Preview: Battleborn Open Beta (Xbox One)

Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down to a brand new game on the Xbox One that could end up being the next big thing! Battleborn is a First Person Shooter/Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (FPS/MOBA) hybrid. So what do we call it? Can we call it a MOSA? (Multiplayer Online Shooter Arena) Well no, because not all of the characters shoot guns. How about a MOFPA? (Multiplayer Online First Person Arena)? Whatever you wish to call it, both 2K with Battleborn and Blizzard with Overwatch seem to be banking on this genre becoming the next big thing in eSports and I can understand why. Battleborn seamlessly blends the conventions of a first person shooter with those of a MOBA without having to get too technical in understanding the game’s meta. Those who have played the big MOBAs like League of Legends and DotA will be able to spot the MOBA elements instantly. Those who have played shooters like Halo or Destiny will also feel right at home brawling inside the levels, which funnily enough can be a bit of a trap. But more on that later.

 

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Story

Gearbox software have brought their dark-comedy-made-light style of humour that made Borderlands such a hit back to the table with this one and, while some jokes feel a little rehashed, most of the humour had me laughing out loud. For example, one of the characters you can play as, Oscar Mike, has a taunt where he drops and gives you three one-armed push ups saying “double time: One, Two, Six S#%T!”. I particularly appreciate that they censor swearing with bleeps, to me it makes things funnier. The overarching story is simple and about as complicated as it needs to be. MOBA stories tend to be fairly simple if they even exist at all and generally tend to come in the form of a single page of lore for each character, which most people never read because it has absolutely no bearing on the game. Shooters tend to immerse you in their story in order to drive you through their campaigns. Battleborn sits somewhere in the middle. The idea is that we are nearing the end of the universe’s existence and there’s one inhabitable pocket of it left. And whataya know, folks are fighting over it!

The game’s characters are split into factions with their own interesting back stories. Interestingly, the lore for each character is unlockable, so you literally have to spend some time with your character in order to get to know them. There’re typically six sections of lore to unlock and it might be as simple as “Fire 100,000 bullets” or complete challenge X in story level Y on difficulty Z. From what I could tell the lore you unlock takes the form of audio files and the odd page of text, but there could be more undiscovered goodies out there. There is a story mode that seems to have its own story but in the beta there were only two levels available and their narrative seems unconnected. We’ll have a better understanding of this once the game comes out on May 3rd (check ppn for the review k?). But for now all we can say is that the story is fun and it seems to do its job and not get in the way. Story: 80%

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Gameplay

Once you’ve selected which mode you’re playing and which character to use you get thrown into a cutscene while the game loads (love it when they do that) and whoomph you’re in. Straight away you have a decision point and you think, yep this sure feels like a MOBA. Like most MOBAs Battleborn has three level-up systems. One for your account called a Command level, that places into tiers what you can and can’t unlock such as gear, characters and in game purchases (don’t worry, its all purchased with in game currency not real money, whew). Then there’s a mastery level for each character. This tallies its xp after every match and as it levels up you unlock taunts, skins, perks and more. Then there’s the in-game level system which brings us back to that decision point. Each character has a skill tree that resembles a double helix (you know, like DNA) and you have a simple choice to take the left skill or the right skill. As things blow up around you due to your excessive badassery that level ticks over, granting you another decision point. Just like a MOBA this allows you to create certain “builds” for your character depending on the task at hand. Eg, do I spec out my support character, Reina, as a healer or more as an aggro support? It’s up to you and it makes up a significant part of the skill of the game. In the story mode, 5 players work cooperatively in a FPS campaign style level not unlike Halo where you go from set piece to set piece slaughtering bosses and collecting loot. As a team you have a certain number of lives to share amongst yourselves as required and once they run out your teammates have to carry the weight of your failure on their shoulders and if they are good mates they won’t let you live it down. One down side to the campaign that is worth mentioning is that the same rules for connecting and leaving a game apply for the campaign as it does for the vs mode. What that means is if a person is disconnected from the game, no one is coming to replace them until they return, or worse if a person goes idle quite often you’re stuck and can’t progress because you’re waiting for each member of the team to stand in a certain position to open up the next set piece. I once had to wait 15 minutes for one bloke to get off the phone before we could continue.

