If you listen to the internet, this is a game that is not doing well. This is a game that many people say is dying on the PC Platform, and limping along on the consoles. This is a game that has a few issues, bugs, and glitches. This is a game that has been lambasted by other game journalists and review sites as being terrible. This is a game that has been compared, unfavorably, to Overwatch.
This is a game that I personally really enjoy.
This is Battleborn, by Gearbox, developers of the Borderlands series.
I know I opened with a litany of negatives phrases. But that was on purpose. I wanted to highlight the general feeling of people around the net, and how the game is currently thought of. And honestly, pretty much universally, the game is not thought of very well. Even its own fans have a bunch of valid complaints.
Part of it is the way the promotion of the game was handled. Part of it are the issues it has with its matchmaking and queue times and lack of any real tutorials. Part of it is the dwindling playerbase. And part of it is the direct and unfair comparisons to Overwatch.
But is the game deserving of the scorn? I admit, I am a fan of it. But it does have some issues. Let’s get into my Pillars and discuss these matters in depth.
This game has a slick and stylish art style that I feel works well. It uses the celshaded style similar to the Borderlands games, and everything has a very distinct look. There is not a lot of variation in environments, sadly, but the zones do feel different. The game is basically divided into planets where the missions take place, and there is a snowy planet, a forest planet with ruins, and a cityscape / technological planet.
Also each of the 25 playable characters look and feel unique. From Montana who has a giant body but tiny baby head, to Toby the Penguin in a Mech Suit, to Kleese, the old man in a giant floating chair, everyone looks visually distinct, which is especially good in PvP when you need to be able to quickly identify your opponents. Knowing you face Oscar Mike versus Rath is very important, for example. One has space lasers. The other can spin for the win.
The enemies could use more variance however, as at times it can become difficult to tell one enemy from another when they are from the same group. You have robots, Varelsi (Which are shadow creatures) and Jennerit (which are beastly ones). The Robots and Varelsi have the hardest to discern individuals, as the Robots have a few options that look similar, and the Varelsi are all very shadowy and can be hard to tell apart as well.
Also I would like to point out this game has a Luchadore named El Dragon who has cybernetic arms. Who doesn’t love that?! He is over in the upper right corner of the image below, next to Toby.
The game is very visually busy. There are tons of particle effects, explosions, projectiles and the like. It can become hectic to tell what is going on around you at times. Also, some of the effects for character abilities, while nice and thematic, can be really annoying. ISIC, an AI in a robot suit, has a shield ability that puts an effect in front of your screen that is made up of rotating hexagons. And if you use his arm shield (right click on PC) it can literally block your vision as attacks splash against it. Rath, a melee character, has a skirt for his leggings, and when falling it can fly up into your face. It’s realistic, but really annoying at times.
Overall I really like the art style, but it does get messy on screen at times with no way to really reduce the effects.
Alright, let’s get music out of the way. Other than the theme that plays when you start a PvE mission, and the introduction song that plays during the opening cutscene, I cannot tell you really much of anything regarding music. I never notice it. The gunfire, voice acting, and everything else drowns out what little music there is.
Also, the opening song is a really… iffy rap song. I am not a fan of rap in general so I am not the best person to really talk about it, but it’s forgettable. The theme that plays during the opening of each mission is nice, but it can quickly get repetitive because, well, you will be doing a lot of PvE for gear.
One thing that is great however is the voice acting. Every character has their own voice, and they are all awesome. Each character has their own personality as well which shines through the dialog. And there is a surprising amount of said dialog. Every PvE mission has dialog as you advance, and it has quite a bit of variance. I have, for example, done one particular mission called The Algorithm three times, and each time the dialog I heard from the NPCs as I went through it was different. Also, Nova is love, Nova is life. You will learn to love Nova.
Especially good is the humor. The dialog is hilarious, and Gearbox really knocked it out of the park. It’s hard to not laugh as a giant sentinel robot named Geoff repeatedly calls himself Arachnis lord of all Spiders, and argues with his master, a nihilistic AI named ISIC. The entire game is peppered with this, and I LOVE IT.
So there is a story here. It involves the people of the galaxy coming together to fight against an alien race called the Varlesi, and their allies the Jennerit. The Jennerit are led by a man named Rendain, and he is your primary antagonist. Your Battleborn are basically heroes of five factions (Eldrid, Jennerit, LLC, Peacekeepers, and Rogue) and are out to stop him and the Varelsi from destorying the last active star in the universe.
The story is not complete however, as there are only 8 PVE missions in the game currently, with 5 more DLC missions coming. If you have the Deluxe edition, which I do, you will get all 5 DLC Missions as part of it. If not, well you will have to get them separately, and with the game having only been out a month right now there is little word on when they are coming.
