2K Games paid for airfare, lodging, and food for this event
If you get a strange feeling that Gearbox’s new franchise, Battleborn, looks familiar, you’re not completely wrong. I know that I have had that feeling ever since the first time I laid eyes on the game. On the surface, it looks like a Borderlands-clone. While that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, I know that I, personally, was hoping for more from a new franchise. Earlier this month, I got a chance to check out the game first-hand and let’s just say that I walked away feeling completely different about the game. There are some similarities to be found as the developer is definitely applying a lot of the lessons they learned through their Borderlands experience to the new game. However, in the end, one thing is clear: this isn’t Borderlands. This is Battleborn.
Borderlands was about guns, Battleborn is about characters
Battleborn is meant to be a new breed of shooter; a game that blurs the line between the competitive and the cooperative shooter. All of the years that Gearbox spent on Borderlands proved that they know how to craft a great cooperative experience. The hope is to take that style of experience and inject some unique competitive aspects to the formula. The manner in which they have done so is unique however, as it draws from their love of not only their previous franchise(s), but also other genres and games they respect and enjoy.
Although I knew I was sitting down to play a new-generation shooter, that certainly isn’t what things felt like at first. Battleborn is a game filled with character and that is by design. According to Battleborn’s Creative Director Randy Varnell, more than a few members of the development team are fighting game fans. One of the things they love about the fighting genre is the variety that exists amongst the playable characters and the unique aspects each brings to the table in the game. As a result, the game has a bit of a fighting game feel when you are going in as you are greeted with a sprawling character selection screen before you head out into battle. I am not talking about selecting from three or four different classes of characters that resemble one another, but rather a full panel of 25 unique and different characters.
When I say different characters, I mean DRASTICALLY different. There are no two members of the roster that are similar to one another, either in look or gameplay. There are gunners, brawlers, melee specialists, swordsmen, knive-throwers and even magic users, and just about everything in between; all of these exist within the confines of a shooter-experience. When the game launches, players will only have eight characters to choose from with the rest being unlocked over time and via game progression. They all have styles and roles to play in the grand scheme of Battleborn and depending on the type of player you are, you will gravitate to different characters at different times. Do you want to be the tank / damage dealer of your team? Perhaps you’d rather sit back and assist everyone as a whole? All of these decisions come into play each match and are things you need to think about going into each battle as there will be roles to be played by everyone and you can’t have two of the same character on any one team.
Level your levels on each level
Character progression is something that seems to vary between shooters. Some people like to have their individual characters evolve whiles prefer to see their experience as a player evolve over time. In an attempt to further extend the concept of truly unique characters and players, Battleborn offers the best of both worlds and then some. There are actually three different progressions systems used throughout the game. The first one is the obvious, MOBA inspired, match progression. Every time that you start a match, your character will begin at level one. As you play through the match, earn kills and complete objectives, you will gain experience that will evolve your character through a ladder of ten levels. With each new level earned, you unlock an ability point that can be used to trigger one of two new abilities for your chosen character; these are listed on a DNA helix and fall under either a defensive or offensive based ability. This allows you to tailor your character’s progression for that match into a variety of directions, offering the potential for a different experience each time you play.
You can further tailor your character styles via the game’s gear system which allows you to create 3-slot loadouts that you can fill with gear you obtain throughout all of the modes. This gear is found in packs that are both found during battle and purchased from an in-game store using shards you collect throughout the game. These items provide ability tweaks and buff to your characters such as increasing your power with a certain kind of weapon or perhaps granting additional agility. Their effects aren’t constant however, at least no most of them. All gear-related perks much be activated during the course of battle by spending shards that you have collected during that match.
Outside of the individual match progression, you will also earn experience and gain levels of character mastery for each character you utilize, referred to as Character Rank. This ranking is persistent over all of the time that you spend in Battleborn. The more you use a specific character, the higher your rank with them becomes. Increasing this rank will earn you additional cosmetic items for the character(s), such as alternate costumes or perhaps color selections and even additional taunts. If you get the rank high enough, you will eventually unlock a couple of “genetic mutations” within their DNA helix. These will simply serve as additional tweaks to the characters that will give you a couple of more options to choose from within each match. While we didn’t get to play long enough to see any of these in action, we were assured that none of them will drastically alter the character(s) overall. These mutations, once unlocked, simply give you a little more variation in tweaking out your specific character build during a match.
