Borderlands 4 Battleborn is the latest game to be developed by Gearbox Software and released by 2K, the creators of the Borderlands series of games. At its heart, Battleborn is a first person online shooter that combines the art style, humor and game play of a traditional Borderlands game with the online dynamics of competitive shooters along the lines of Call of Duty and Battlefield in an attempt to stand apart in what is becoming an increasingly flooded market. And while not perfect, it does an admirable job of creating a memorable and enjoyable experience.
There are a few different modes of game play in Battleborn, and surprisingly for a current-gen game that is marketed as an online shooter, they encompass both online and offline play. Firstly, you have the Versus game modes. These modes are pretty much what you would expect when you play them online; Two teams of up to five characters fighting each other to either capture strategic points, destroy each others sentries or survive against an onslaught. Each game mode currently has two maps that can be chosen to play on, to help eliminate that feeling of doing the same thing over and over again. Secondly, you have the Story game mode. When online, you are again in a team of up to 5 characters that are working towards a certain objective, based upon which chapter in the story you are playing. Each game generally lasts for 30 or so minutes, with the team facing waves of mobs as they either escort an NPC, or protect some structure. The great thing about this is that the game scales to the size of your team, so that if you only have a three person team, you will not face as many mobs as you would if you had a five person team. As each session launches, the game will randomly pick from three of the eight story missions and display them for your team to vote on, with the mission that generates the highest number of votes being the one you play. While playing offline, you can take on these missions either by yourself, or with a friend. While I am yet to try the offline co-operative story, I have read that this is enabled via a split screen system, which is rare in games these days.
In keeping with the RPG-style of their previous Borderlands games, as you play, you will obtain experience points towards one of three levels, with each leveling system rewarding you differently. Firstly, you have the in-game character level. As you shoot weird-ass looking aliens and complete objectives during each game session, the character you are playing as will grow from levels one to ten. At each level progression, you will be faced with a choice of two power ups from their progression system, called a Helix. Each of these power ups will effect either your characters skills or passive abilities in some way, making it possible for a number of different builds for each character. And with a current total of 25 playable characters to choose from, rest assured that you will be able to play each character mainly to your own strengths. After each game session, you will obtain experience towards your other two leveling systems, your ‘Command Rank’ and your ‘Character Rank’. Just remember – Each decision you make in your Helix is final for that game session. Once upgraded, there is no way for you to remove a skill augment and pick something else. Choose wisely.
Your Command Rank is pretty straight forward. As you go up in levels, you will unlock more characters, badges and titles. The biggest difference between this and your character rank is that this rank is profile wide, so that regardless of which character you are currently using, your Command Rank will be the same.
Your Character Rank shows the overall level of your character, and is accessed and managed outside of the game sessions. As you progress in levels in your Character Rank, you will unlock character-specific taunts and skins, as well as mutations to that character’s Helix system. These mutations will provide you with a third option as you progress in levels during each game session, changing the way you can build and play your character even further.
The physical aspects of each game session are pretty much what you would expect for a game that came from the developers of Borderlands. Movement is fluid and simple, with the terrain posing no real concern as you run-and-gun. But that’s where the majority of the simplicity ends. Each character has both a primary and secondary base attack, as well as three character-based skills. Personally, I have been spending most of my time in the skin of Oscar Mike, a hilariously dense clone that is all brawn, and no brain. As Oscar Mike, your main weapon is a 30-clip Assault Rifle, which will fire on full auto as his primary attack. His secondary attack lets you sight down the scope, which is helpful in a game with no auto-lock on targets. As you play, and you start to spend skill points in your Helix, you will gain access to items like a Red-Dot sight or Long Range Scope that will augment and enhance some of his abilities. When you look at Whiskey Foxtrot, a mentally deranged clone, he also runs around with an Assault Rifle. The big difference here, is that his will only fire in three-round bursts, as opposed to full auto. There are other differences too, like Oscar Mike having access to a stealth field generator, and Whiskey Foxtrot having a shotgun-like Junk Cannon mounted under his rifle.
Rath, a vampire-that’s-not-a-vampire is a pure Melee character. As such, he has no sights to look down, and cannot lock onto his enemies. Instead of his helix providing things like red-dot sights, he can get access to double-jumps. I have found Rath particularly difficult to master and found myself dying, surrounded by enemies, more often than not. Caldarius, a being encased in battle armour, combines both distance melee and distance damage, by using a rapid fire rifle fired from the hip, and a wrist mounted blade. By virtue of his battle armour, he can hover in midair, before rocketing to the ground to do wide area of effect damage. Each character is unique, both in how you play and the attacks and skills you have access to. The difficulty is finding one that suits your play style, and then tweaking the build game by game, until you have something that you are proud of, and can call your own.
Each of the characters, and the maps you play on, has a very distinct look about them as well. I wouldn’t call the visuals beautiful – I am actually aware of some people that refuse to play this game just because of the art style. But it is all very familiar, even down to the way the damage indicators will bounce off your enemies as you hit them. The audio is really what you would expect of a Gearbox/2K game as well. They have inserted their trademark humor into the game, and as you run through each session, there will be banter between the characters that is initially hilarious. Sadly, once you play each level 5 or 6 times, you can almost mute the TV and just conduct the conversations with yourself, considering they are so repetitive.
Now, I have read some other reviews and news stories, and spoken about this game to a number of people. And there is something that I think I need to clarify. Battleborn is not a MOBA, at least not the way I am looking at it. When I think of a MOBA, I think of games like DotA and LoL. Top down view, with five-person teams fighting back and forth across an arena to destroy each others base, with a large roster of characters for them to choose from and perfect their play style. And sure, Battleborn has one game mode that is similar to games like DotA and LoL, with your teams running escort for NPC bots in an effort to destroy the opponents towers, and ultimately, their sentry. But that’s really it. When you look at the game as a whole, the genre of MOBA doesn’t really fit. To me, it has more in common with online multiplayer games like Call of Duty, or Battlefield. While these games may not have such a large character base, and be based more in reality than fantasy, the overall game play mechanics are the same. To me, Battleborn is a Borderlands game, without the open-world style areas and with a larger number of Vault Hunters to choose from. I feel it is also important to note that, on the Battleborn website, not once is this game referred to as a MOBA. Now, this is just my view of the game, and I have been wrong
There is one last issue that I have with Battleborn that I want to point out, but I want to stress something about it – There is every chance that this issue is a local issue that I have, and is not a game issue. I have had some serious connectivity issues with Battleborn. Nine times out of ten, after each game session, I have been kicked back out to the title screen, where the game will need to log back in before I can play again. And this log in process will fail most times, thus it can sometimes take me half an hour to get back in to the game. Not only that, but each time I open a loot crate, and try to manage my inventory, I will receive an error message saying that Battleborn has had some server issue. Again, this may be an issue with my internet provider and my location. As those of you who know me can agree, unless you are on NBN, online play in my home town can be a stab in the dark. Sadly, regardless of if this is an error on the server side or my side, it has impacted my enjoyment of the game.
The Good: Large number of playable characters (with another 5 already announced), in-depth customisation systems and clever one liners, offline play
The Bad: Polorizing visuals, repetitive audio, horrible network issues
The Final Verdict: Gearbox and 2K have done an admirable job of creating an online, competitive first person shooter. It is an enjoyable, memorable experience that brings back fond memories of my time with the Borderlands series. It does this by actually being a Borderlands game, albeit without the open world game play, or the name. Whether or not it will stand the test of time that so many online first person shooters succumb to, we will have to wait and see.