Each PvE story mission has its own storyline as well, and plays out sort of like a TV Show, complete with opening credits showing off the players and who they are “staring as”.
Granted, the story is not really the focus here, but I like that there is at least motivation for doing things. It’s very thin, and nothing is really explained or resolved by the end of the current 8 missions. Maybe once the DLC Missions are introduced the story will be fleshed out more, but for now there is not much.
Further, each character has Lore, but the only way to unlock it is to complete specific character based challenges. I know next to nothing about pretty much everyone right now, and even after 12 hours of played time I have only unlocked 2 of the 5 lore pieces for Oscar Mike. It’s nice to have lore, but it can be frustrating to unlock. For example, the new hero Alani has a Lore Unlock that requires her to kill the Battleborn known as Ambra 25 times. Meaning you have to PvP and find and kill 25 Ambras. That’s very difficult right now.
This is the meat of this game, the focus, and the main reason to play. There are two primary styles of gameplay here. One are the eight PvE missions which are solo or cooperative missions that you can play with up to four other people. Then there are the PvP modes which are 5v5 matches with three distinct game modes.
I am not a PvP aficionado, and have only played two of the three game modes in PvP. I have played Incursion, which is a MOBA Styled mode where you push lanes and try to destroy your opponents two Sentries, while killing minions, and Domination, which is a point capture mode with three capture points you have to hold to earn points to win. I lost the Incursion, but won during the Domination. The third type of match is called Meltdown, and from what I understand you spend that game trying to escort robots into a furnace to sacrifice them to some sort of AI.
A lot of complaints about the game stem from the PvP and its matchmaking issues. You see, currently the player base is admittedly small, with around 1500 active Steam Players during peak times. While many say the game is dying because of this, it’s still a decent number of people playing. Because of the low number of players, queue times for high ranked players can be very long as the game uses a background ELO system to match you up with people of equal skill. Since I have a low rank I can get matches fairly quickly but there are complaints of upwards of 30 minute queues for the high ranked players.
These issues do not seem to plague the PvE however. I have done about 12 PvE missions, each one taking around 30 minutes to 1 hour to complete. I have only lost two of those. Each PvE mission has a specific gameplay style and goal. It could be a raid map, where you go from boss to boss just killing dudes. It could be a defend mission, where you go to specific map points and defend against waves and some bosses, or an escort mission where you escort a NPC around the map and keep them alive. Sadly, there are only 8 PvE missions and while the dialog is amusing enough, it can get repetitive quickly. Thankfully you can do PvE matches with either a PUG (ie a group of random players) or with a group of friends. The PvE missions scale to an extent and are soloable, although the very first mission, called the Algorithm, is nigh impossible as a melee solo, because of how the final boss works. I have done it, but it was an exercise in frustration.
The way the game basically works is as follows: You choose a mode (PvE or PvP) and whether public or private. You can play Bot matches in PvP via the Private option. Private PvE missions are solo missions. You then choose a hero, and you can in fact pick the same hero as someone else. You then select a skin, taunt, and Loadout of gear (you can have three saved gear loadouts) and then the mission starts.
There are currently 25 heroes available in game. You start with a small selection of heroes who cover the various styles of play. You see, this game uses MOBA Terminology for its heroes, so you have Tanks, Support, Damage Dealers, Assassins, etc. You have both ranged and melee characters, and everything is done from a First Person perspective.
You unlock new heroes by completing challenges or leveling up your Command Rank, which is basically your player level. Some challenges for example are “Win 5 Matches with a Rogue Type” to unlock Toby. Matches are either PvE or PvP by the way. Another challenge would be “Kill 50 Enemy Battleborn” for Phoebe, which is a PvP challenge. All characters save the newest, Alani, can be unlocked by reaching a specific Command Level. Alani, being a new free character, can only be unlocked with a Hero Key (Deluxe Owners get one of these per new free character that can be used on ANY hero) or in Alani’s case, with Credits.
During battle, your hero will level up, and gain access to their Helix. This is where you can customize your character during the game. Each Helix contains 2 base choices per level, and if you play a character enough you gain Mutations as you level them up outside the matches.
During a PvE mission, you will also frequently find chests and loot drops. Yes, Loot exists in this game, and has various qualities (Common, Rare, Epic, and Legendary) which can have various effects. You cannot equip the loot until you are outside of a mission at your Command Center. You cannot access this until you are command level 3 which will take you one to three missions to complete. Also, be advised that some loot have negative effects on them, and sometimes the commons you find can actually be really powerful. I have a common that gives me something around 30% boosted shield recharge. Commons usually only have 1 effect, Rare Gear can have 2, Epic Gear I have seen have 2-3, and Legendaries usually have unique powers and 2 main buffs. You cannot earn gear via PvP. So if you want to get gear you have to play PvE.
