If there was anything I learned about Battleborn at the EB Expo 2015, it’s that a lot of people are still very confused about what kind of game it is. Some believed it was a free-to-play class-based shooter (in the same vein as Blizzard’s upcoming Overwatch), while others dismissed it as just another MOBA. Part of this confusion stems from the name. Alongside the BattleCrys and Battlefronts of the gaming world. This vagueness has dogged the game from its debut and Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford’s description of the game (via Twitter) as a “hobby-grade co op campaign; genre-blended, multi-mode competitive e-sports; meta-growth, choice + epic Battleborn Heroes” didn’t really help.
However, I had the chance for a little bit of hands-on time with the game at EB Expo 2015 and came away with a pretty good understanding of how the game plays. With any luck, this’ll be the first step in moving on from asking ourselves what kind of game Battleborn is, and onto asking ourselves whether or not it’s any good.
I jumped right into a session of the game with four other players and right away the game drew me in with its nifty visual style and slick character designs. While the full game will include 25 different playable heroes, the demo I played featured about half that number. I ended up going with the dwarf berserker called Boldur. Mostly because I dug the Nordic aesthetic he was rocking – but also because his ability to charge into the fray and toss an axe with lethal results seemed like an approach to warfare I could get behind.
Once we loaded in, the demo wasted no time before getting us into the thick of things. We had to fight our way into a base, activate a robot, then escort that robot to the boss fight at the end of the level. It was nothing too complicated, but it did have a nice rhythm to it – and as chaotic as some of the combat sequences got, the game did a great job of making it feel like everyone on the team is contributing.
Additionally, the leveling system in Battleborn seemed surprisingly intuitive. Slaying foes earned you experience and leveling up offered you the chance to upgrade one of your character’s two core abilities. Compared to Borderlands branching skill trees, managing these skill points never really bogged down the action and was as simple as tapping left or right. On the whole, Battleborn really felt like it delivered on the power-fantasy of you and your teammates as superpowered badasses throwing down against the legions of spooky-looking foes standing in your way.
Lastly, one of the big things I hoped to find out in my hands-on was how Battleborn handled melee combat. Gearbox have a strong track record for good first person shooting, but good first person melee combat is a different thing entirely. However, I came away from this aspect of the demo feeling a bit ambivalent. It was definitely more functional and developed than the melee combat in Borderlands but it did still feel like it lacked impact and weight.
Though my time with the game was slightly undercut by some audio problems, I was generally pretty impressed with Battleborn. While I’m not entirely sold on the ambitious labels Gearbox are attaching to the game, I do feel pretty confident in saying that it has the makings of a robust multiplayer experience.
Battleborn releases on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on February 9th 2016.