A COMPLICATED DELIVERY
By Sam Jones
Publisher: 2K Games
Initial release: May 03, 2016
Genre: First person shooter/MOBA
To say that Gearbox’s track record hasn’t endeared itself to a lot of folks lately almost goes without saying. I say “almost” because I feel the sentiment that Gearbox is kind of scummy should be repeated as much as humanly possible, lest we all forget. Still, despite of this, I can’t say I dislike Gearbox: I love Borderlands, and playing those games tells me that there is something worthwhile there, buried under the controversy .
Anyway, the point of the little ramble there was to point out the fact that I’m not blissfully unaware of Gearbox’s track record, and so it has, however much, colored my perception of everything they do going forward; like Battleborn, for example. And seeing how this is supposed to be a review of Battleborn, I should probably start talking about it, huh?
Battleborn is the latest offering from Gearbox, an interesting little hybrid of first-person shooter with elements from the ever-popular MOBA field of video games, which based on stuff like Overwatch, Paragon, and Paladins, is set to become the next big trend in the MOBA-style market of gaming. Playing as any one of a weird and diverse cast of 25 unique characters, players can either take on the game’s Story Mode, or battle it out with each other in three different multiplayer modes spread across six maps: Meltdown, which sees players having to escort AI-controlled minions to grinders to score points; Capture, which is your bog-standard control point mode; and of course, Incursion, which is Battleborn’s take on the standard MOBA mode, with each team having two Patrick Warburton-voiced sentry bots they have to protect, while trying to take out the other teams two Patrick Warburton-voiced sentry bots.
It makes me really happy to hear Patrick Warburton. My God, he’s the best.
Anyway, by the far Battleborn’s strongest trait is its personality. Every single one of its characters, from your bog standard Elvish archer stereotype to a tiny adorable penguin piloting a mech-suit, are fun to play in their own way, and each feels unique from one another. Every character comes with a set of three abilities and skills that for the most part well balanced, and complement each other well. Each character is also brimming with personality, spouting off ridiculous one-liners and quips at every turn. And of course while they don’t always hit their mark (this is Gearbox writing we’re dealing with, after all), the charm they carry is undeniable. There is a strong vibe that they give off of a genuine desire to create colorful and enjoyable characters. Thematically, the character designs are also incredibly eclectic, ranging from the high-tech and futuristic, to the rustic and medieval trappings of fantasy: as bizarre and jarring as that is on a thematic level, it certainly adds to its variety.
Despite its clear MOBA influences, Battleborn’s gameplay is much more along the lines of your typical FPS: fast, frantic, and chaotic. While this is a welcome change of pace from the slow-as-molasses pace of your DotA and LoL-style MOBAs, the chaotic nature is at times very at-odds with the objective-based nature of the game modes: too often matches tend to quickly devolve into crazy difficult-to-follow free-for-alls that can make it very challenging for players to actually coordinate on anything during the match. And this might not be a widespread problem, but I’ve yet to have a match in Battleborn where I wasn’t lagging or having connection issues. And during my early time playing Battleborn, server conk-outs happened rather frequently, which is a bit of problem, because everything (even menus apparently) is connected through the servers.
And speaking of dodgy servers that brings me to tackling my real problem with Battleborn as a whole: a lack of depth and a lack of polish. Battleborn, on top of its competitive modes, offers players a Story mode to slog through, which can be played solo or with up to five players. However, the Story mode as a whole feels completely perfunctory: the eight missions are only loosely connected, and there’s barely anything resembling an actual plot. The writing in the Story mode is far from Gearbox’s best, as well: may of the jokes fall completely flat, and little of oft-spouted quips and jokes contain any real thought or actual humor to them, relying entirely too much on the “lol teh random” variety of comedy, which is the bane of actual comedy. This even to mention the voice acting: noth that there’s anything particularly wrong with it, but I often felt the delivery and comic timing was quite off entirely too often, which didn’t help matters as far as the game’s attempts at humor went. I should also say that, despite being able to run it solo (which I did), I can tell you right now, it is not intended to be done solo: while the early missions are manageable, the final few missions start throwing stuff your way that’s borderline impossible without at a least a second player, making the whole experience become highly frustrating.
Even the competitive modes lack a great deal of depth: while there’s six different maps, none of them feel substantially different from one another save for changes of scenery: so oftentimes what map you end up on barely even matters. There’s also just general corner-cutting and laziness that abounds throughout: from constant recycling and overuse of the same three objectives in the Story mode (escort a thing, defend a thing, kill a thing, rinse and repeat), to every character’s set of unlockable skins being just recolors of their base skin (the same recolors too, mind you). All this, on the whole, adds up to an experience that offers a lot on a surface level, but once you really dig in, it becomes clear that Battleborn has limits that are entirely too short.
It’s tough for me to really figure out where I stand when it comes to Battleborn. The game is a lot of fun, no doubt, and its loaded to the brim with personality and character, with a cast of warriors that are genuinely enjoyable to play. But at the same time, Battleborn is hampered by a lack of the same kind and dedication given to its characters being given to its story, level design, and overall make-up of content.
I guess time will tell how much Battleborn can hold up for the future, but still, if you’re craving a fun, fast-paced quasi MOBA experience with some charm, Battleborn’s a fine choice: just temper your expectations if you were hoping for some meat on its bones.