Battleborn (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 01.06.2016

Review for Battleborn on PlayStation 4

Following up on a successful title that surpassed all performance expectations and also ended up creating an immensely popular franchise is the game industry equivalent of a difficult second album. There's a genuine desire to experiment, tread new ground, and deliver a product with its own identity, yet at the same time there's an underlying fear that straying too far from the familiar winning formula would in some way impact on the product's success. After all the critical acclaim the Borderlands series received, it does indeed feel like Battleborn is Gearbox's difficult second album. Both have the first person shooter gene spliced heavily into their DNA, but where Borderlands married that to an open world, MMO-styled escapade, Battleborn instead heads out towards a more strategic but still action-heavy MOBA territory.

There is no universe without stars, that much is certain. So when a warmongering alien race known only as the Varelsi start flitting between solar systems leaving a trail of extinguished stars in their wake, the slow, spreading darkness starts a wave of panic strong enough to spur the few surviving alien species into preventative action. Like the proverbial moth to the flamethrower, these planet-less factions all set course for Solus where the last remaining sun in the universe still shines precariously, its delicate existence making it the obvious conclusion to the Varelsi master plan.

Alliances are formed between the Eldrid, the United Peacekeeping Republics, the Jennerit Imperium and the Last Light Consortium who, alongside a number of unaffiliated waifs and strays otherwise known as the Rogues, vow to protect what little resources remain and take the fight to the aggressor. Heroes emerge from each faction, diverse in skillsets, bold in spirit, and eager to jump into the fray. These elite warriors are known as the Battleborn and the very fate of the universe as we know it rests squarely on their shoulders. No pressure guys.

Despite Battleborn's fairly intriguing premise, Gearbox's decision to employ a self-contained, episodic format for the campaign actually reigns in the narrative to a certain extent. Albiet with the adverse effect of weakening the storytelling aspect to the point where it's unclear why some of the mission objectives are actually being undertaken. Obviously, shooting the bad guys is a given, but there's very little context between missions to explain what is about to go down and why, other than some expensive looking cartoons, though admittedly these are pretty cool.

Screenshot for Battleborn on PlayStation 4

Choosing to play co-operatively online will, more often than not, result in chapters being played out of order as prior to commencing a session participants get to vote on which mission to tackle from a random selection. This means that the only way to work through the prologue and eight chapters sequentially is by playing it solo which unsurprisingly takes a lot longer and isn't quite as much fun. However, the upside to this format is that much like Destiny or The Division these missions are designed to be replayed over and over repeatedly and will scale to accommodate up to five players making it perfect for the 30 - 40 minute duration it takes to complete each one. The whole package is very much geared towards being a sociable experience and while the option of playing locally via a split-screen is also included, it's probably worth noting that without an online connection to the console, access to the solo campaign is denied, which could be an issue for some.

While the Borderlands series boasted a wide open world rife for exploration, Battleborn makes for a far more linear experience by channelling the action towards a series of chained together objectives that need to be met to progress. These can range from escort and protect missions, to defending an area or item from multiple waves of attack (not dissimilar to the classic 'Horde' mode) or even extracting an item from enemy territory then escaping with it. Multi-stage boss fights? Yep, there are a few of those tossed into the mix too.

There's an in-game currency known as Shards that can be found scattered about the map, either growing in the wild or dropped by fallen foes. Shards can be spent on a variety of personal drones, traps or turrets located at specific choke points, which definitely assist with some of the tougher multi-wave sections and add a tower defence overlay to the proceedings. Further assistance is at hand via power ups that can be found in hidden crates that provide a wide variety of buffs, and if lady luck is smiling down on the team, an item of loot to add to the collection. To be fair, loot doesn't play as big a role here as it did in Borderlands. Here, it tends to provide small items that can be added to a three capacity loadout and activated during play to provide a perk whenever the appropriate amount of Shards are available to spend.

Aesthetically, Gearbox has shifted away from the cel-shading that made Borderlands look so distinctive and have instead opted for a vibrant, almost cartoon-like world that goes some way towards giving Battleborn its own identity. Shifting the action around the numerous planets in the Solus system also provides some vastly different settings to lock horns with the Varelsi; ranging from the lush, verdant world of Ekkunar, to the futuristic, neo-gothic architecture of Tempest, the seat of the Jennerit Empire.

Screenshot for Battleborn on PlayStation 4

Battleborn also bundles three different 5 vs 5 adversarial multiplayer modes into the package, and it's here where the MOBA elements really take centre stage.

Incursion sees both teams in possession of large, heavily armoured spider drone sentries that patrol back and forth within the boundaries of their respective bases. The first team to destroy the opposition's sentries by any means necessary is declared the winner. While a hands on approach is encouraged, each team has access to deployable minions of varying strength and stature that continuously chip away at the spider drone's defences, but will also attack any enemy foolhardy enough to get in the way. It turns into quite a fraught territorial battle as each team competes to try and clear a path for their minions to fulfil their destructive destiny. To aid and abet the task at hand, turrets, traps, and health stations can be built and upgraded in certain strategic points, but these can be easily be destroyed and repurposed by the enemy. Everything from the turrets to the minions is paid for with Shards so the better a team is doing, the more resources they have at their disposal.

