Review: Battleborn is fun in bursts, but struggles to strike a balance
Multiplayer is its saving grace, but Campaign players should wait for a price drop
Man oh man, was I not initially excited about Battleborn. From the very first unveiling, I got immense MOBA vibes, whether it was its 25 character roster of playable characters, or the fact that each time you played a mission, you'd start back at level 1. I have no love for MOBAs, in fact I avoid them like the plague. It's not necessarily the genre, but rather its toxic audience.
However, booting up Battleborn's single player campaign which boasts 8 story missions, that are actually missions, and not just the multiplayer arenas repurposed with bots, my fears were quelled, at least initially. The problem though is, the folks at Gearbox never really did a great job conveying this message. Not to mention, the constant comparisons the game gets with Overwatch is unfortunately a big disservice to the game.
To talk about Battleborn though, you really must take it apart and tackle it from two separate gameplay modes; The Single player campaign, and the multiplayer. Normally, games share a lot of similarities between the two, with the Single player campaign usually serving as a sort of primer for the multiplayer, substituting those easy NPCs you've been headshotting with skilled players, but with Battleborn, that's not really the case.
The Single Player story starts of strong, putting you in a (now repeatable) Tutorial prologue mission that introduces the player to the current crisis of basically universes collapsing, various races at war, and the Battleborn who must somehow overcome their differences and work together toward a common enemy. The prologue sets this up beautifuly as it puts you in the shoes of Mellka, and Eldrid mercenary who must accept help from Deande, a Jennerit. While initially meaningless, you soon find out that the Jennerit are responsible for the destruction of the Eldrid homeworld. The back and forth banter, albeit short, sets up this relationship of races without really needing to go in depth into any sort of backstory, and it's pretty fantastic. However, as soon as the prologue ends, that's where things took a turn for the worse.
At the end of the prologue, the characters converse about three potential locations, giving the illusion you'll get to tackle them at your leisure. That doesn't end up being the case, and from that point you're simply asked to tackle mission by mission linearly. But that wouldn't be a problem, if the missions themselves were designed fairly.
The game touts that it allows for players to solo the single player campaign, but I sure beg to differ. Sure, the first two were pretty much a piece of cake, even though I did end up dying a few times. However, the missions that require you to defend certain areas from an onslaught of enemies are downright impossible solo. I've tried them multiple times, until I finally let go of my pride and asked fellow GZ writer, Dan Miller to help me out. Right then I saw just how much better the game is when played with another person, let alone a full group. While that sounds like an obvious statement, this is how the game is advertised on the store page:
Battleborn's Story Mode is a narrative experience that can be played entirely singleplayer, and can be played cooperatively with friends both splitscreen and online.
Even the game's commercials list out as playing solo is a viable variant. Man, I don't know what kind of FPS god you have to be to pull that off, but I certainly couldn't.
While the content of the missions was fine, they all basically boiled down to doing the same things over and over. It was either getting to some sort of robot device (9 times out of 10 a giant walking spider-mech) and ensuring he survives the trek to the other side of the level, or getting to certain points of the map and then defending a particular spot from a slew of enemy hordes. To make matters worse, the game also reuses the same bosses for not only a few missions, but even for the final boss fight. It all just seems a bit lazy to me.
The length of the missions average about 45 minutes to an hour, so you are potentially looking at a 6-8 hour long campaign. And even though I'm happy that the levels were longer, there is one egregious mechanic that I simply can't forgive Gearbox for, and that's restarting the damn mission for failing a mission objective. Fail to protect a defense point, go right back to the start. Fail to protect that giant walking spider-mech until it reaches its destination, you guessed it, restart the whole mission. The worst part is that the levels are usually multi-tiered, and have failable objectives across multiple spots, so you could technically play through 40 minutes of the campaign, lose a defense point, and literally have to replay all of that again. Sure, there are checkpoints sprinkled throughout but those only work for when you die and need to respawn.