I wish I could tell you that my first look at Battleborn revealed yet another exciting new first-person shooter contributing to the renaissance ushered in by the new generation of consoles. It may very well be, if all goes as planned. But beyond the briefest glimpse of the more MOBA-esque competitive multiplayer component to Battleborn by way of a dizzying, contextless trailer, that?s not what Gearbox and 2K chose to show. Instead, what I saw was safe. What I saw was familiar. What I saw, basically, was its Borderlands Mode.
That isn?t to say that Battleborn seems uninspired or unoriginal, just that a co-op mode is hardly indicative of what sets Gearbox?s new shooter apart from its last, let alone others, and it doesn?t leave much to discuss.
In case you missed out on its announcement two months back or have otherwise forgotten about its existence, Battleborn is a character-driven ?hero shooter,? which is a fancy way of saying first-person shooter with a large roster of playable characters, each with their own distinctive approach to combat.
These heroes and heroines are called, expectedly, the Battleborn, each of whom belong to one of five factions. Oscar Mike and Montana, for example, belong to the Peacekeepers and sport a blue-and-gold color palette and general ?militant? look. Miko, a bipedal mushroom with murderous inclinations, and Thorn, a space elf, both belong to the nature-loving Eldrid. They both wear a lot of green. You get the idea. So the champions?the Battleborn?of these five factions duke it out against one another and an all-encompassing threat called the Varelsi across the last remaining star system in the universe.
Continuing Gearbox?s tendency to fuse first-person shooters with aspects of other genres, Battleborn?s DNA is spliced with strands from the multiplayer online battle arena genus. Most notable, of course, are faction-aligned fighters, each with their own evolving playstyle. How that playstyle evolves, too, is borrowed liberally from surviving and thriving mechanics found in Dota 2, League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, and their ilk.
Every character, in every match or session, starts out at level one. As they progress and build up experience and level up, players choose between binary ability options. Playing as Oscar Mike, for example, means choosing at Level 5 between a fresh mag?s first shot potentially slowing enemies or dealing 200 percent more damage. Obviously, the powers and abilities differ between each Battleborn.
How all this will come together in what I have to imagine is the heart of the Battleborn experience, its competitive multiplayer, remains a mystery to me. I certainly think this MOBA design sensibility makes more sense within the context of competitive multiplayer, but less so for a co-op campaign. What I can tell you about is the general vibe of the co-op mode, demoed live by the dev team. But as I put forth earlier, reductive as it may be, Battleborn?s co-op campaign seems, to me, largely designed for the studio?s large and loyal Borderlands fanbase. There is, of course, the extra partner slot now available, bumping the team count up to five from the more traditional four.
As for the singular stage?s general rhythm and vibe, I think veteran Vault Hunters will feel at home. Progress from Point A is occasionally impeded by waves of enemies flooding several environmental combat arenas along the way to Point B, sporadically interrupted by the occasional impeding hiccups (for instance, collecting shards of some valuable resource or another) that you?ll be comedically coaxed into taking care of by the disembodied voice of your current mission handler.
And while I think it?s smart and obvious to include a co-op campaign as an option and to not limit Battleborn solely to its 5-on-5 objective-based competitive mode, I am concerned about the co-op?s lasting appeal. Five players is a lot and could leave little for one or two players to do if three are more than sufficient to wipe the floor with Varelsi fodder. And when I posed this question, creative director Randy Varnell?s response did little to assuage my worries, stating that one of the perks to more powerful hardware is that it allows them to throw more enemies at players.
But ?more? is rarely interesting, and oftentimes never a genuine challenge, but rather a chore. Interesting, to me, would be engaging enemy tactics, ones that call for certain Battleborn over others or strategic cooperative pairings. And perhaps that?ll prove true when the the PC, PS4, and Xbox One shooter finally launches.
It might sound otherwise?honesty usually does?but I truly believe Battleborn has a lot going for it. I know it?ll be mechanically sound?Gearbox?s track record speaks for itself. Like Borderlands, the art style distinguishes itself and bolsters a sense of personality as opposed to yet another attempt at GPU-pushing realism. A large selection of playstyles and character types is always a welcome treat, and so is the studio?s characteristic brand of comedy-centric storytelling instead of the usual overbloated melodrama. I just wish 2K and Gearbox hadn?t gotten ahead of themselves in their eagerness to introduce Battleborn, because while my fingers are crossed, what little I saw was, well, less than remarkable.