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Battleborn seems like the younger sibling of the older, more established Borderlands. The art style is familiar, yet different enough to just about be considered unique. Where Borderlands became a first person shooter with role-playing game elements, Battleborn tries to one-up its sibling by taking what Borderlands did and throwing another genre in the mix: multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) features. The question remains: does this mishmash of genres work well together? Gearbox gave us the opportunity to try their game for a few hours to see just how well Battleborn shapes up against the competition.
The problem with trying to create a new genre of game stems from balancing issues, especially for a game that wants to be competitive. Battleborn has been described by Gearbox as a ‘Hero Shooter’, what this actually means is it’s a first person shooter with MOBA elements. As with all MOBAs, Battleborn features a large roster of heroes to select from, twenty-five to be precise. Each hero has its own unique abilities that are designed with teamwork in mind, for example: Miko, a healer, works well with Montana, a large man with a mini-gun. Does that sound familiar to you? Well, it should. For everything Battleborn borrows, it tries to add something new into the mix. Deande, a fan wielding assassin, is a prime example of this. She is not one of the standard classes usually seen in first person shooters, but that’s exactly where the problems begin to occur. In the build we played, she seemed to be significantly better than practically every hero in the arena. Of course, this was only a preview build so we are almost certain this will change once the game releases in May.
Speaking of borrowed elements, the mode we played during this preview was Incursion. Incursion will be familiar to MOBA players. In this mode, teams battle to defend their base from waves of AI-controlled minions while fighting to destroy the enemy base. There are two other multiplayer modes, Capture and Meltdown. Capture is simply capture the flag, a mode where teams must capture objectives, then successfully defend them. The final mode is Meltdown. In this mode, teams must usher their minions to the centre of the map where the minions will then jump into an incinerator, earning points for each death. The team with the most incinerated minions wins. The problem we had with Incursion stemmed from the usefulness of some of the heroes in that specific mode. Marquis, a sniper designed for long range battles, was rendered useless (compared to melee heroes in particular) in battle as a result of the map layout. With constant twists and turns in the level, it was difficult to land headshots as enemies could hide behind cover at almost any point in the map. We were told this hero was not suited to Incursion, however there was no way a new player would recognise this to be the case when playing the game for the first time.
Loot is also a very important feature in Battleborn. Separated into three different packs (Common, Uncommon and Rare), players will have the chance to purchase loot using credits earned by playing the single and multiplayer modes. Depending on which pack you choose, you will be provided between one and three perks. Standard packs are exclusively available in multiplayer, where loot will randomly drop throughout matches, disappearing if it is not retrieved quickly enough. Each loot perk will empower your character with different advantages for example, disabling enemy shields. However, perks with considerable advantages have supposedly been balanced to ensure that if one of your character’s abilities increases, another will equally decrease. In addition, some perks are instant whereas others will require shards (shards are sources of power scattered on each map, which be broken and collected) in order to power them. Overall, the loot system appears to have been well designed, encouraging players to play more offensively in order to afford more perks which, in turn, will reward them by giving them an advantage.
In Battleborn, you are also encouraged to build nodes in order to aid your team. These nodes come in three classes: the turret nodes, which will attack enemies; support nodes, intended to heal team members and damage opponents and logistics nodes, that will decrease your enemies speed whilst increasing yours. All of these nodes can be built by anyone on your team, providing they have enough shards.
There’s a lot of room for creativity when it comes to team building thanks to the Helix System. Throughout both the single and multiplayer modes, each hero will level up in-game from rank 1 to 10. Your hero’s level will reset each time you play a new game, but don’t worry, it doesn’t take long to level your character. Each rank contains two different power-ups to select. The left side of the helix contains the support power-ups that will benefit the team, the right side usually focuses on offensive minded abilities that increase your damage output. Miko is typically used as a healer, but when levelled up in a specific order, Miko’s attacks can deal respectable amounts of damage to a large number of enemies. The Helix System will ultimately be the mechanic that makes or breaks the game’s balance. Theoretically, there should be a counter to every seemingly overpowered hero, the answer may be hidden in the layouts players pick.
Battleborn suffers from having arguably too much potential. What Gearbox is trying to do is incredibly ambitious, but it doesn’t take much for the roster of twenty-five heroes to be whittled down to ten viable heroes. In its current state, Battleborn is an enjoyable multiplayer game. We had fun playing the Incursion mode and it was easy to see how groups of five people could come up with ways to create the perfect team. Our fear is that the game will eventually descend into players picking the same five heroes with the same layout time after time. If Gearbox can find a way to make all twenty-five of their heroes viable then they may be onto a massive hit.
Most Anticipated Feature: Trying out more heroes. We only got our hands on four different heroes during our time with the game, although we’ve already started coming up with combinations of heroes that will complement each other.