry. The second mode is Meltdown; this splits the map into multiple lanes where you’ll have to escort your minions into grinders that give your team points. Once your team reaches the half-way mark you’ll have to escort them to a second set of grinders further away to complete the objective. The final mode is Capture, the most basic out of the three has your team securing certain points of interest on the map to accumulate points.
Across these modes you’ll have the option to collect shards. This can be done in a variety of ways, including picking them up from fallen minions, searching for them in locations across the map or even slowly accumulating shards straight into your resource pool as the game progress. With these shards you’ll be able to enable or purchase and upgrade buildable structures throughout the map; these come in the form of turrets, healing stations, accelerators or super minions. The structures will help fortify tactical areas and provide further resistance to enemy attacks.
Gear is a key factor in the competitive modes and is acquired through opening loot packs, either by ranking up or purchasing them using the in game currency system – which very importantly you can’t buy with real world money. The items you’ll acquire will have certain bonuses depending on their rarity, which essentially enables you to have better stats in areas like damage, health, shield regeneration, healing, cheaper buildables and more. This adds an extra layer of being able to tinker with the hero you chosen to play with even further. But this brings us to some of our biggest concerns with the game: its matchmaking.
Because the loot packs are locked to your overall rank in the game, which rises as you play more matches, the higher your rank is can determine the quality of the loot packs you’ll end up acquiring, overall giving you better stats on the gear. With the matchmaking I experienced many occasions where either our team or the others were completely all over the place with individual ranks. I recall one of the most frustrating matches being our group of five players all ranked below level 10, going up against a group of high ranking 30s and 40s players. Already excluding their experience with the game, our team was at a disadvantage because their gear loadouts were going to be better through the match. As expected we got completed destroyed, but the next moment of disbelief came when the next round of matchmaking kicked in.
The majority of my teammates from the previous game started loading into my team again, and after it had assembled our group of D-grade Avengers, the opponent team loaded in. Surprise! It was the same stack of five players from the last match. Our team started laughing in the chat, but that followed closely by people just leaving and not wanting to go through that again. It’s a painful experience just getting completely obliterated, especially when we would be more than happy to wait a few extra minutes for a game that might be more evenly matched.
The other issue I’m finding with Battleborn is that Gearbox hasn’t been quick to apply balance changes and fix exploits which are currently ruining some of the multiplayer maps. For instance there are certain heroes in the game where people have found some ridiculous vantage points to be able to knock out objectives from the safety of their side of the map. In a game like this you want to have awesome battles and involve your team in combining their abilities to create epic plays. Not having to send your team over to a cheese spot in the back corner of the enemy base because one player hasn’t moved the entire game – that’s not fun.
Battleborn has a solid story campaign with its raid like structure that can be quite enjoyable when you jump in with a few friends. The game really shows off its best parts in the competitive multiplayer, having spent a lot of time playing MOBA games over the years Gearbox have made some great decisions in this area. But for games like this you absolutely need to pay attention to your community and get updates out quicker than what has been the case so far. When it comes to these hybrid MOBA / FPS games that are starting to pop up, Battleborn is definitely the best one I’ve played so far, even despite some of its problems.
Battleborn was reviewed using promotional codes on PC and PS4, as provided by the publisher.