Editor’s Note: This review has been updated couple of days after the first publication of this article, following Mazen Abdallah‘s complete technical test of the PC version which will reflect on the overall score, and final verdict.
After a long postponement of several months – originally planned for February 6 – alongside two round of Betas which we previewed, Battleborn finally arrived. Close to the Borderlands universe graphically, even in its interfaces and main menu style, Battleborn set in a futuristic universe made of a fairly rich and dense lore, where our adventure will take place on many planets with their unique art direction, created of course by the minds of Gearbox Software. Although you would expect a definite hit from the creator of Borderlands, a myriad of small issues prevented me to really appreciate the game as it is. Is it really that bad? Or can you live with these issues?
Battleborn takes place in a distant universe, set in the futuristic year of 19960, at a time where all galaxies were destroyed due to the death of their main star. The universe is now left with one lone galaxy, powered by the light of The Last Star, where all species of all planets are united to protect it, in hope to renew faith and life into numerous dying species. The origin of this cataclysm is unfortunately not related to natural disaster, but instead a catastrophic event originated by the Varelsi race, and their allies, the Jennerit people under the leadership of their demonic looking commander Lothar Rendain. For this, a band of heroes or champion from each surviving race called Battleborn, will have to unite to prevent the end of life in the universe, and destroy the last galaxy Solus and its last star. A fairly standard story, with a bunch of quirky lines that reminds us of Borderlands, and in the end is enough of an excuse to start a good fight and wreck chaos and explosions everywhere.
The real work in the lore was made mainly on the background story and feel of each of the 25 character that are in the game at launch. Each has a story that feeds into the main one, with its own personality, own dialogues and obviously weakness and powers. Each Battleborn also react differently depending on the situations: Marquis (a British robot with a tuxedo, bowler hat and pocket watch) will make fun of his colleague Montana, during healing situation, calling him a big pile of muscles. The background lore of the game is also based on the origin of each Battleborn factions, which mainly unite certain characters according to their own origins.
As explained in the Battleborn preview, we have five of them in total: Last Light Consortium, specializing in cybernetics and the economic powerhouse of the universe; Eldrid are the observers and scientists, and sort of space hippies who ensure the natural order of the cosmos; The Rogues, which are the free populations, marginal and independent of the Solus galaxy; The United Peacekeeper which protect the universe under the principles of equality and freedom; and Finally, the The Jennerit Empire led by terrible Lothar Rendain.
Battleborn is above all a game where action is at its root, more than the storyline itself. In general, there’s no real focus on the narrative or on the causes and reasons for specific missions: the bad guys are attacking a planet… The planet and its people are in danger… Bad guys get their ass kicked. Yet, we still find the quirky and witty mind of Borderlands’ screenwriters, but the only real interest in the story will remains its dialogues. A breath of fresh air that makes us smile from time to time while we fight through hordes of enemies, in both solo and coop mode, but also PvP multiplayer, which offers a less scripted content.
Battleborn plays heavily on the MOBA gameplay style, in which players advance in an area and have to fend off waves of creeps or heroes, to make our character level up into a more powerful state, to finally face a final boss. Beyond that, the game took the risk of creating a MOBA with a first person or FPS view. Similarly, the multiplayer mode of the game, which I will take later on offers simple PvP modes that work.
With more than 25 playable characters at launch (including upcoming heroes already announced via downloadable content), Battleborn has one hell of a varied cast, all so colorful and different in their style of play. You got your cyborg vampire samurai, or mountain of muscles with a tiny head, or even a mushroom creature that shoots knives from its hands… Clearly, players will no doubt have fun to pick among the plethora of characters proposed. All 25 of these Battleborn are categorized into classes that are the typical MOBA ones: Attacker, Defender and Support. Most of the characters while playing together, are quite complementary and rich in style of fighting which constantly calls for you to learn the game. Unfortunately, such a high number in the cast raises the difficulty of balancing them, and boy not all of them are created equal. Some will be quickly abandoned, and there’s a sort of higher chance to win in a fight when picking a melee-based Battleborn like Phoebe. I do hope that a future patch will address these balancing issues so as not to risk seeing some of their well-crafted Battleborns sink into oblivion.
Battleborn is above all a game where action is at its root, more than the storyline itself
As I probably said it often in this review, Battleborn is strongly inspired by Borderlands. Visually first, because of its cell-shading cartoonish graphics, Battleborn is like halfway between Borderlands and Team Fortress, and most of Gearbox Software fans will recognize even the similarities in the lore and environments, especially when you will be in a snowy planet and its eery reference to the beginning hour of Borderlands 2. In reality, it may not be a problem for most, but for someone who spent over 300 hours on both Borderlands, it’s a bit creepy – and lazy – to see some similar textures and even themes. However, one can only welcome the diversity of entertainment for 25 playable characters, and a bestiary of enemies that is varied.
Battleborn runs terrifically on PC. I know everyone is constantly making Borderlands comparisons, buit its interfact and graphics menu reminded me of Borderlands 2’s; and that’s definitely a good thing. It’s a very scalable game that has a ton of settings to tweak, so it should run smoothly on most hardware. My rig managed a smooth 60 fps on the highest settings, so it was a bump-free ride. I did notice some drops around the bigger fights, but I messed with the framerate option and set it at ‘capped’, which seemed to do the trick. Visually, the game has a remarkable color palette, and it really shines at 1080. I played around a bit and scaled it up to 2K, and it was terrific. For people with higher-end cards, it can really sing.
