Battleborn preview – do we need another hero?

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Battleborn is a new FPS RPG from Gearbox, the studio that brought you Borderlands. While it doesn’t look bad, I’m sure many of you are wondering (like me) why you should care about it. I was sent to sunny Santa Monica to find out.

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Much of what I learned about Battleborn is now common knowledge. It’s a hero shooter with a whole variety of playable characters – 25 at launch. With weapons ranging from guns or bows to swords or magic, the goal is to have something for everyone when the game comes out.

The story is based on Heat Death – all the stars in the universe are going out and the game take place around the last star in the universe, which is of course named Solas. All the races of the world descend on this last star for the sake of their survival, bringing with them their usual hatred of each other. However, when they realise that the Verelsi are actually destroying stars, they decide to band together to fight the big bads.

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During each mission, players will start at level one and grow up to level ten. In this way, the game feels a lot like a MOBA – your character grows throughout the match, unlocking new abilities or enhancements; you even unlock your “ultimate” at level five. When I asked the developers about this, they explained that part of it was definitely a MOBA influence, but that it’s also linked to game progression. If you generally enjoy playing as a ranged character like Thorn, the bow sniper, you might pick her for every match as you progress through the story. However, you might get to a certain level where you actually need more melee abilities. In Borderlands or other games, you would need to train up an all new character just to break through that hurdle. In Battleborn, on the other hand, you can just pick a new hero to play as for that one match before going back to your usual favourite. There will also be player specific progression, much like the Badass score in Borderlands, although how that relates to gameplay was not something that they were able to discuss at the time.

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I got to experience hands-off and hands-on demo time with a story mission, “To the edge of the void”. The story can be played alone or in up to 5-player co-op. We played in co-op while taking on the moon bliss environment. During that time, I got to play as three different heroes, each of which were completely different to play as. Even the two ranged characters that I played as, Thorn and Marquis, were truly distinct in their abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Plus they just had fun and different personalities to explore.

I didn’t really get too much story out of that particular mission – it was mainly a matter of beating up a few mobs and eventually a boss as we manoeuvred through the map. What I did find interesting was the shard system.

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s you kill enemies or break certain things, you can pick up what looks like crystals. Called shards, these are a currency and upgrade requirement. While the game is still undergoing some balancing and is in development, I found the functionality of these shards really cool but rather strangely implemented.

Around the map are often upgradable elements; for example, in the area for the boss battle, it was possible to build turrets provided you had enough shards to do so. Strangely, there were times when we were unable to build the turrets because no one player had enough shards – these aren’t shared between players in co-op. Perhaps this will change before the game launches, but it definitely means that players can’t just run for the loot if they aren’t going to get enough to actually make use of everything. Still, if that currency is later used to upgrade things in-between matches, that might explain why it can’t be shared between co-operative partners.

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During the missions, challenges can also pop up. These are temporary time challenges such as killing a certain number of enemies or collecting a set amount of shards. Completing them can yield rewards and certainly help to up the ante while playing. However, it wasn’t always possible to complete a challenge alone; it required teamwork (I was playing in co-op so this is probably different if going solo) and not everyone is always willing or able to help with the challenge. Sometimes, players are even completely oblivious to the challenge, or had no idea how to help out – this was probably because we were all such new players, but this might cause issues for some players if timed challenges are their thing and their teammates don’t make it a priority.

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The map I played was interestingly designed, featuring some cool verticality that could only be accessed depending on the heroes picked and any movement augmentations. It definitely emphasises the importance of cooperation, as well as teaming up with a varied team. However, thanks to the range of heroes, there was rarely any point when I felt like I couldn’t choose anyone I liked to play as – even when other people selected my first choice hero, there were others to try out who could also match my preferred play style while still giving a unique experience.

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The controls took some getting used to. There are normal attacks as well as special abilities. These are only acquired as you level up and there is minimal explanation of what each ability is or how it works. Perhaps this will be expanded in the final game, although tutorials about attacks wouldn’t really work mid-game; it could break the flow of destruction through a level. Still, if players are going to be encouraged to try out new heroes and experiences, I’m not sure how well it will work when they don’t really know anything about how that character works or what their abilities entail. I suppose, much like a MOBA, this will require experimentation mixed with online research for new players.

During my hands-on with the game, I will admit that I had a lot of fun. It’s a cool game that was enjoyable to play. Did I have a good time playing it for the afternoon? For sure! Was I sad to leave the game behind when I left? Um, not really. Thus far, it seems like a cool idea with some interesting gameplay, but it hasn’t really convinced me that this is a game that I need to have in my game library. Yet.

Last Updated: June 12, 2015

Zoe Hawkins

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. You can read more of my words over at www.borngeek.co.za, or just follow me on all the social networks to get the true range of my sarcasm and wit.

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