Last week, DualShockers was invited to check out Battleborn — a new IP from Borderlands series developer Gearbox Software. It was an eyes-on only affair as the build we checked out was still in pre-alpha. However, it gave a good idea as to where the upcoming “genre blending” (their words, not mine) shooter is headed, and why it’s a 2015 release should be a highlighted on your calendar.
The game’s story revolves around heroes from all around the galaxy who have gathered on a solar system in close proximity to the last living star — “Solus.” An enemy known as the Varelsi has taken away the light of the universe and its remaining inhabitants now find themselves fighting this common enemy to defend the last source of life. The game uses this darker “it’s-the-end-of-the-world” setting to lay the foundation behind character motivations and what brings them all together.
Battleborn is being dubbed as a “hero shooter” and like one would expect from Gearbox Software these heroes will come in the form of different character classes. In the game, you’ll find all of the usual suspects (although they’re not officially specified): a tank, healer, melee, support, and one class that I can only refer to as accessible as he’s designed for players used to “military shooters” — an interesting addition, but commendable as it’s a way to make your typical Call of Duty and Battlefield buyer play something that’s out of their comfort zone and yet make it still feel familiar.
What’s interesting is that the character select screen — which features a countdown timer to make your pick — feels like something you would find in a fighting game (remember, genre blending is the name of the game here) and it should be noted that there was a lot of empty space on screen. During our demo Gearbox mentioned we’re only seeing a “handful [of characters] so far, there’s a lot more that the retail game will come with.”
Visually, the game uses a familiar over the top and stylized art style that should make Gearbox fans who have played Borderlands feel right at home, but it’s definitely not cell shaded (and Gearbox Software president Randy Pitchford really hopes you know the difference). This time around Art Director Scott Kester aimed for more of a “Pixar-esque” look and feel and it becomes immediately apparent when you see the game’s seemingly friendlier, or as Gearbox describes it, “more inclusive” art style. Incidentally, the game lacks the adult language found in previous efforts, a clear indicator that — like the art style — the team is hoping to reach a broader audience with Battleborn.
Unlike the longer campaign-based progression that Borderlands players have become accustomed to, Battleborn’s sessions are played in shorter 20 – 40 minute spurts. These skirmishes that are shorter in length but higher in intensity as they provide the game with a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) feel. But Pitchford insists that “calling Battleborn a MOBA would be like calling Borderlands a Diablo clone,” explaining that it’s merely one of the many genres being blended here. Pitchford adds that “there’s one PVP mode in which you will feel a lot of MOBA influence, but in the campaign it really falls apart.”
Everyone starts at level 1 in the beginning of the session and what they do during their playtime determines where they wind up at the end. This formula gives the title a fighting game-like feel in that you’re picking different characters every time and you’re okay with it because you’re not worried about lost or wasted progression.
Think about this: how often have you played a loot-collecting, XP earning shooter and wished that you can switch characters and not feel like you’re losing something. This is a pain point that Gearbox is hoping to address. This also leaves it wide open for weekend warriors (like myself) who may not have enough time to sink into a 100 hour grindfest with a buddy (as much as I would like to), and, instead, I can jump into a game and still feel like I’m accomplishing something or making a difference in a short period of time.
It’s interesting to note however that players who do have the extra time to invest into Battleborn will find three layers of level progression. The first being the min to max level mentioned above. The second being the session to session leveling, which means things like loot drops and modifications being made to your character can follow you as you venture to your next session. The last one, is akin to Borderlands 2’s BadAss ranking system (found in that titles end game) where player progression is profile based and not tied to a particular character. Pitchford referred to it as “Bad-ass ranks on crack” and added that the inclusion of the Bad-ass system in Borderlands 2 the team was just “dipping their toes into the water” at that point.
If there was one major take away from our morning with Gearbox and checking out Battleborn, is that the team clearly knows their audience. Even though Battleborn is the studios new IP, they look back at their previous success with Borderlands and have no qualms with making comparisons to their previous works. And that’s something to commend, especially when other developers — for reasons unbeknownst to me — usually shy away from that likely fearing that they’ll look like a one trick pony. So, while Gearbox proudly waves the “we’re the guys who made Borderlands” flag, Battleborn (from what we’ve seen so far) appears like it’s poised to make a name for itself as well.
Battleborn, developed by Gearbox Software and published by 2K Games, will be released in 2015 for Xbox One, PS4 and PC. For more information you can check out our interview with creative director Randy Varnell.