Meltdown involves escorting all the friendly minions into a grinder located in the enemy territory to be scrapped while simultaneously trying to stop the enemy from doing the same. It's a simple but genius twist to the MOBA formula that keeps things moving fast by switching the locations of the grinders every so often ensuring that any overly efficient defences set up to choke the flow of junked metal will occasionally become redundant. The winner is the first to hit the specified amount of recycled minions.

Capture is probably the least adventurous of the multiplayer modes, but easily the quickest to play a complete round of, so its inclusion provides the perfect opportunity for those with on time constraints to jump in for a fast paced skirmish. As the name suggests, teams attempt to capture and hold three areas of the map to score, in fact not unlike the Domination/Conquest modes from a pair of very well known shooters that will remain nameless. It's a shame that each of these modes only has two maps a piece, though Gearbox have promised that there will be free DLC incoming at some point to address this issue.

With a generous 25 character roster to choose from, the potential to be slightly overwhelmed is thankfully sidestepped by restricting access to the entire selection of heroes during the early stages of play and gradually unlocking them individually as missions are completed. It's a sensible approach that allows for a period of familiarisation with each new individual as they become available. As one might expect from a Gearbox title, a lot of thought has been put into the wonderfully wacky character design, with humour and personality playing a large role in the process. Those favouring more offensive/attacking play can choose from a selection of tank, melee or ranged classes; though a well-balanced team should try to include one or two support classes with healing/buffing abilities.

Screenshot for Battleborn on PlayStation 4

All participants start on an equal footing as the round commences, with each character's level starting at one and gradually rising to ten, with each milestone offering a choice of two upgrades which can be applied on the fly via a Skills Helix. Being that the levels reset after each match it provides the perfect opportunity to find an upgrade path best suited to the adopted play style. Each character also gets individually levelled up with use (independent of the player's overall Command Rank) which unlocks cosmetic customisations and taunts. All in all, maxing out each character is a mammoth undertaking that will take even the most dedicated quite some time to accomplish.

While Battleborn is an enjoyable experience for the most part, it is beset by a number of issues that can occasionally impact on its enjoyment. For one thing there seems to be an inordinate amount of waiting around involved as the matchmaking can be ridiculously slow at times. This is possibly down to the inclusion of a skill based matchmaking system that was put in place as an attempt to ensure fair competition. While good in theory, it's largely dependent on whomever else is online at the time. For example, while waiting for a game of Meltdown to start, a full three minutes had elapsed before an opposing team had been found. Unfortunately, they seemed to choose that precise moment to drop out of the process altogether which resulted in a swift return to the matchmaking process for a few more minutes.

The team that eventually materialised seemed to have a number of very high level players amongst them (including a level 100 player) and proceeded to dismantle our team with ridiculous ease to the point where surrender was the only sensible option. People getting sick of waiting and dropping out of the matchmaking process seems to be a common problem, and annoyingly, once a game has started, missing team members don't get replaced. Even adding an AI controlled bot to make up the numbers would be preferable to being a man or two down as more often than not it's a disadvantage that's impossible to overcome and usually results in an early surrender.

Another irksome issue arises from the use of the first person perspective which, at times, can make it extremely difficult to see which direction an attack is coming from. It proves to be particularly arduous when playing as a melee class character, as wading into the throng almost always results in failure. This is thanks in no small part to the minions/competitors standing just out of range of the available periphery vision, chipping away at that health bar. It's an issue that never arises in a traditional MOBA due to the utilisation of a camera angle that enables a 360-degree view around the controlled character, making attacks from the rear far easier to deal with effectively.

Screenshot for Battleborn on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

While Borderlands was always going to be a fairly tough act to follow, Battleborn succeeds by possessing enough depth and charm to stand up on its own two feet. Here, Gearbox have created an interesting universe brimming with their trademark humour and populated by an interesting cast of characters that make it a fun place to kill time and other people in. Yes, there are a few minor issues that mar the experience somewhat, and the overall package could definitely use a bit more content to boost its longevity, but hopefully these are concerns that are currently being addressed.

Developer

Gearbox

Publisher

2K

Genre

First Person Shooter

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

There are no replies to this review yet. Why not be the first?

Comment on this article

You can comment as a guest or join the Cubed3 community below: Sign Up for Free Account Login

Preview PostPreview Post Your Name:
Validate your comment
  Enter the letters in the image to validate your comment.
Submit Post

Subscribe to this topic Subscribe to this topic

If you are a registered member and logged in, you can also subscribe to topics by email.
Sign up today for blogs, games collections, reader reviews and much more
Site Feed
Who's Online?
mikem52, Ofisil

There are 2 members online at the moment.