The game is split into multiplayer and a story mode first, playable solo (highly recommended) or in coop with up to five players and even splitscreen mode with a friend (a big plus at a time where this feature seems forgotten). Each story mode mission is playable in normal or hardcore mode , where you will have respectively five lives and no-death requirement. What are these lives? Quite simply, when you die in the field and consume the total number of lives, it’s game over you. But if you’re playing coop, other players will progress without you until one of them gets a life drop for you to come back. While you will gain more experience in confrontation and killing enemies in Hardcore, I will note that the game is punitive in that mode. However, the big downside of the story mode is its lifespan, takes no less than 6 hours to complete. But fortunately, the replay value is very significant because of the variety of characters disciplines which allows us to try a different method in each mission.
On another hand, the mission architecture might feel like varied, but ultimately we end up always doing the same thing. You start with a corridor areas (sometimes semi-open) where waves of enemies need to be killed to continue moving forward until you get to a bigger enemy, or a boss that completes the level and drops the loot. Despite a desire to hide this simplistic pattern, with some elements of tower defense or protecting a VIP until it arrives at a certain point, it is not enough to get me deep into the game. Especially because, to be frank, the story mode is not that groundbreaking, and enemies tend to have the same weaknesses and the same movement and attack pattern, which is again hidden by their variety of animation and skins. Small and big mobs are almost identical in the way they need to be faced.
Ultimately, the Story Mode is not “that” bad. The drop system is a real asset that gives a desire to always continue, and hope to find more juicy loot. First, there is the simple drops, those which give temporary bonus (speed, strength), or heal the whole team. But there is also equipment that can be added to your character inventory to improve its stats, split among 5 different slots. These are just passive bonus, and each character has different loot: Montana will get a better gun, for example, while Rath’s drop will be more like a new swords. This is only one element among many others, as each drop is really different for different characters, which avoids rehashing elements. Getting the full strength of a character build is a great way for a game to force players toward an arms race, and so give hours of play in a title that feed on its replay value.
On the competitive multiplayer side, Battleborn enhance the experience with three fun modes, which even if low on quantity, as still high in quality, in either pure PvP or competitive cooperative experience. The first mode, Incursion, is a MOBA style competitive mode, as previously explained and tested in my preview. Played in a traditional 5v5 competitive environment, the goal of the game is to help out your minions reach the opponent camp to destroy as soon as possible their large sentries. As you damage them throughout the match, the score for that team goes from 100 to 0, which will automatically crown the winning team. Unless, the match keeps on going, it’s the team with the most points left after 30 minutes that wins the game. The maps are quite well designed and full of secret areas, and also monsters to face to get equipment that would turn the scales in your favor.
The Capture mode is a FPS mode by excellence. Players compete in for capture point and some extra objectives to achieve victory, while defeating the opponent in combat. The goal is to reach a certain point level before the enemy team: either kill until they are out of tickets, complete objectives or stay in a capture area to rank on capture point and eventually win. Players must once again combine strategy and thoroughness to achieve a maximum point gain against the enemy while minimizing their advance to victory. Nothing exceptionally new.
Battleborn shines more by its multiplayer than its story mode
Finally, Meltdown is a mode where teams of heroes must guide their mechanical minions (or creeps in perfect MOBA terms) to grinders located the map’s center. The more of your minions reach the grinder, than more points, but there’s an obvious competitive element: the opposing team have the same objective. And so the principle is to protect your minions while killing the opposing team’s minions. A simple yet strategy-heavy mode.
In general, Battleborn shines more by its multiplayer than its story mode, to the sadness of those that previewed the game, or are fans of Borderlands. Battleborn is first and foremost a competitive game where progress and strategy are essential. pylons to a rich game, but sometimes lacks finesse and originality. The problem though is that neither fans of Call of Duty or Battlefield, nor the typical MOBA players might find something to relate to. The game requires a true understanding, a real adjustment period, and a notion of strategy that goes beyond the typical shoot at sight strategy, but also the rich structure lane mechanics of a MOBA. To survive in a flood of upcoming fused MOBA shooter, it will all comes to regular content drop, new maps, and building a loyal community, which remains to be seen in the coming months.
Battleborn was reviewed using an Xbox One and PC redeemable code provided by 2K Games. The PC version has been reviewed and tested by Mazen Abdallah on a PC running Windows 7 Pro, with a 4GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 970 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 8GB of RAM. The game is also available on PlayStation 4. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published
• A top-class cast of 25 characters
• Dense and full of content
• That same ol' Gearbox Cell-Shading Graphic Engine we love
• The Multiplayer modes
• The loot system
• Technically solid on both PC and Consoles (Xbox One version tested)
• Those comic-book animated cutscenes
• A neat lore and background stories
• Heavy on strategy
• Story Mode lacks content and narration
• Some balancing issues between characters
• Some redundancies in gameplay
• Planets and landscape feel too inspired by Borderlands
• Only three multiplayer modes
• Some occasional framerate drops