At the top of all of this is your individual player ranking, known as your Command Rank. This encompasses your entire Battleborn career and goes from level one to 100. This ranking progresses regardless of which character that you play or which modes you spend your time playing. Increasing this rank unlocks new titles for your profile which will be seen online by others as well as allow you to access some of the more in depth gameplay systems such as the previously mentioned genetic variations and access to the game’s gear system which allows you to further customize and enhance your characters. The more that you play the game, the deeper that the experience becomes so it will definitely benefit you to sink some time into the world of Battleborn.
Pick your poison
Of course, before you can choose a character, you need to know what sort of battle you are preparing to enter. Battleborn will offer multiple gameplay types for players to experience with and against their friends. During our day with the game, we got a chance to check out three of the competitive multiplayer modes that will be included in the game. The first was very straight forward as it was the cooperative campaign. The entire campaign experience of Battleborn is playable with a total of five players. Throughout each individual session, you will have to work your way up through the standard 10 levels of character abilities and fill out your DNA helix. As you progress through the story, you’ll be earning points for your contributions to the group’s progress. It’s a simple extension of the cooperative experience while at the same time, promoting some healthy competition between players. The other modes, Meltdown and Capture, are a lot different and include both familiar and fresh gameplay experiences.
Despite the new name, Capture is going to be a very familiar game type for players. In this mode, two teams of five players battle it out to control specific, marked points on the map. Once you gain control of a point, your team will begin accumulating points for your overall score. The more areas that you control on the map, the faster you will earn points toward the score required with win the match. Although this is a very familiar gameplay type, the variation is a bit different thanks to the unique character designs. The members of a team need to all known and understand their individual roles. If you are playing as someone like Thorn or Orendi, who are mainly support style characters, you will not find success in trying to capture a control point. However, you can make a huge difference in the tide of battle by staying back and picking at enemies from a distance while providing offensive buffers to your stronger teammates.
The other mode that we played was called Meltdown and was a mix of team deathmatch and tower defense. Each team has specially marked “disposal points” on the map and there are streams of decomissioned minions making their way to each point. For every minion that successfully enters a disposal point, you get points based on their size. It is your job to both ensure that your minions reach their destination safely to earn points while preventing the opponent’s minions from reaching their goals. You have to find a good balance of attacking and defending in order to win the match.
There are also building spots on the map where each team can spend shards, a currency collected during battle, to construct different classes of turrets to assist in battle. Some turrets may attack nearby enemies while other may provide shield or health boosts to you and your team. This mode proved to be the most frantic of the three that we played and the most enjoyable given the environment. The action was pretty much nonstop as there was a lot of ground to cover and the flow of minions never seemed to slow down on either side.
As I mentioned above, I went into this entire experience with expectations of a Borderlands-like experience. What I got was above and beyond anything I had experienced on Pandora. While it had a similar visual style and all of the patented, twisted humor that I loved with Borderlands, it also provided a level of individuality among a group of players that is unmatched in other online shooters. While I was a part of a team, I was a distinctly unique member of that team, and almost of the entire match as there wasn’t anyone like “me” on the other team either. You get to stand out and play your own style of game, all while attempting to make it work with other players doing the exact same thing. I have never played a shooter that created that sort of environment or experience. I loved what I saw and I know that it was just a small sampling of what is to come. The game looked great and it played great, even with the widely varied gameplay styles of the different characters. We got to spend 4 hours with the game and it went by ridiculously fast. There is going to be a lot to love about this game when it launches this coming February.
Battleborn launches on February 9, 2016 for the PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
If you have been here before, you know the basics: lifelong gamer, father, and of course, certified news monkey. I have been blogging on the industry for close to a decade now, in some form or another. It wasn't until I landed here at Gaming Nexus that I really dove in head first. Now, writing about games has become what I do for fun (and sometimes work) and something I intend on doing until the day I die.
I'm a huge fan of just about everything you can interact with using a controller, no matter how old or new, good or bad. If you put it in front of me, I will play it... end of story.