During the missions you will find Shards, and these are what you use to “buy” a gear activation. Each piece of gear has its own shard cost. You can view these costs in your Loadout screen when you are creating a loadout as well as when you are activating a Gear. Once activated the gear stays active the rest of the mission. The higher the quality the higher the shard cost as well so having 3 Legendary pieces can be costly.
After you complete a mission, whether you succeed or fail, you will see a Mission Complete screen which will give you a summary of the Command and Character XP you have earned, the Credits you have obtained, and some other information. It will also list any unlocks you have earned such as Titles, Skins, Taunts, Battleborn, and Mutations.
Credits can be used to purchase Gear Packs by the way. That and expanding your gear storage are the only main uses for Credits I have seen thus far.
This game does have a few bugs as well. Personally I have only run into a single bug during the Sentinel mission, where the final boss glitched out and could not be killed. My team and I had to kill ourselves over and over to burn off our “Lives” (number of respawns the team gets) in order to force fail the mission. Still got our loot though, so I was fine with that. Others have reported lag, slowdown, graphic bugs, and of course the matchmaking issues and queue times.
The game also seems to be poorly optimized. AMD Users appear to be the ones most affected by it, sometimes having huge framerate drops. On my system I am able to run the game at max settings with 60 fps even during the most intense battles. I have a i7 4770k 3.5ghz CPU, 16gb DDR3 Ram, and a GTX 970. It’s possible I am able to do this simply because of the NVIDIA Card.
Here is a video showing off the first mission in the game outside of the Prologue, called the Algorithm. I pugged it and played it with a character I am decent with called Oscar Mike, which is one of the starter characters.
I also wanted to draw everyone’s attention to another review I felt was really well done, and presents a few differing viewpoints. The site MMOGrinder did a fantastic look at Battleborn as well, and I suggest that if you want another viewpoint to check out his review and his “tribunal” as he calls it, where members of his guild Grindstone weigh in on the games he plays. Hope ya don’t mind the link, ChaosD1.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BATTLEBORN AND OVERWATCH
Let’s talk about the Elephant in the Room, as they say. Is this game like Overwatch and is it better? First, I want to draw your attention to our own review of Overwatch here, in case you need a primer on it.
You see, Battleborn came out about 2 weeks prior to Overwatch, and ever since it did it has been compared, unfairly in my view, to that game. Both games however are very different. The one thing the two have in common as that they are both forerunners in the new genre of “Hero Shooters” that is emerging, using FPS Mechanics and a roster of heroes to use in combat.
Battleborn is a PvE / PVP Hybrid game, with gameplay similar to SMITE or other MOBAs for its PvP, and Borderlands like Gameplay for its PvE. Overwatch is a team based PvP Shooter that is more akin to Team Fortress 2. Overwatch is only PvP, whereas Battleborn has a PvE campaign. Overwatch only has unlockable skins and taunts, Battleborn has Loot in addition to the skins and taunts. Overwatch has a smaller roster of heroes, but all are available from the outset. Battleborn has a slightly larger roster, but you have to work to unlock them. Overwatch has no leveling mechanics, having every power available to your hero at the start. Battleborn has leveling during matches, and you have to reach level 5 to unlock your Ultimate power for your hero.
The only common thing is they both have Heroes, their heroes both have special powers, and they both use FPS mechanics. That is it. And which game is better? That is entirely based on what you are looking for. For me, I want PvE. Which means it’s Battleborn.
Also, if you are still on the fence or confused, here is a fantastic video by TotalBiscuit going over the differences between the two games. It’s what got me to choose Battleborn
Despite the negatives, I have been having a blast with this game. I personally feel it’s best played in short bursts, maybe an hour or two at most. Many people complain about the lack of content, but these are also the same people who have most likely played 60 or more hours of the game already, and in my opinion that is more than enough content / played time to warrant the price.
Granted, I am not a fan of the price point. The base price is $60, and the season pass tacks on another $20 if you purchase it separately. You can get the Deluxe edition for $75 which saves you $5, although honestly it’s not worth $75. I was given this copy by a friend and he got it for me on sale, the Deluxe edition specifically, for $40 – a price point I agree with. Hell, the base game alone is worth $40, and I would have been happy paying that and then getting the Season Pass for $20.
So if you are interested in this game, I highly suggest you give it a shot. Possibly wait for it to go on sale again, but it’s completely worth it. The devs are active, giving out “Battleplan” updates each week, and I feel that with some time the future will be bright for this game. Just wait for a sale or price drop.
Battleborn can be purchased on Steam, and is also available for the PS4 and Xbox One.