Battleborn: The Kotaku Review

Battleborn: The Kotaku Review

If someone had told me at the beginning of the year that I’d be reviewing Battleborn in May, I would have asked them “Which one is Battleborn again?” Now that I’ve spent a couple dozen hours in Gearbox Software’s latest I think I’ve figured it out.

It’s not Battleborn‘s fault, really. Announced in July of 2014, it was at the forefront of an eruption of hero shooters, an online shooter sub-genre defined by a roster of distinctive characters with unique skills. Think Valve’s Team Fortress 2, only not quite as uniform. These new hero shooters often integrate elements of multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games.

Once the industry realised that three or four MOBA games (League of Legends, DOTA 2, Heroes of the Storm and possibly Smite) has that market covered, it turned to the more action-oriented hero shooter.

And so we have Battleborn, Gigantic, Paragon, BattleWar, Paladins, Overwatch, HeroFight, BattleCry and any I may have missed. With that many games with similar concepts floating around it’s easy to get wires crossed. Hell, I made up two of the names in that list and some of you just accepted them and moved on.

All of these new hero shooters just sort of blurred together in my head, save Overwatch, because Blizzard is very loud. I cannot tell you how many times I typed “Battleborn” into the Google search bar over the past year, just to remember which one it was.

Which One Battleborn Is

* It’s not Overwatch. It’s not really like Overwatch at all. Stop comparing it to Overwatch.

* It’s one of the few Gearbox Software-developed games released since 2009 that isn’t Borderlands, the other two bring Aliens: Colonial Marines and whatever was left of Duke Nukem Forever. Don’t worry, it’s better than those.

* It’s the one with a story. It’s a rather cool science fiction story about the last few races gathering together around the last star in a dying universe, battling against the evil that caused the catastrophe in the first place.

* It’s the one with a story mode on top of competitive multiplayer. While most other games in the hero shooter subgenre are focused solely on competition, Battleborn features eight lengthy campaign missions playable alone or with friends and strangers online.

* It’s the one with the kick-arse animated intro.

* It’s the one with strong MOBA elements in two of its three competitive multiplayer modes and not many at all in the third.

* It’s the one with Shayne and Aurox, not-at-all teen detectives (but secretly teen detectives).

Battleborn: The Kotaku ReviewTeen detectives.

Teen detectives. That final bullet point punctuates Battleborn‘s strongest feature. I came because somebody on staff needed to review this game. I stayed for Shayne & Aurox, the dynamic duo of a rebellious teenager and the rock demon that would love nothing more than to break free and kill her. Together they are a delightful combination of brute force and stealth, mildly good and terrifically evil at the same time.

Battleborn: The Kotaku ReviewNot pictured: the 24 other characters.

Not pictured: the 24 other characters. Unlocking and advancing characters is my primary motivation for playing Battleborn. When I get tired of burning through the same seven story missions (one day I will unlock the eighth) and the thought of another round of online multiplayer leaves me cold, I find comfort in the fact that the next new character, skill permutation or lore page is right around the corner.

Battleborn: The Kotaku ReviewWe want more, blood and lore.

We want more, blood and lore. There are 25 characters in Battleborn at launch. Five are available at the start. The rest are unlocked by finishing story missions, reaching new player ranks or completing various tasks. Each unlocked character has a story to tell, a role to play and the potential to be your new best friend — even the ones that aren’t Shayne & Aurox.

Battleborn: The Kotaku ReviewAttikus is also a favourite. He hurts.

Attikus is also a favourite. He hurts. The characters in Battleborn are interesting and compelling, much more so than the things you do with the characters in Battleborn.

The game begins on a couple of high notes. First we have a lovely animated intro that’s a little bit Heavy Metal and a whole lot of ’80s Saturday morning cartoon. That takes us to the prologue, where we’re treated to a solo story mission that serves double duty as a tutorial and setup for the story that unfolds across the game’s campaign missions.

Scaling nicely for solo play and featuring wonderful dialogue between Mellka, the player character, and Deande, a spy defecting to the player’s side, the prologue mission sets a lovely tone that the rest of the game’s campaign missions do not match. Built with multiple people playing a random selection of characters, the core campaign is a more impersonal affair, relying on non-player character dialogue to drive the narrative.

