As squibs go, they don’t get much damper than Battleborn’s launch. It’s been out for a week or two, giving us ample time to sample its delights and weigh up whether Gearbox’s first-person shooter MOBA is in it for the long haul. Battleborn isn’t bad, so much as it’s just not very good. It’s that book you read, put aside and forgot you ever read it. It’s that movie you watched on Channel 4 one lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s just sort of… there.
Not that it doesn’t attempt to stand out from the crowd of course, but there’s only so loud and garish something can be before you make a subconscious effort to blot it out. Battleborn is the embodiment of the Borderlands spirit, which a large chunk of people love, but devoid of any of the charm. There’s only so many times you can hear a swear word cutely bleeped out before all humour has been sapped bone dry.
Suffice to say, based on the early data available, Battleborn has turned people away. There could be many reasons for this but I’ll tell you one - no one on this here Earth knows what it actually is. Ask for an elevator pitch that succinctly describes Battleborn and all but the most silver tongued of speakers will elicit a garbled mess. Even Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford described it as an “FPS; hobby-grade coop campaign; genre-blended, multi-mode competitive e-sports; meta-growth, choice + epic Battleborn Heroes!”, which is the most confusing mess of a sentence I’ve heard describe a game.
It’s a hero-driven game. It’’s a first-person shooter. It’s a MOBA. It’s a co-operative FPS. It’s playable entirely on your own. There are more than 20 characters, all with totally different abilities. It’s like Borderlands but only online. It’s made for eSports. It’s designed for casual players. I could go on for hundreds of words, and probably play for hundreds of hours, without discovering what Battleborn actually is, or what it’s trying to be. It’s like Gearbox has taken every flavour of the month game or feature from the last decade and smooshed them together into a single pulpy mass.
Not that it’s a game totally without merit. At its core Battleborn is an FPS MOBA, with a PvE co-op campaign tacked haphazardly. Much like most MOBAs you can level up mid-match, choosing between two upgrade paths, further customising your character’s abilities. There’s a trio of modes available, each supporting 5v5 play. Capture has players battling for control over certain areas of the map; Meltdown has you leading your hordes of AI robots into grinders found at the end of maps, while Incursion purist MOBA game type. In this mode you must defend against five attackers and waves of AI minions, all while trying to push your team and minions into the opposing side’s base.
Its levelling system and hordes of unlocks makes for compulsive play, and there’s certainly a nice ebb and flow to the PvP combat, taking obvious cues from MOBAs, with lane pushes, creeps, and defensive towers. At times I’d even suggest Battleborn is quite fun, It’s just that Gearbox has borrowed so much that Battleborn doesn’t have any hope of standing out in its own unique way.
The campaign is a bunch of a disjointed levels which can be hopped in at will following the prologue, with a barely a thread to told it together. Pretty much all play revolves around heading to a checkpoint and fending off hordes of enemies for certain period of time, before moving on to the next area. There’s only around 10 or missions including the prologue, so you’re looking at a campaign that can be beaten in 8-10 hours, with little replayability.
Probably the worst part of the campaign is when your party wipes you’re bumped back to the mission select, forced to restart the whole thing again. Don’t go thinking you could just go playing it all single-player either. Battleborn is always online, so if you lose your connection you’re kicked out of the mission. There’s no permanent save feature either, so once you start a mission you have to finish it or your progress is wiped. There really is precious little to write home about when it comes to the campaign.
Which brings me to my next point - Battleborn’s hopes of a long-term audience. Or should I perhaps make that short-term. Today’s peak is 7557 players on PC, with an all-time peak of 12,070. The last noticeable multiplayer failure from publisher 2K, Evolve, notched up more than double that at its peak with 27,403. The hope here is that Battleborn, like Borderlands, gains traction through word of mouth. Unfortunately I can’t honestly say that what is here is good enough to guarantee that.
There’s certainly a fair bit here for some to like, particularly for those of you who want a MOBA that’s less of a long-term commitment, and a heck of a lot of content to get your teeth into, but Battleborn’s development-by-focus-group leaves it feeling a little bland, despite its brash stylings and Borderlands-esque attitude.