So the Battleborn beta was just released, and I spent the last couple of days trying it out. You remember Battleborn? It’s that game that Gearbox and 2K were making instead of another Borderlands entry. There was also a slightly uncomfortable moment at the beginning where everybody watching their E3 stuff thought it was a MOBA, and the creators had to step in and undo their own marketing with a series of awkward interviews, clarifying what genre it was to Johnny Public.
But I do wonder if some memo got mixed up in the Gearbox offices. You were supposed to making a new game, Gearbox, not a thinly veiled sequel-slash-remake that I can’t help but think of as “Battleborderlands.” The games are annoyingly similar, at least from what the beta has shown me.
Tell me if this sounds familiar to you – you’re a bunch of quirky mercenaries on an oddball planet, there’s a comically over-the-top villain, the art-style is cell-shaded and cartooney, the interface is pretty poor, there’s an emphasis on online cooperative play, and the whole thing is in need of a bit of balancing. It really got hammered home when I was playing as a sniper and pistol user with a pet bird that goes out to attack people.
Come on, Battleborn! You didn’t think people would notice how similar it was to the Borderlands games?! All you needed to do was dangle that triangle symbol on everything and let it build to an underwhelming story conclusion!
So let’s focus on what’s different. There’s a lot more characters to play as now, twenty-five in fact, and an emphasis has been made to make them all play pretty differently. Some are melee-focused, some are supportive, some are familiar archetypes we’ve seen before, but at the core they all have a basic attack (usually a ranged thing of some kind), a few strange abilities and a superpower that takes ages to cool down.
But as opposed to Borderlands, where you levelled a character over time and kept those changes, Battleborn is more about the instant gratification. You level up pretty quickly, changing your character on the fly, but at the end of the match your changes are dumped out the window for you to start again next time, with a true blank slate.
Which for me raised the uncomfortable question: what’s my investment here? Why should I care in the long term? Alright, you can get gear that carries over between games, but it all seems pretty unimportant when it’s just offering passive buffs and stat modifiers. I also don’t feel a sense of empathy to the characters, as all their progress gets reset every thirty minutes and they just seem to be stock archetypes with no depth beyond that. I suppose the motivation could come from unlocking other characters to play as, most of whom are kept from you until you fulfil certain criteria, but I’m just not feeling much of an urge to do so.
And what about the story? Well, I can certainly say that something is happening. Yes. Something. Something is definitely in the process of occurring. No, you’re not getting any more details. I’m unwilling to commit to anything else at this time, as the Battleborn beta only offered two story missions, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of either of them. There’s an old guy that shouts at you from a spaceship, a computer AI that you have to capture, a portal that you need to throw a big robot into… I assume most of this will make sense when contextualised with the missions in the full game, but for now it fundamentally remains a mystery.
There are some things I like about it, though. There’s an interesting element where you can earn money with certain actions and pick-ups, using it to build turrets or gain advantages at the right times. Some of the gears you take with you are activated in this way, meaning that juggling the wealth in your personal piggy bank is a valid way to gain the edge in combat.
I’m also a fan of the fact that combat is made easier by cooperation. It’s not at the Left 4 Dead level, a game that would take great pleasure in killing those that couldn’t work out the benefits of friendship, but it does understand that teamwork should matter, and things tend to go wrong when people forget what they’re doing. Snipers should be sniping, melee characters should be hacking enemies to pieces, and support characters should have the ever-tedious job of standing at the back and making green particle effects surround their friends. Seriously, has the healing character ever been the most fun class to play as, in any game ever made?
And to Battleborn’s credit, some of the characters are fun to use. I recommend the archer lady, the little four-armed sorcerer-gremlin thing, and robot McPoshface, at least from my experience. I advise you to avoid mushroom ninja and Frowning With Swords, who were either completely pathetic or an absolute chore to play as. Basically, the character selection is a mixed bag. There’s a lot there, so probably something for everybody, but whether there’s enough for your tastes will depend on the depth the full game offers.
So Battleborn appears, at its core, to be a reinvented Borderlands game. Maybe that’ll win some of you over, maybe that’ll put some of you off. It’ll be hard to judge how good it is until the full game is released, but consider this snippet of gameplay to be worth a non-committal shrug, being to game demos what the plain cheese sandwich is to lunch.