I Was Battleborn Ready: A Battleborn Beta Preview
As the E-sports arena continues to go companies like Riot Games and Hi-Rez Studios seemed to protrude from the woodwork. After years of obscurity with their adventures in the MOBA genre, a genre that started with a simple mod that later became Valve’s DOTA 2, that many larger developers are starting to take notice and put their own spin on it. Be those changes in the way Hi-Rez’s Smite worked to map to home consoles or the ever growing popularity of Riot Games’ League of Legends that has seen the integration of new characters, maps, and balance patches. With the amount of money, viewers, and hype LoL, Smite, and DOTA 2 it was inevitable that we would start to see companies toss their hat in to the ring. So here we are with Gearbox Studios’ spin on the genre, a much simpler and visually striking first person MOBA, Battleborn.
By now you ought to know who Gearbox are, be it through flipping over near dead games for what some might deem as a quick cash grab or through their highly praised Borderlands series. You will have undoubtedly come across either their hilariously charming inventions or consoled a friend as they told you how devastated they were by Duke Nukem: Forever or Aliens: Colonial Marines. Seeing as Battleborn is not an old, decrepit IP that needs saving from the clutches of vapourware, it is safe to assume that it will be treated with the utmost care and detail much like every other home-grown IP that Gearbox Studios have created.
Battleborn possesses a distinct feel that beckons back to Borderlands in terms of humour and character design. Every character is oozing charisma and has enough distinction in their design to make you want to pick up and play with every character possible, or at least try to as many characters are hidden behind an experience wall. The characters of Battleborn differ immensely when it comes to play style; some have the ability to fight from long range with guns/bows while others are more melee based classes and characters can lie on this spectrum anywhere in-between. Not only do the Battleborn, the name given to the characters of the game, fit these variations in terms of combat but their playstyles also vary greatly, with some characters possessing the ability to heal and act as support and others being far more aggressive for hit and run scenarios. There is no disputing that there is a lot to try and test out when it comes to characters in Battleborn.
Although for an alarmingly large cast the Battleborn beta did not allow them to truly shine, with only three modes available players could choose between Incursion, Meltdown, and Story – although in the beta we are told that Capture will be available on release. The Story mode is something fairly new to MOBAs, presenting a laundry list of campaigns that a team of 5 can tackle in matchmaking and vote on their preferred map before every round. If any feature were to set Battleborn separate from the competition, it would be the story. The cast make the quick quips expected of Claptrap and the entire Borderlands’ world as you battle through countless waves of enemies, reviving each other as you go. Next up is Incursion, a single lane base to base onslaught for PvP. Incursion acts as a toned down ideal of the MOBA genre in which players only fight in one lane and contest ground with their swarms of minions and fight over turret locations in a bid to protect their sentries. Seasoned veterans of the genre will take like a duck to water in Incursion and undoubtedly see a great deal of success against more casual players, although it is enjoyable nonetheless. Finally we have Meltdown, a two laned minion battle which sees competitors fighting to protect minions as they rush in to designated zones with the aim of scoring 250 points by sacrificing their minions.
Battleborn is undoubtedly toned down in terms of MOBAs, although it works drastically in its favour. Usually before jumping in to a game in this genre it helps to have a look about, try a few test runs against bots, and then study; builds, counter builds, the current Meta, and balance changes for that week. Battleborn largely discards that intimidating first step by reducing the amount available to the players, although laning still exists there is no need to work about top/bottom/mid/jungle as for the most part players are only required to keep an eye on very restricted spawns, their resource items that are littered around the map, and general defence. By eliminating the need to study or understand in-depth the games’ engine Battleborn becomes a far more enjoyable experience. The same ethos has been applied to build sheets and levels, as players no longer have the intimidating build structure of many MOBAs playing with a selection of 3 pieces of gear than can be pulled from packs – think Halo 5’s req packs. These pieces of gear cost resources to activate in match and once activated last forever, unless stated otherwise. There is no longer a need to look at what the enemy have built on their characters and the complex counter build nature of MOBAs as once in game there is no way of changing these items. You decide what’s best for you and then you stick with it until the bloody end. Although this simplicity could also be a double edged sword, casting aside the complex nature of other MOBAs also means that Battleborn doesn’t offer as much in terms of complex strategy and variety, even with the starting cast of 25 unique warriors.
Out with the game modes Battleborn has to offer there is an extensive amount to keep you playing with the ability to level up your own levels and those of your Battleborn. After every successful match you gain individual experience for each of these and a helping of credits too based on your performance. These credits can be used to buy gear packs which unlock new gear for your build and character skins, or can be used to store more gear loadouts and gear pages to store all the items you’ve unlocked. Through levelling your character you will earn accolades, unique titles, and a variety of different colour schemes. Then you have your player level, your means of unlocking the many characters of Battleborn. There is certainly enough to keep you occupied, although having to play as characters you don’t enjoy for hours to unlock the ones that you want to try could be off putting to those used to dropping a little bit of money, or credits, and playing whoever they want straight away.
Gearbox has created something completely new and invigorating when it comes to Battleborn, taking a known formula and shaking it up to be more flexible and welcoming to new players. Something that I remain slightly sceptical of is what they actually offer, there are already talks of season passes on top of a game that’s going to cost you in the region of £40 on release in a genre well known for its Free to Play approach, furthermore the cynic in me sees the gear packs as a breeding ground for microtransactions. So forgive me for being apprehensive when it comes to recommending Battleborn, after all it is a great game that you could get all your friends to play without the monotonous grind for the right “runes” for your LoL character or the almost insurmountable knowledge wall of hero match ups and build culture. Battleborn takes all the charm of Gearbox Studios’ previous work and turns it in to a competitive first person MOBA, something we have never really seen before and nails it, it might not be E-sports material, but I would take a large helping of fun over the cold and calculated approach of professionally competitive gaming any day.