Hands-On Preview: Battleborn

Never having encountered Battleborn before, I was a bit anxious to see what the game was truly about. For a little over a year, I heard whispers and grumblings about what I should expect from Gearbox’s new title. Various questions circled through my mind as I exited the 6 train at Mulberry Street to a crisp, autumn evening. What expectations should I set for myself? Would a first-person MOBA – what many except Gearbox have been calling it – be as gratifying as its traditional counterparts? Gameplay, graphics; everything that you could question about a game you’ae anticipated for pretty much ran through my head.

I paced quickly to the location where 2K was hosting the preview event to be greeted by an already semi-empty venue occupied by, what I’m assuming, to be the folks hosting the event. I could only blame myself for making my way there after hours, of course, as there was still the reminiscent feeling that it had been full with press people previewing Battleborn at some point during the day.

I was greeted by a handful of 2K folks before I was taken downstairs to a room that contained two rows of demo stations (about six or so stations at each side). I was given a smile and a controller and a gesture to place the headphones on the table in front of me on my head. I nodded and returned the smile as my hands grazed the Xbox One controller.

My eyes finally settled on the monitor after surveying the room to check the roster of people at the stations. I rummage through the main screen and select the Single Player mode, as instructed, and enter the character selection screen.

One thing to note is that, while the game will feature 25 playable characters at launch, we were only give the opportunity to choose between 10; each character unique in their appearance and their abilities. Four-armed magic users, hunky space marines, a stilted hawk-man, and a vampire-esque, sword-wielding agitator were some of the intrinsic characters in a world set in a distant future.

I settled for Rath – a master bladesmith and swordsman and the vampire-esque, sword-wielding agitator – because of how badass he looked and because, well, he has swords…

Visually, you’ll find yourself greeted by familiar graphics. Familiar in the sense that you’re presented with a façade that’s welcoming and recognizable. In essence, the overall feel you get is as if you’ve walked into the world of a Pixar movie, something that Ratchet & Clank has also managed to successfully achieve, which was, ironically, the inspiration for the graphics set in Battleborn. This isn’t by any means a knock on the creativity or presentation of the game – it’s more of a compliment to the developer for being able to achieve such a lush and genial ambiance, given the setting of violence and chaos that follows the game.

I decided to quickly digest the environment, looking at the loaded single-player stage and testing the controls before making my way into the battlefield to begin pummeling my enemies with the red blades wielded by Rath.

Battleborn is, at its core, what many would commonly describe as Borderlands with a sprinkle of MOBA. To a degree, this isn’t far off, but it’s also not entirely accurate. Battleborn is novel when compared to Borderlands. The similarities that exist, if you can point them out, are miniscule and not something that I think contribute to the game’s atmosphere. While you may try to reach for what the games do similarly, as you would try to identify as the games are created by the same developers, you’ll come off to observe and quickly realize that this is a game with its own virtue.

Once the inspection of nostalgia wore off, I began running around the field mindlessly slashing away at my foes, trying to understand whether or not this form of combat would suffice through my play through whilst testing the AI’s aggressiveness. Using Rath’s abilities such as Crossblade and Catalytic Smash, I experienced a brief moment of triumph before succumbing to my wounds. It was evident that the AI wasn’t taking crap from my gratuitous combat style and pretty much blasted me into Swiss cheese. I quickly learned my lesson of just how tactful the enemies were and began a more strategic and careful approach to how I engaged them.

Your characters have both a shield meter and a health meter. Your shield meter gradually goes back up when you’re not taking any damage while your health meter, however, is restored upon collecting health balls or by leveling up.

Leveling in Battleborn is what you would think it is in terms of how you increment levels. By gathering experience points, your character will gain a level. How do you gather experience points? Well, by unmercifully beating your foes to a pulp. The higher the level, the more experience points needed to reach it.

