A name similar to Battlefront, Battlecry and even Bloodborne hasn't helped next month's Battleborn stand out. Descriptions of the game place it in an overflowing stew of team shooters and MOBA-influenced games. This week, at last, there's an open beta which allows us to at least judge the game on its pre-release merits.
And the judgment is: It's solid, colourful, a little funny.... solid.
That is faint, perhaps damning praise, but it's true. It runs well. The shooting is satisfactorily crunchy. The opportunities to upgrade and unlock characters are alluring enough to invite repeat play, though the gameplay itself isn't so fresh as to immediately make converts.
The game is nearly done. Its beta is some combination of server stress test and marketing formality in advance of a May 3 launch (mission accomplished!). We will learn more about the game the more shooter and MOBA players dip in and emerge with their takes. That is also what the beta can do: get us all talking about whether this multiplayer-centric game merits a spot in gaming's most loaded of barrels.
The beta is free and went into wider release today across PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Let's break down what it is.
First, it is the rarest of betas: one that has singleplayer content. It has what looks like a quarter of the game's eight mission campaign. I played all of the first mission twice, first solo in an hour and then with a team of four other players that dwindled to a duo by the time we beat the boss 45 minutes later.
The story missions are where Batteborn's designers can most distance themselves from claims that they're a MOBA. The missions are linear shootouts like you would find in Destiny or Call of Duty with hordes of enemies sweating off hit points. The open world of Borderlands is not here, but the sci-fi enemies and smirking humour are.
Aside from Battleborn's arresting amount of playable characters the other MOBA-style thing that is happening in this story mode and the game's other modes is the climb you make every session from a level one powered character to level 10. You kill enemies, gain experience and trigger a level up which allows you to pick one of initially two upgrade options per level. For example, at level two, I can make my attack-owl fly through obstacles or make them invisible.
You gain a different type of character level progress after each match. Every few steps up that progression ladder activates a third option for a tier of mismatch upgrading. It's called a mutation. For example, when I'm in the middle of a mission while playing as Marquis and reach level six, I can now choose this middle option of having two attack-owls on the battlefield at once:
One reason Battleborn is tough to judge right now is because it has so many characters. I like playing as Marquis and enjoy the way his gun stacks damage if he hits the same enemy three times in a row. I think his uber weapon, unlocked several character levels into a match, looks cool even when I'm firing it at a temporarily-immune mid-level boss:
Stick to a character and you'll unlock their backstory, numerous upgrades they can take into battle and better victory animations.
This is a game that will be judged on the maths of its shooting physics and upgrade systems but also on the range of its characters and the allure of their medley of abilities. The screen you see when you boot up the game sends the message that there's a panoply of distinct characters in this game, at least one of which maybe you'll hate or love.
But what do I really know of Battleborn? I've not played as the spinning swordsman Rath that keeps killing me in competitive multiplayer matches. I've not played as the little penguin-looking Toby or the the woman with the hoop dress and lots of swords or as the boss of the first story mission who gets added to your roster after you beat him.
You see more of the game's characters when you play competitive multiplayer. Those matches are five on five in the two modes in the beta. Those modes, Incursion and Meltdown, see player-controlled heroes escorting minions, which is the kind of thing that invite the comparisons to you-know-what.
These matches took about 20 minutes. I played a couple. They weren't that close. It's hard to say why. Most people seem to just be flailing around, myself included, because, you know, the game is just a beta we're all stumbling through. No one knows the characters that well yet, except maybe the people who keep grabbing Marquis and force me to play as someone else. I've been playing as the mushroom guy Miko. He's a healer:
I'm curious how other people feel about this game. Battleborn seems to be coming at the best and worst of times. It's spring, so gaming is supposed to be getting a little slow, but people's obsessions with League of Legends, Dota 2, Team Fortress 2 and Call of Duty are eternal. There's also another new shooter with a big colourful cast coming out really soon and, and while this is from the makers of the very good Borderlands, that one is from Blizzard. Plus we've got Epic's Paragon out there also trying to woo console players into more MOBA-style action. It's crowded, but maybe this week's a good week to check this one out at least for free and see if we've got room to play it.
What do you all think? And can you please let me play as Marquis from time to time? Thanks.