From the creators of Borderlands, this fun shooter delivers the co-op experience I have been craving in a market full of bland MOBAs and Team Fortress 2 copies.
Since the day I laid eyes on Borderlands, Gearbox has had me by the wallet. In fact, the majority of the AAA purchases I have made each year have been dedicated to the quirky, humor filled shooter (of the one or two expensive games I buy per year, at least one probably has something to do with Borderlands). It’s definitely safe to say that my expectations for Battleborn were impossibly high and I am pleased to report that the developers gave me half of exactly what I wanted: an experience that the current surge of releases in this genre simply don’t deliver (most recently Paladins and Overwatch). Basically, the elements of story and co-op play far outstrip the competitive multiplayer experience provided.
On the bright side, the Battleborn story mode is beautiful in that it shifts between two different art styles seamlessly. While the style of characters in-game is similar enough to Borderlands, the cutscenes are animated in the style of a superhero show or Saturday morning cartoon. As I didn’t follow trailers and press terribly closely leading up to the official release, this shocked and delighted me. I love that the cutscenes between missions don’t look graphically better than gameplay because that’s what I expected. Instead, the gorgeous illustrations pulled me right back to my childhood. As in Borderlands, the campaign mode is packed with vivid, snarky heroes and villains, but the overall tone is lighter. It’s the little things, like the artificially intelligent ship that can’t drive and the death robot that has decided to be a giant spider that make the whole thing shine with personality. Beyond that, it’s the simple premise of good guys duking it out with bad guys superhero-style that truly sets the player up for loads of fun and great laughs.
Although the campaign mode is really intended as a way to farm gear for multiplayer, it is so much more exciting than the average match against the a.i.
For one, turning up the difficulty actually makes it challenging to complete a mission. The mobs are tough to deal with and the bosses make me switch my brain back on and really think about how I am handling the fight. The boss of the first arc could only be damaged after certain parts of him were heavily damaged. Another thing that surprised me is the abandonment of popular tropes in first person shooters in favor of “retro” rules. For example, the player only has a certain number of “lives” to get through the campaign, meaning that they only get to return to the spawn point a few times before they fail the mission. There is even the option to activate “hardcore mode,” which removes the option to respawn at all. I tried out hardcore mode myself and found that I enjoyed the pressure despite my dismal failure as I accidentally jumped off the map near the end of a mission. As devastated as I was at my own stupidity, I love that Gearbox gave me the option to really test myself. Further, each player scores points based on how well they play through the mission and awards a medal based on that high score. Just like in many older games, I can go back and try to beat my own high score (at this point, you may or may not have guessed how I will be spending the rest of the month).
As attached as I am to my beloved co-op campaign, I have to say I am extremely disappointed in the PVP. For a title that is entirely about competitive multiplayer, I was quite surprised to find that I hated playing against others. I am no stranger to this type of game. I like competitive shooters and I play MOBAs regularly. Am I the best at these? Honestly, no. But the struggle should never be as real as it was for me in the few matches I played. I felt like I was walking into a giant meat grinder where it was impossible to kill a single enemy player. While many people play the infuriating “weave and repeatedly jump” game that competitive shooters have become, there are deeper problems that just made me quit. In general, large characters with large pools of hit points tend to have reduced damage to compensate for their ability to survive. In Battleborn, they mow down any other class leaving no hope of escape. Granted, I did not sample a huge number of characters and I tend to play squishier classes, but I did notice that very few had any viable ability with which to disengage or run away from a bad engagement. It’s so disappointing that such a great cast (including a robot gentleman sniper, a spell-slinging wizard with four arms and mushroom man that heals) is spoiled by unbalanced heroes.
My biggest complaint is that the characters work so well together and the story mode is so enjoyable that the competitive maps don’t appeal to me the way that current competitors in the genre do. The jarring multiplayer just feels wrong next to the seamless cooperative play. Still, Battleborn is worth the money it costs. I know that I will keep playing it because it offers me more than a simple match. I will even buy the DLC if they expand the campaign. I definitely recommend this title because it it sets itself apart from what I already have in my collection.