Battleborn, though, has a level cap of ten levels which is done to keep a semblance of competitiveness and fairness within the multiplayer aspect of the game – a trait which is quite common in popular MOBAs. These ten levels are accompanied by ten choices within the Helix leveling system, which gives you the option to choose between two perks per level. Personally, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing until I reached level five, which is when I realized what the skill tree (Helix) was for. There was a reason why I was getting pummeled by the AI and that’s because my attacks were to them what a feather duster is to the Hulk.

I managed to get myself situated and, using common sense with a bit of strategy, managed to die only once during my play through. Robots of all shapes and sizes came at me and I manhandled them with ease (okay, not all the time). The disadvantage I learned – which is something I didn’t assiduously think through when selecting my character – was that anyone bringing a knife to a gunfight is pretty much done for. This also applies in video games… literally. As Rath wielded his badass looking red blades and I casually ran through the field bitch-slapping robots, the one thing I forgot is that ranged enemies were able to shoot me in the face until I made my way to them for a sword-spanking; something that took lots of patience given how true their aim was.

Eventually, after about forty-five minutes of playing, I managed to complete the level, taking down a gargantuan, and humorous, spider-boss. Upon completion, the remaining people in the demo room congregated and a multiplayer match came out of the discussion.

Ten players sat at their stations. Across from me sat the well-known Geoff Keighley with his headphones on idle and ready for the session to start. Most of the other players were 2K/Gearbox employees who seemed to have this chilling look on their faces… You know, how a lioness stares at her prey before turning it into a bloody dinner – that kind of look.

Muffled instructions were given (had the headphones on), laughs ensued, and my nerves went down the drain. Multiplayer started.

Battleborn is, first and foremost, an online competitive arena which can host ten players on two teams, vying for supremacy. This is where the MOBA trait comes into play, although Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford did his very best to try and convince us otherwise. If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck… you get the point.

While there are three multiplayer modes – Incursion, Devastation, and Meltdown – we only got to experience Meltdown, a mode that includes heroes guiding their minions to their death at the center of the map where points are scored for every minion who successfully throws themselves into an incinerator. In this objective, the team with the most points win.

Teams start at opposite bases, with the objective being who can kick whose ass, as mentioned above. Every player starts at level one, gaining levels as they complete tasks or kill other players (one thing to note is that, like well-known MOBAs, character levels and skills reset at the beginning of every match).

The field was brimming with heroes going at each other. With Rath at my side, I started the game thinking I would be unstoppable. Then I remembered why the 2K/Gearbox employees had that death stare. It was like bacon walking into a room full of wolves.

Aside from the rampant owning that took place, multiplayer was very fun. It’s a game that doesn’t forgive stupidity and enforces true teamwork. Support characters, such as Miko, specialize in healing team members; you have your “tanking” characters who are able to absorb more damage than your average character and are used as damage sponges. Each character fulfills a specific role and need for your team. Of course, considering that my team had little to no knowledge of where our characters stood in that regard, we were taken to Pound Town.

Outside of the sad atrocity that took place in multiplayer where we got demolished, Battleborn offers a well-balanced system for true team-based multiplayer. The main event of this game will undoubtedly be the competitive modes. And with so many characters to choose from and a wide array of skills, it will certainly be interesting to see the amalgamation of skills and characters that teams will manage to concoct. The FPS experience is absolute, the game looks magnificent, and the team-based engagement is entertaining.

From what I’ve played, Battleborn is a game that works extremely well for short bursts but will definitely require commitment and time to really grasp the mastery of vast characters and their dynamic cluster of abilities that accompany them. It’s a game that did fulfill the fun-factor I was curious about and, most importantly, the fundamental importance of teamwork.

With a slated February 9th, 2016 release date, we can only hope to get a bit more exposure to what we can expect on launch day.

Yaris Gutierrez

Born and raised in New York City, Yaris is one of three co-founders at DualShockers. Gaming since the inception of Nintendo in the 80's, he has grown to avidly appreciate games of every genre, maturing his preference specifically now to third-person action games, first-person shooters and JRPGs. He's a software engineer, father and husband during the day, and mildly attempts to hold onto his "hardcore gamer" title during the evenings. An attempt that he tends to fail miserably at.

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