The universe is on the brink of extinction. The last star, Solus, has become a highly contested resource which has sparked wars among the remaining factions. A nefarious figure is up to no good. An unlikely alliance of heroes is formed to thwart the evil forces. Lots of booty shaking and bad puns are sure to follow. Leave it up to Gearbox Software to take the bleakest setting possible and turn it into a comedy. Battleborn is the newest game from the developers who made the Borderlands series, and it’s retained much of the crude yet charming aesthetic from its predecessor. I recently had a chance to play Battleborn in its current state and test out some of the innovative things Gearbox is bringing to the FPS genre. By taking inspiration from it’s previous Borderlands games, as well as RPGs, and even MOBAs, they have created a unique experience for campaign and competitive multiplayer fans alike.
Campaign and PvP modes
All of the modes Battleborn offers can be played in co-op. I would go so far as to say that it’s encouraged. The campaign missions are definitely reminiscent of a raid instance in an MMO. The level starts out with waves of lesser minions and slowly ramps up to a mini-boss, and then further ramps up to the big boss. The minion waves felt a lot like Borderlands but with much more improved A.I., but the boss battles were something totally different. Very much inspired from classic boss battles, these giant baddies go through multiple phases that require some sort of interaction with the environment. I’m not sure if they are scaled for the single player option, but I sure hope they are.
As of writing this preview there are three competitive multiplayer game modes that have been announced: capture, meltdown, and incursion. Incursion mode features two teams trying to take out the other’s base on the other side of the map. To do so, each team must escort giant spider mechs to take care of the demolition. Unfortunately, this mode was not available to play, fortunately I was able to try out the other two.
Capture is exactly what it sounds like: capture and hold control points longer than your opponents. It’s a fairly standard FPS game mode but it is nice to have something familiar when easing into a game like Battleborn. The huge variety in characters (aptly called Battleborns) was a little overwhelming at first while the simplicity of the Capture mode was a nice way to get my feet wet. The other mode requires a bit more strategy. In Meltdown, you must ensure that your minions make it to the furnaces to be melted down. The backstory to this is as crazy as it sounds, but it’s an interesting spin on an FPS multiplayer mode. The MOBA influences are very clear when playing Meltdown. The map even has the requisite lane architecture with the very strong distinction of having verticality play a large part in the gameplay.
Getting into the gameplay, it was very familiar to the Borderlands series, but that is not a bad thing. The most notable difference being that you are limited to a single weapon, and that’s ok because as of right now there are 25 different Battleborns you can play as, each with a different weapon and skill set. Since the main focus of Battleborn is co-op, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the different classes: attacker, defender, and supporter. Very similar to the Holy Trinity of many raiding instances, creatively combining these three classes can dramatically affect the outcome of your game. Battleborns can also be either melee or ranged, or some kind of combination of both. You might need to play around with all of the heroes to see which ones fit your playstyle the best.
In addition to their own weapon and skill set, each hero can bring a customizable loadout into a match. These loadouts are where you put badges that you’ve earned from missions or gear packs (more on that later). These badges come in the standard rarity rankings: common, uncommon, rare and legendary. They provide you with stat bonuses during missions or PvP matches similar to a perk system in other FPS games, but unlike other FPS games these badges require activation during a match. The better the bonus, the higher cost for activation. I found this to be an innovative way to handle perks and upgrades. Creative director Randy Varnell acknowledged that not everyone will want to worry about activating these upgrades during a mission so there are some badges that don’t require any activation; however, these have significantly weaker bonuses. It all depends on your playstyle and skill on how you decide to customize your loadout.
“The amount of thought and design that has been put into this game is obvious from the moment you start diving into a mission.”
One of the biggest differences between Battleborn and Borderlands is the skill spec system. Varnell says the idea for the skill progression for the game came from being able to constantly re-spec with the dev-tools in Borderlands. They liked the idea so much they decided to build the skill system for Battleborn around it. During a match, as you gain experience and level up, you can choose one of two skill augments from your helix. At level 5 you unlock your ultimate ability as well as choose an augment. It seems that if you build all of one side of the helix, you create a fairly cohesive skill set for your hero; however, the real strategy will be to learn all 20 (or more if you have a higher level hero) augments and know which provide the synergies you need for the situation.
The PvP gameplay is fairly standard for an arena shooter. The best things about the PvP multiplayer matches are the turrets and debuff node,s as well as game modes mentioned above. Firstly, the nodes are points on a map that can be used to build turrets, healing towers, or buff/debuff auras. Anyone from either side can build on these nodes, no special class is required. The only resource needed are orange crystals that can be acquired during the match by breaking larger crystals, getting kills, or completing objectives (Varnell said there might be more ways to acquire these crystal in the future). Once built, these structures can be destroyed by your opponents or can be upgraded by teammates. There is an alternative opportunity cost associated with purchasing these structures as the orange crystals are also used to activate your upgrades in your loadout. This is designed to force players to make a choice: build structures to support your team or use them to activate your gear and receive potentially game changing combat bonuses. This type of trade-off can define team and individual strategies.
Speaking of currencies, there are currently two types in Battleborn, the orange crystals that are used during missions or matches and a type of blue coin that is used outside of matches. I’ve previously mentioned what the orange crystals are for; the blue coins are used to buy booster pack type commodities that contain random loot or varying rarity. At the time of playing this was the only use for the coins, but it was mentioned that this would be the currency used for purchasing skins and custom taunts. There are no plans to implement micro-transactions for the booster packs or cosmetics, but that may change down the road.
Higher rarity packs are off limits until you’ve reached a high enough player level. In fact, most of the level gating is based off your player level. I found out that as you level up your individual characters you can unlock different skins as well as skill mutations. These mutations add a third option to the skill helix at different levels and we were assured they aren’t just a power increase as they open up different play styles. I’m actually fairly relieved by this; in other FPS games, better equipment is usually the reward for leveling up which can reinforce a power gap between new and veteran players. Also, this means that if you’ve been playing with one Battleborn for a while and feel like trying another character, you don’t feel like you’re starting completely over to build him/her up. I also was told that not every Battleborn will be immediately available either. Some will be unlocked by completing particular missions in the campaign.
Battleborn is shaping up to be an incredibly fun game with some innovative ideas. The amount of thought and design that has been put into this game is obvious from the moment you start diving into a mission. If you are interested in trying out Battleborn for yourself, the technical beta starts on Oct 29thso sign up to participate if you haven’t done so already.