Battleborn Preview: a thorn in my side

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When I first got wind of Battleborn, I was pretty damned excited. You see, beyond my Dota 2 addiction, I’ve got a strong love for the Borderlands franchise. Borderlands 2 in particular stole away a large chunk of my life, minute by minute, resulting in hundreds of hours of Pandora playtime. A shooter akin to that with MOBA elements thrown into the mix promises to be a game I will love for eternity. Will that be the case? After my hands on time with the game at an event last night, I’m not entirely sure.

First though, let me give you some context. Before I finally got my grubby paws on Battleborn, I saw it plenty thanks to an interview I stitched together for Zoe when she saw it pre-E3, and again when I edited an interview Alessandro conducted at E3 itself. Needless to say, I’ve seen enough b-roll footage to last me a lifetime.

I liked what I saw, but how does the game actually play? I couldn’t wait to find out first-hand. I teamed up with other journos, picked Thorn, a bow wielding badass, and got ready to powder everything in sight with my deadly arrows.

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After a minute with the Battleborn, I felt right at home. It feels like Borderlands in many ways. Mobs of enemies? Check. Surprise mini-bosses? Absolutely! Even the look and feel, while slightly different to Gearbox’s previous shooter, still has Borderlands painted all over it. Is this a bad thing? Not in the slightest. It mostly feels familiar, and that’s great.

Where Battleborn begins to feel different however, is the way it plays out in terms of levelling and pacing. Oh, and it’s got a  really huge roster – there are twenty-five characters to choose from, and each has their own unique weapons and abilities to play around with. This is where the MOBA elements really begin to shine through.

Helix

Players are given access to a helix system, which gives the choice of one of two buffs at each level (from 1-10). With Thorn, for example, I could upgrade her Blight, an ability that does damage to enemies in a large area, to give me a speed buff too if I ran through it. Alternately, I could’ve augmented it to curse my arrows as long as I was standing in its area of effect.

Having these different variations is a neat idea, except I can’t help but feel that it is somewhat limited. I played as Thorn once. Had I played as her a second time, I would’ve likely tried any helix ability I hadn’t chosen previously. Thereafter? I’m sure I would fall into the same levelling routine, choosing the abilities I preferred, over and over again.

Will this not makes things a tad boring in the long run? I think having more than two options per level (something similar to the talent system Heroes of the Storm basically) would really keep the experience fresh and interesting, allowing for true customisation, and a much better product overall. Balancing all of that though would be quite difficult, truth be told, so I’m really not sure if Gearbox will even consider doing it.

Read  Borderlands 2 VR is coming to PlayStation 4 this December

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In terms of the actual gameplay, only one level was on offer. It was the exact same one I had seen over and over again while editing Zoe and Alessandro’s interviews, so I knew exactly where to go and what to do. There is very little breathing room, and each playthrough I did, 10-15 minutes each with three different characters, was packed to the brim with action. The problem is, by the third time I had defeated that last boss, I was surprisingly bored.

Will the same be applicable for the rest of the game? Will it be played once or twice and then completely forgotten? I’m uncertain. I’ve only seen a small slice of the overall picture, and while 25 playable characters provides a bunch of different ways to play the game, I’m really unsure if it will be enough to keep players hooked. I’m hoping Gearbox shed more light on the campaign in the near future.

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That aside, I’m more interested to find out more about the competitive side of the game. Co-op (or solo) campaign is fun, but 5 v 5? That will be the real bread and butter, and if done properly, the part of the game that will keep players hooked for hundreds of hours. Until then, Battleborn remains on my to-watch-list, even if this hands on time did little to truly wow me.

To put it simply, if Battleborn cannot grab me – a Borderlands-loving, MOBA addict – then who exactly will it appeal to? Gearbox really have to have something special planned if they expect their new IP to be a success. There is a ton of potential, there really is. I’m just hoping that we don’t have another case of Evolve where everybody plays for a week or two and then moves on to the next new thing.

Battleborn promises to be good. In it’s current state though, I don’t see it sticking around for the long run. Here’s hoping that changes, because it’s the sort of game I would love to give another chunk of my life to.

Last Updated: July 22, 2015

Matthew Figueira

Defence of the Ancients? More like Defence of the cabbages! Have you seen my head? I look like a Merino Sheep on pole. NO SHANGE only SHAPPIES! :D

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