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

Ultimately, Battleborn left me with a lot of mixed feelings. I really disliked the cheap-ness of the Single Player campaign, whether it was some of the un-soloable missions, the repetition of the same bosses, or the very, very dumb final boss fight. However, with that said, it is more fun when you do have other players with you. So the moral here is, don't buy the game if you're planning on playing it by yourself.

The multiplayer though is easily the game's saving grace, which is saying a lot coming from me, as I generally dislike any sort of PvP in any game. The roster of wildly different characters gets to shine even more in multiplayer, and two of the three modes are great fun.

There is more content coming to the game, but I can't seem to figure out which part of it is free and what's part of the Season Pass, as the messaging is somewhat unclear, but for those who plan on investing in this game, should know that Gearbox has more in store for it than what we just got in the base game here.

On the flipside, Battleborn's multiplayer is certainly its strongest suit, giving players to fully utilize each and every character to their fullest across three separate game modes with two maps each. Incursion is as close as you'll probably get to a MOBA, where you have to protect your base from the enemy, all while trying to attack the other team's base. Of course, you'll also have to deal creeps, killing off the enemy team's while trying to protect your own. Even though I have a huge distaste for MOBAs, Incursion was actually really satisfying, and lent itself well to showcasing all the different abilities of the different characters.

Meltdown is yet another really fun mode where the MOBA influence also shines through a bit. Here you have to do your best to protect the minions marching from your side of the map to the middle where the incinerator awaits to destroy them. The more of your minions you can protect so that they can hurl themselves inside the incinerator, the more points you score.

My least favorite mode, and easily the least interesting is Capture, where you have to, like the name implies, capture points and hold them for as long as possible, until your team amasses a 1000 points. Yeah, it's as bland as it sounds.

My takeaway from the multiplayer was that for those buying it strictly to play online against others, the game certainly has legs. And while six maps might not sound like much, just remember that some other MOBAs usually just have a single map, and somehow those games got by for years.

But Battleborn also does things across both modes that's pretty cool. As you play, you'll unlock access to Loot packs which can unlock various pieces of random gear. Not traditional gear like different weapons, but more along the lines of augments to your character. Each loadout can have three pieces of gear attached, so you can go into a match with a loadout that allows for 15% faster reloads, 10% added attack damage, and 8% attack speed, along with other bonuses that activate under certain conditions. However, to make this fair when playing against others online and not have a distinct advantage right from the beginning, each piece of gear has an activation cost. As you collect pieces of crystal on each stage, you'll be able to activate each piece of gear. The better the tier of a piece of gear is, the more expensive it is to activate it. A blue piece of gear for example could activate after collecting 827 shards, but an orange piece requires 1800.

Battleborn Review

Playing as various Battleborn will also raise their personal ranks as well, giving them access to mutated skill on the Helix. The Helix for all intents and purposes is the game's two lane skill tree. Each time you gain a level, you'll be able to pick one of two skills. The mutated skills allow for a third choice, allowing for even more character customization during battle. Just because you and a buddy pick Oscar Mike, doesnt mean they'll both have the same skill loadout.

The Battleborn themselves are the true highlight of the game though. They're all just so wildly different from one another, from their overall looks to how they handle and what weapons they use. Oscar Mike is your generic FPS shooter hero who mostly focuses on grenades and his assault rifle, but that's as vanilla as you'll probably get. Rath for example uses two beam swords, but also has the ability to shoot a projectile using them. Marquis has the amazing advantage of having a short range gun as well as a long range sniper rifle, without ever needing to switch weapons. Miko is a ninja mushroom who throws knives but also has ability to heal others while simultaneously healing himself. My favorite at the time has to be Shayne and Aurox, an edgy looking girl with a huge demon on her back. There is just so much variety here and that's certainly commendable in a game that's supposed to be an FPS.

Where Battleborn disappoints is its presentation. I know this is going to sound harsh but it's the only way I've been able to convey how I feel about the entirety of the game's presentation. To me, it looks like a high production flash game. Not the gameplay mind you, that stuff looks fine, but everything surrounding it, the menus, the pop-ups, the name cards for bosses; Everything seems to have a sort of "flash game" animation to it, where it's not overly smooth or pleasing to the eye. Given how gorgeous the intro and post-game animations are, I was expecting that sort of sheen to carry over to the rest of the game's presentation, but that's simply not the case.

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. 

Battleborn Review

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.