The folks at Gearbox Software graciously provided an open beta session for the company’s upcoming new game, Battleborn, ahead of the title’s release early next month. The open beta, from the creators of Borderland, was a decent enough demo that provided a nice slice and sampling of gameplay. So far, there’s quite a bit to like.
Battleborn appears to be a decent mash-up of many different and familiar game genres. It’s part first-person shooter, part online multiplayer RPG and part multiplayer online battle arena. In addition, it’s been given a nice sprinkle of Gearbox’s trademark humor and panache to make something very interesting and possibly unique. In Battleborn, the players take the role of an elite ragtag band of heroes called the “Battleborn.” These heroes are the last line of defense for Solus, the last living star in the universe. A group of evil, shadowy aliens called the Varelsi are staging a campaign to obliterate the last star, with help from the nefarious Lothar Rendain. Players take control of the Battleborn heroes to mount an offensive to fight back Rendain and the Varelsi. Unlike Destiny, the plot so far is pretty straight-forward and clear. The universe is almost at its end, but the heroes of this motley crew, featuring representatives of alien species of many shapes and sizes, are ready to band together to keep that from happening.
Right off the bat, the open beta provides a nice bit of variety for the characters. Only a few are available at first, but through the player progression system, more can be unlocked. So far, the character variety for the game is one of Battleborn’s best attributes. There are so many different characters to choose from. Each Battleborn hero has its own pros and cons. Some are better with melee attacks, but not as strong with long-range attacks. Some are more adept tanks, some are better healers for the team. Some are more middle-of-the-road. It seems there is a Battleborn character to suit any particular play style, no matter the mood of the player.
Each character in the game is remarkably unique. So, within each mission play through, a Battleborn hero has a 10-level progression system called the Helix System. As players progress through levels and defeat enemies, they can level up their characters and choose which upgrade path they would like to go on. Again, each upgrade has its own pros and cons. The individual Helix System resets after every mission. There is still a more passive progressive system. The passive level-up system enables players to unlock alternate character skins, new unlockable characters, some new items and power-ups. There is an in-game currency system too. What’s so much fun is that each Battleborn character is such a unique experience to control. Also, each hero is brimming with personality and weird little quirks. Oscar Mike is a meathead type who loves the thrill of battle. Rath is prone to anger and fits of rage. He’s actually quite similar to another famous character his voice actor, Christopher Sabat, plays in Vegeta from the Dragon Ball Z franchise.
Another fun aspect about the demo is that the story missions were quite hilarious. The universe is basically at its end, but Gearbox is having fun with this concept. Rather than making this universe very dark and bleak, Gearbox opts for more for the humorous side with the material. Battleborn’s humor is very overt and tongue-in-cheek. It’s full of robots who have moody artificial intelligence. Kleese gets into it with his “daughter,” the Battleborn’s spaceship who is prone to turbulent mood-swings. The captain of the Battleborn, Ghalt, frequently bickers with the other commanding officers. The heroes are all wonderfully flawed and dysfunctional.
In terms of graphics and design, the artists at Gearbox have created a unique, endearing world and cast of characters. The character designs and models are all very well done. While Borderlands, in terms of design, has more in common with say Mad Max, Battleborn’s visual style and art direction looks like a mash-up between Star Wars and Marvel Comics. No two characters look the same. Even among the enemies in the beta’s missions, there are a nice variety of bad guys to beat up.
For the open beta session, there were two Story mode missions to play solo or co-op. First is The Algorithm, where the Battleborn have to face the rogue AI, ISIC and his giant robot minion Geoff, the Spider King. After beating this mission, ISIC becomes unlockable as a playable character. ISIC is a humorous bad guy. He’s reminiscent of Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey, except he has more of an attitude and doesn’t mind saying how the heroes annoy him and he wants to crush them. The progression and boss fight for this level is fun, and it works well in co-op.
The Void’s Edge story mission is noticeably harder. Here, the Battleborn face a lot of Varelsi bad guys on the ice-planet Bliss. The boss fight here was quite difficult. The Varelsi try to open up a portal, and if all the players in the group are not on the same page, the level of difficulty here skyrockets.
Co-op gameplay gets a bit wonky at times. The game requires players to stand on platforms in order to open certain doors and to progress through parts of a level. However, if one player is not paying attention, you could be stuck in one area forever. It seems like there should be a way to bypass this so players can continue forward.
The open beta provided two multiplayer modes to try out. First, the Incursion, where players have to destroy the enemy’s two Spider Sentry Drones before they get to yours. Second, there was Meltdown, where two opposing teams have to send waves of minions to their death and collect more scrap metal than the other team. Incursion was easily the more satisfying of the two multiplayer modes that were available. There’s a nice sense of chaotic mayhem there.
The open beta did have some noticeable flaws that could be an issue later down the line. Some of the enemies come off like bullet sponges. The difficulty for certain enemies becomes more artificial than intuitive. Not only that, jumping controls leave something to be desired. Jumping is a pretty weak movement in the game. One thing Destiny does very well is its jumping and boost mechanics, as well as its ability to shoot and taking part in combat while jumping. For the most part, combat worked very well in the open beta; and the shooting and combat mechanics worked in a satisfying manner, especially with the character variety. However, there are times when it’s not clear how much damage the character is doing to enemies. Sometimes the weapon being fired looked invisible.
So far, Battleborn is off to a promising start. Gearbox looks to have built a unique, colorful world and cast of characters. The comedy really works, and there’s a nice variety of different characters to use in the fight against evil. Battleborn is due May 3 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC.