If you play online video games then you’ve surely heard of the massively online battle arena (MOBA) genre and how popular it is these days thanks to games like League of Legends and DoTA 2. Those titles are all the rage for many PC gamers, and it doesn’t seem like they’re part of a fad that’s going to go away anytime soon. Like an MMO addiction, MOBA obsessions are a real thing, and there are people who play them religiously. As such, it comes as no surprise that more developers are trying their hands at the genre, with 2K’s just-released Battleborn being the first of many.
Developed by Gearbox Software, Battleborn is a game that comes to us from a studio with pedigree. At least, for the most part, given that it’s also the company that is openly hated because of the whole Aliens: Colonial Marines debacle. Of course, that’s not where the pedigree comes in, as what Gearbox is known for is its Borderlands franchise, which has been a personal favourite of mine since its first day on store shelves. Battleborn is similar to that colourful series in certain ways, but happens to be its own game and exists as a risky step in a different direction.
The best way to think of this game is to imagine it as being a mix between Borderlands, League of Legends and, in some ways, Plants vs. Zombies Garden Warfare 2. It’s obvious that Battleborn‘s development was inspired by multiple sources, although the developers still did their best to make something unique, as well as something that will stand the test of time. Did they succeed with those goals? Yes and no.
A MOBA-inspired hero shooter at heart, Gearbox’s latest is more about cooperative and competitive online play than it is about any sort of lengthy campaign. Although you’ll find a campaign here, the term is used loosely and what’s presented is merely a set of nine different missions that are tied together with a loose and basic storyline. This numerical total includes the game’s prologue, which you get to play through by yourself before being able to jump into matchmaking.
Most of these excursions can be played in any order via online play, as opting into public story gameplay puts you into a lobby with up to four other people, before giving you all three different missions to vote on. There’s no way to pick exactly which mission you’d like to play, nor is there a way to quit out during the voting process if none of the listed options tickles your fancy. In fact, the game locks you into the voting process and makes you wait for a video to play before you can quit out during character selection. This is a rather frustrating set-up, because it not only wastes your time, but also leads to undermanned parties.
For some reason, if a person quits during character selection — which is something that happens rather often — his or her slot becomes locked and another player cannot step in, even though the game hasn’t started yet. This means that you’re often looking at entering a stage with only three out of five players, and that isn’t always enough.
The stages, themselves, are also pretty repetitive in structure, and feature a lot of defence. One will task you with escorting a hulking robot from one point to another, and then back, whereas others will have you defending hacking robots or simply protecting important points. You’ll do these things more than once during the missions, and the waves of enemies that come at you always get tougher as you progress. It’s an understandable structure, but the way it’s designed can also be cheap. This is especially true when it comes to a level called The Saboteur, as it’s very tough to beat even if you have a full team.
The Saboteur is all about protecting an AI that is attempting to hack into three specific control points. You and your team work your way from the start of the level to its end, stopping to fight off a few waves of foes in each control point’s room. It’s simple stuff, but Battleborn throws so much at you near the end of the mission’s thirty minute runtime that it’s tough to win. Quite a few people have taken to forums to complain about this, and the developer has stated that it not only agrees, but also plans to address the issue with a patch. I just wonder how this issue made it into the full release, given how much testing must’ve went into this project prior to it hitting store shelves.
I did manage to beat The Saboteur, after several tries and a lot of wasted time spent getting to the end just to die, but I had a really good team surrounding me. It’s not always easy to find such a dedicated or skilled group, though, so things can become a bit of a crapshoot here. Thankfully, most of the other missions (or episodes, as the developers call them) are more fair, although they’re not without their chokepoints and cheap moments.
Since the game pools your team’s lives together, and makes it so that extras only show up in the odd hidden chest, it’s important to be smart about how you play and work as a team. Stay together, use your character’s special abilities intelligently, and most importantly, try to revive people when their life bars hit zero. If you’re dumb and get too aggressive, then you may screw your team over, because Battleborn isn’t an easy game even on its normal difficulty. It has an Advanced setting, as well as a Hardcore option, but normal was more than enough for me, and I’m someone who often plays shooters on hard. Then again, Battleborn isn’t exactly your typical shooter.
While the campaign’s episodes ended up being more robust than I’d expected, they didn’t offer enough variety — or interesting gameplay — to make me want to return. That’s exacerbated given how Battleborn punishes people who try to play it solo, as like Borderlands 2 before it, it doesn’t scale its difficulty down well at all. I noticed this during the first mission, as it took forever for me to defeat a couple of the bosses and I began to get the impression that I wasn’t meant to go alone even though the game allowed me to.
When I tried to play a later mission alone I went on a bit of a roll. I killed all of the enemies at the beginning without problem, and noticed that they died after taking fewer shots than during co-op. That was good. So was the fact that I didn’t have much of a problem leading a giant robot ally deeper into the level’s forested library. What wasn’t good was what happened after, as the game decided to punish me for going solo and wasted my time in the process.
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After I successfully escorted the machine into the woods, he had half of his health left and was scripted to rest. At that point, it was my turn to go deeper into the level and help a hacker who was putting historical information into small bots. Then it became my goal to ensure that twenty of those things made it back to the giant computerized contraption. Simple, right?
Well, yes and no. The mechanics were, but the game spawned so many enemies that it was tough to keep up with things. If I focused on clearing one group of foes out along the bots’ path, they’d just end up getting killed by another group of foes who’d randomly spawned down the line. Needless to say, it was frustrating and took quite a bit of time to get all 20 through. Even setting traps (like fire towers and flash pods) didn’t help all that much, mostly because the enemies would focus on taking them out. I also didn’t have all that many shards to buy them with, and could often not afford to buy any towers once mine had been taken down.
Needless to say, this was a prime example of how Battleborn doesn’t properly scale down for solo gamers. I know it’s a co-op game, and that it’s built for that type of team play, but it does allow for single player. And, if it’s going to let people go solo, it should be designed to be beatable for them, should it not?
I made it all the way to the end of that level, which meant retracing my steps and leading the giant bot back to where I found him. However, as I entered the last section, the game’s same trend of wanting you to be in two or three places at once reared its ugly head. There were a few too many enemies, and I couldn’t keep up with them enough to prevent them from shooting my ally and turning him into an exploded piece of metallic rubble.
Goodbye sixty minutes.
At the very least, Battleborn players do get credit for attempts. You can earn gear and experience to level up your characters’ levels and your own personal user level, but it still doesn’t make up for the frustration and wasted time.