Battleborn Preview / Beta Impressions

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What happens when you blend FPS (First Person Shooter) and a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) into one game? Well the idea was to make a really fun game called Battleborn. Battleborn is a game made by Gearbox (creators of Borderlands) that bridges the two genres and tries to find an identity as something entirely new. Early indications note that the blend might not be as easy as it seems.

The story missions are long and grueling. One mission I participated in was a public match with strangers. First we waited until the entire timer ended because two people in our group already backed out during the lobby screen, and that is no big deal. This was a beta after all, so things will be broken. Yet it was a signal to just how long and tedious the upcoming battle was.

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The story missions are extremely linear and play like your typical shooter with a repetitive nature right out the gate. I chose my favorite of the available characters which has a bow. I was shooting enemies, chasing enemies, and keeping my distance the whole game. I never really ran into a challenge myself, but my teammates did as I constantly revived them. We slowly moved closer and closer to our goal, then we finally made it to the final stage and BAM the game decided to become ten times harder. Within a few minutes our AI bot that we had been guiding for the past 40 minutes was destroyed and we lost in a matter of a minute…. 40 minutes of game time and we lost. No checkpoint, no retry, simply “you lost, welcome back to the home screen.” I had finished the round in first in every category, and had probably 30-40 more kills than my teammates, and about 20k more points than second place and honestly I was furious that it just ended with how much grinding we did to get to that point. I mean the game was super easy with maybe 1 pocket of complication, then it changes suddenly. We get warned that our AI bot is taking damage, yet it kept walking into enemies and not letting us do anything about it.

The single player really feels like an afterthought. The dialogue reaches real hard for quick cheesy jokes, and maybe once in a while it will catch you off guard and make you laugh, but otherwise you just want to go play. I constantly looked for a challenge or something new to do, like I do in Borderlands, but there just wasn’t much. If you have a good team (or are good yourself) you will find getting to the same losing point rather easy, but then  your team falls apart quick.

For that reason I decided to focus my time in the multiplayer. The multiplayer has several modes, the two we could play were Incursion and Meltdown. Incursion throws sentry drones on the map and you have to destroy the other teams sentry’s before they destroy yours. Meltdown is slightly similar in that you have to guide little minions to the opponent’s base locations. The minions then throw themselves into an incarcerator and you get points. The goal is to reach a threshold before the opposing team. 

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Personally while playing both I was totally lost in what was actually happening on the map. The game is of course first person, so unlike MOBA titles there is no 3rd person or top down view, so you can’t really be aware of your surroundings. It is rather hard with such a small window to be aware of everything happening at once. Often times you are being blasted, attacked with a sword, and have turrets shooting at you from behind, so you really need to pick your battles wisely. Yet the game sets itself up like a MOBA so there is that need to know where the stress points are, and the only way to find it is to explore yourself.

One thing I really enjoy about the title is the MOBA approach to leveling up everything. Within a battle you can level up a helix tree, so the more things you do the more points you get, and a new level is granted. When you level up you unlock a choice of two additional powers to help in the game. After the match is over the tree resets and you do it again next time. That isn’t all you can do either as characters also have personal ranks or command ranks. The more you utilize them, the higher they rank, and the more stuff you unlock. This includes additional, more powerful, options for the helix. The game seems to do a decent job of keeping you in games with similar ranked people, but with so many things to keep track of, the game will have to mix it up somehow as more and more players unlock new things. There were plenty of games where an opposing player clearly utilized one character the entire beta so their powers were way better than my level 1 ranking character. Often times you’d get stuck with a lower ranking character when someone beats you to your favorite character.

Another interesting aspect of the game is how each character is so unique in play style. If you are a MOBA player you might tend to certain characters with special powers, or swords, and magic. If you are an FPS player you might tend to characters with big guns and more of a distance approach. Then the game tries to blend all of this carefully together so that each group can utilize their strengths. It can be frustrating getting stuck in a MOBA battle as an FPS player, but it can also be frustrating in the opposite direction too. For example I was good at picking off players at a distance, but in close combat I nearly always lost. There does seem to be some balancing that needs to be done, but it could be taken care of as Gearbox watches the playstyles of new players.

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What really confused me is that the game is brightly colored and has a fun approach to it, yet it was rather slow for my liking. Each match takes a good amount of time to begin, and there isn’t really a lobby like Call of Duty where you just keep playing. So each match consists of finding new players, waiting in a lobby, then picking a character and waiting (as one person falls asleep in the character selection screen and holds everyone back), and then a long wait within the game is it constantly reminds you how to play the game mode. This is something I hope Gearbox addresses since seasoned players don’t need the beginning tutorial every single round. Once the game begins there isn’t really any swift action to it. Characters feel “floaty” when jumping, and aiming and gameplay isn’t too hectic. I don’t know why, but I just expect the game to play a little more like Team Fortress and it doesn’t. Overall it just felt “easy” to me.

Other perks of the game include collecting shards throughout the map which grant you points. You then use these points to unlock turrets or defense weapons all across the map. You can even upgrade the weapons with shields or other perks if you have enough points. This creates an interesting strategy, and could even save your team, which puts a real MOBA feel into the game. However, like stated, it is hard to strategize around opponents turrets when you can’t see around you.

Overall Battleborn in the beta stages has an addictive nature to it that makes you want to keep playing, but it never dives into anything great. It just felt “okay” in nature, not something I’d rush out to play every day. The game feels like it is stuck between wanting to be something great, yet doesn’t want to lose touch with an average shooter. I think if it followed similar models as other MOBA’s, with a “free to play” approach to it or cost less than a full priced game, then I’d play more.