A couple of hours into Battleborn and I was really, really struggling. Touted as the next breakout hit from Borderlands developer, Gearbox Interactive, the pre-release marketting painted it as one of 2016’s biggest shooters. However, there I was, drowning under a barrage of bullets and having one of the least enjoyable gaming experiences of the year so far. But I didn’t want to dismiss it out of hand. I’ve continued to persevere and over the last few days my initial loathing for Battleborn began to erode.
Being a Gearbox title, I thought my safest bet would be trying out the co-op missions. After all, the studio’s flagship series is renowned for its infectious blend of zany humour and intense story-driven gunfights. Sadly, only a shard of that brilliance carries over. Although they help shine a spotlight on the eponymous Battleborn in their struggle against the villainous Rendain, these missions are little more than bloated shooting galleries.
Comparable to an MMO-like raid, each one has you battling against mobs of enemies with the occasional boss for good measure. It’s a lifeless grind that’s exacerbated by a complete lack of variety as players trundle between checkpoints. The final nail in the coffin for me was the lack of retries. Regardless of whether you’re five or fifty minutes into a mission, a team wipe will toss your back to the main menu. Having lost a good hour or so of progress with nothing but some minor loot to show for it, I quickly moved my attention to the multiplayer side of Battleborn.
On approach I felt uncharacteristically annoyed, the game’s co-op experience having left such a bad taste in my mouth. At least I kind of knew what I was getting into with PvP. Largely influenced by the MOBA genre, this is arguably Battleborn’s strongest asset. However, if you thought that this was just another online shooter, I pity you.
Although no way near as complex as League of Legends or DOTA 2, there’s a learning curve to it before you can start having fun. Even with the game mode being explained to you by the ship computer before each match, your first five-on-five match will be an incomprehensible shower of explosions. Unless you’re playing Capture, that is. Out of the three available multiplayer modes, this is the one most like your typical online shooters, as players scrap for control three contested nodes.
When playing Meltdown or Incursion, however, Battleborn’s MOBA sensibilities rise to the surface. Instead of simply gunning down enemy players, there are AI-controlled minions to keep in mind, not to mention elements of base building and jungle camps. I won’t drag you through the tedious jargon and terminologies, but you should know this: Battleborn is way more demanding than its ccolourful over-the-top art style and humour let on.
Even with a firm grip on the basics, there’s an abundance of information to soak in. Aside from the twenty six playable characters and each of their strengths and weakness, this also includes gear loadouts to consider and points of interest on each map to be aware of. The biggest obstacle to overcome, however, is working as a team.
My inability to find regular squaddies to play with is a big part of why I packed in MOBAs altogether last year. Dicing with randoms can sometimes work out, but you’re more likely to come across trolling teammates or those who came into Battleborn expecting a cartoon Call of Duty. As matches progress, each player becomes a pillar of sorts, working together to carry the team on its road to victory. If one of those pillars should crumble, then Battleborn can easily see you be dragged down a drawn out path to defeat. It’s a good thing there’s a surrender button!
Gearbox has actually done a good job in transfusing the MOBA genre with its own distinct brand of shooter. Although chaotic at times, there is a certain method to its madness. However, despite being able to appreciate the game’s merits, it’s sadly not for me. Aside from feeling a bit ropey in places and lacking polish, there’s this MOBA-shaped barrier stopping me from enjoying Battleborn to its full potential. To feel in any way accomplished at the game, there’s simply too much homework involved. Turn your attention away for too long and you’ll find yourself at the beginning of the learning curve once again.
Another misstep is the way in which Gearbox has locked the majority of its Battleborn behind level caps and potentially grindy objectives. There’s always two ways to unlock them, with a good number of them tied to completing story missions. However, I’ve been eyeing up the shotgun-wielding badass that is Ghalt and find myself facing weeks of grinding to hit rank 40 or having to complete all of the tedious co-op missions on Advanced with a silver rating. Rubbish!
The one lingering thought that has yet to dissipate is whether newcomers to the genre are enjoying Battleborn. Even with a hundred or so hours of MOBA experience under my belt, there remains a strong sense of incompatibility. Then again, that over familiarity with the genre could be why I’m so indifferent. Either way, Battleborn has now made a premature journey to the bookshelf for me, loosing itself from my PS4’s disc tray to nest among the many games that never see much use.