In the Vs mode the most popular gametype was Meltdown. In this, two teams of 5 have to guide their creeps into the other team’s end zone. Small creeps are worth 1 point, major creeps are worth 10, and a super creep which you can spend in game money to send down a lane is worth 20 points. First to 500 wins. In all the time I spent playing it I have yet to see a close game decided by less than 100 points, either for or against us. Most of the staple MOBA mechanics are there. Lanes (in this mode 2 instead of the standard 3), creeps, jungling (in the form of collecting crystals for spending on your loadout or on turret placements and super creeps), etc. What seems to be missing is that necessary tactic of who takes which lane early game and then when to team up and start team fighting. It could be that most gamers haven’t sussed out what the optimal strategy is yet but quite often teams were leaving a lane unattended to go team fighting from the off which smarter teams easily countered. I have a hunch that Halo gamers may have gotten tunnel vision and focused on the team fighting while completely ignoring the objective. So my buddies and I would send one person to look after the empty lane while the rest of us smoked their team resulting in some brutal victories (one of which was 500-8. I don’t mind bragging).

The other game mode available was Incursion. So hard was it to get a game, I had to set up a private match v bots in order to see what it was like. This is more like a traditional MOBA in the sense that you have to take out turrets to get to the enemy base but in this sense you could replace “turrets” with small tanks on legs and the “base” with a giant tank on legs. Unlike a traditional MOBA, there’s only one lane instead of three, which might have been the turn off. However like a traditional MOBA there are mercenary camps that, once you beat them into submission, fight on your side until they’re ultimately martyred. I have a feeling that this game type will eventually be seen as the one that separates the wheat from the chaff, the leets from the scrubs so to speak, as this gametype seems to be largely misunderstood. This gametype is like one giant game of tug of war over progress along the lane and ground is not conceded easily. Each team has to work together to know when to push, how far to push, and when to divert resources toward recruiting the mercenaries. Make a wrong choice and the pressure is on, and you’ll have to galvanise to overcome it.

Even though I had only a small taste of what is to come I can definitely see the potential. Many have kinda looked at the beta almost as a full game and felt “is that it?” but I have a feeling people will be pleasantly surprised when the game comes out as it will hopefully realise its full potential. Gameplay 95%

Audio

So did I tell you this game is funny? The humour in this game tickles my funny bone, which is saying a lot because its very hard to make me laugh out loud. That’s because the voice acting in this game is absolutely superb. The comic timing is spot on and the characterisations are excellent. The music is very unmemorable and is happy to take its place in the background as a mood setting device. The sound effects are all appropriate and there’s nothing in it that irritates or grates away at you despite the repetitive actions of firing guns and swinging swords. There is also a variety of audio cues that I didn’t expect, but add a nice touch. One example is when playing as Oscar Mike, and aiming down the sight of my gun, an enemy with low health dropped down in front of me and Oscar yelled “Dead to Rights!” Audio 80%

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Visuals

Battleborn has a very cartoony feel to it, even the HUD has been thematically stylised to look almost reminiscent of a loony tunes episode. This gives the game an almost too simplistic look to it but in no way detracts from the gameplay or its mechanics. The art style has some striking similarities with its direct rival Overwatch but since both have been in development at the same time its hard to tell who copied who or if it’s just a coincidence. The menus are easy to understand and navigate through and are in keeping with with the game’s visual theme. The characters are well modeled and it almost feels like they had a line of figurines in mind when they designed them. Hmmm… (Developers please note: if you hadn’t planned a line of toys I shall expect my royalty cheque in the mail).        Visuals 70%

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Replayability

Battleborn is highly replayable, especially since the whole idea of the game is to become an eSport. I know I’ll be sinking a fair few hours of my spare time into this one when it comes out and I can see it being a career game for many. There are several game mechanics at play that are designed to keep you coming back. Firstly, there’s the command rank system. Each level affords you more heroes and better loot (which is ranked in the typical common, uncommon, rare, epic, and legendary scale and is colour coded accordingly). Then there’s the individual levels of each character that grant you access to new skills, better skins and more background info. The campaign mode is fine to enter into matchmaking by yourself but it is highly recommended that you play the vs mode with a group of friends that are fun to play with. In this game, like any other MOBA,  teamwork and communication are the key to victory and give you the biggest advantage. Plus as more and more characters and levels are added, this game will continue to be fresh for a very long time. Replayability 100%

 

Overall this game will serve to be a powerhouse for the next generation of console eSports moving forward alongside Overwatch. It’s well polished and fairly well balanced. The mechanics are fun and are interspersed with a healthy dose of whacky humour. I give this game 85%. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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