Haven Review: Battleborn

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Battleborn is the new team-based hero shooter from Gearbox. The first thing I really noticed about the game, and what has stuck with me throughout my playing experience is that it’s a lot slower than I thought it was going to be; both in game play and waiting. Honestly, in the week after its launch, the queue for games has become a lot shorter.

Battleborn takes heavy inspiration from the MOBA genre much more than it does a standard FPS. I don’t play MOBAs very often. They tend not to interest me, and when I do play it’s with some friends already invested in the genre. However, Battleborn is different. When I started playing I didn’t understand some of the key ideas surrounding the gameplay. Things like “Don’t rush in”, Take your time” and “Be precise”. Doing what I do in other FPS titles, I completely disregarded these fundamentals and got horribly destroyed…again and again. At first I didn’t like Battleborn at all and kept trying to find excuses other than “I’m just bad at it”. I didn’t seem to even be having that much fun with it, but I kept wanting to try again and see if I could get a little bit better than before; try learn how this game actually worked, and what I was doing wrong. The more I played the more I found myself enjoying it. I haven’t really gotten any good at the game, but I’m at the point where I’m “usually” not the worst person on my team. When I try not to go for kills and just stick to the aforementioned key ideas, I tend to do alright and honestly have a bit more fun with the game.20160513162144_1

As well as these over all fundamentals, it’s taken me some time to learn the fundamentals. There are over 20 characters to choose from, however only 5 of them are playable from the start. At first I wanted to play a heavy damage dealer. I was wanting Battleborn to be more of a straightforward FPS, so I tried to play the characters who I thought fit that (or ones who had giant swords, because giant swords are pretty cool, too). I was far too aggressive with these characters; running into enemies only to get killed and deal no damage. Recently the characters that I excel in are the more support ones. I tend not to like playing support, but it forces me to be less aggressive. I stay back with my team. I help out and not just suck and die. Even going back to the offensive characters, I do a little better because of what I learned playing support.

One thing that happened to me many times starting out, and something I still think is a huge problem with this game is the level system (not the overall progression system, I’ll get to that later). With each level you get, you can choose one of two options to specialize your character a little bit, and tune them more to your style of play. That’s all fine. The problem is that the primary way you level up is by getting kills. 20160520141416_1If you aren’t getting kills you aren’t leveling. Eventually you’ll be so under-leveled that you practically can’t do anything. I’ve quit half way through games because everyone else was three or four levels above me…I could barely do any damage. Luckily, a way to alleviate this a little is that support characters will level if they are supporting and doing other things to help your team, like building various structures or fighting the little minions. This will give you some points to level up, but doing this is nowhere near as fast as getting kills. If you’re playing on the capture point map, rather than the MOBA map, there are virtually no minions to find and kill. This is a frustration I’ve had with most of the MOBA’s I’ve played, and Battleborn is definitely no exception.

When you complete a match, win or lose, you get experience points for both your “command level”, as well as for your particular character type. These are completely different from the in-match leveling system. The command level is your rank as a player. You get different stuff for reaching higher levels, including character unlocks and new items for your loadouts. When leveling up the character, this will unlock new options to choose in your “helix.” These are the choices you can make for each in-match level up. Unlocking these allows you to specialize your character even more. The more you play with a particular character, the more you’ll learn exactly how you like to play with them. These “helix” unlocks allow you to do just that. In order to unlock new characters you can do one of two things: You can either reach the “command” rank needed (the earliest hero will unlock at rank 10) or you can complete their challenge. Either way, it’s nice to see you can unlock all the characters through game play and there are no micro-transactions. The challenges can be anything from “win a certain amount of games” to “play as a certain faction for so many games”. You can also unlock a handful of characters through the “story mode”.20160520144445_1

The story mode is such a weird inclusion to this game. I really like the idea of it, but at the same time don’t think it’s that great. Probably the weakest part of Battleborn, the story mode is a weird combination of the multi-player game play mixed with Borderlands. It’s like Gearbox doesn’t know how to do much else. It’s “Border-Lite”, if you will. Each story mission gives you a short level to get through, and then finishes with some sort of boss. There’s really not much to them, other than the ability to unlock new characters. This may not always work out the way you want. If you decide to play a story mission, it works much the same way as multiplayer. You are put into a group and then everyone votes on which mission to play. You’re given three choices, so you better hope the one you want is among those (then hope that the others also vote for the one you want). The matchmaking for the story modes is all over the place. There isn’t any sense of grouping based on a common level. So one of two things tends to happen: You get grouped with someone way over-leveled and blow through the mission in about 10 minutes, or everyone but you is brand new to the game and you can’t complete the first half without using up all your extra lives. The stories themselves tend not to be too interesting. They consist of re-hashed Borderlands jokes, or some sort of vague rescue mission; possibly both.20160520142232_1

Battleborn is an interesting experience that I’ve had many mixed feelings about. However, the more I played it the more I’ve come to understand and enjoy it. It may not be exactly what I want in an FPS, but learning through the systems and practicing more and more has definitely made me appreciate it. At the very least it’s kept me driven to play more. It hooked me, even if at first I didn’t necessarily like being hooked.

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Disclaimer: We received this game for review purposes only, and as such all opinions in this review are our own. No money has been exchanged for this review.

-Jordan Kamm-