The campaign missions lose their charm after the first three or four plays. From then on they’re a grind, a place to level up your characters, try new helix (skill choices that pop up with every level gained in a mission) builds or gather equipment and coin.

Battleborn: The Kotaku ReviewEnemies sometimes get stuck behind walls, which is great when you’re trying to finish off a wave of attackers. Doo-dee-doo.

Enemies sometimes get stuck behind walls, which is great when you’re trying to finish off a wave of attackers. Doo-dee-doo. Not that grinding can’t be entertaining. It feels good to enter a familiar mission with your favourite character to see how well you remember what spawns where and how much destruction you can pull off without dying. It would feel better if the campaign missions had a little more variety to them beyond defend this thing, escort that thing or kill that boss, but there’s joy to be found in honing one’s warcraft.

Battleborn: The Kotaku Review

Besides, it’s more variety than is currently available in Battleborn‘s competitive online battles.

Three game modes, each with two different map, are what Battleborn currently has on tap for the more competitive player. There’s Capture, which is a relatively standard capture and hold mode. Incursion is most like a traditional MOBA, with teams escorting their minions across the map to the enemy base to help destroy their opponent’s sentries. Meltdown sees players escorting minions once more, only now they are being sacrificed to appease a crazed Magnus with plans to devour the lesser team.

Battleborn: The Kotaku ReviewRath is about to die.

Rath is about to die. Player versus player battles can be quite entertaining. They generally start off with low-powered characters flailing about at each other, then slowly escalate as players gain experience levels and activate more powerful perks and power permutations. Like the MOBAs Battleborn is inspired by, powering up faster than the other team is a key component to success, as is gathering resources to activate defence and drones, this game’s equivalent of a MOBA item shop.

Battleborn: The Kotaku Review

There just isn’t a lot of variety. It’s a problem a lot of these MOBA-inspired hero shooters are going to run into. Traditional MOBA fans are fine with a small smattering of maps to play on. But this is a first-person shooter with MOBA elements, and first-person shooter players love their maps and modes. I know I do.

Really what I want is more interesting things for Battleborn‘s cast to participate in. We’ve got this strong cast of colourful characters and a fascinating science fiction setting. These are ingredients that could be combined to create an action adventure easily as epic as anything Gearbox has done with Borderlands. Instead I’m running Shayne & Aurox through The Experiment level for the fifth time. Still having a good time, but it’s more about the company than the activities.

At least now I know which one Battleborn is. It’s the one that needs to do better by Shayne & Aurox.


  • To me, this game feels a lot like an evolved form of Dungeon Defenders. Not sure it was a great idea to release it so close to the release of Overwatch though. Even though they are completely different games, there is a similarity of audience and artistic approach that, in my opinion, is going to detract from Battleborns initial uptake.

  • Stop reminding me I purchased this game Kotaku! My current front runner for gaming regret for the year.

  • My issue with this game is it takes so long to get into a game half the time. There are times I want to fire it up for a quick match but it sits finding teammates and opponents for so long that I give up. Great game when you’re in though.

  • I loved the open beta but the Aus community on PC just doesn’t seem like it’s there.

  • They’ve come out and said there’s an Australian server cluster (which you get in Private Story/pvp) but atm matchmaking seems to refuse to use it. Taking far too long to fix >:|

    • Gee, if only we Australians were on the forums during the beta telling them this little fact and they had time to fix it…

      • I didn’t even realise there were supposed to be Aus servers.

        Mind you it’s hard to tell when your Ping is just a green bar.

    • There are Oceanic servers, but for some reason Aussies aren’t being connected to them at the moment… Expect a fix in the first official patch.

  • my problems with it are that the pvp feels very unbalanced and unfair, the whole levelling up over and over again and the lack of good rewards. but only eight missions (?!!! to think some people complain Destiny had a lack on content at launch, it had that many strikes, not to mention all the story missions) some of which are so unbalanced playing solo it even warns you to pick another character.

    I like it but it just feels so light and undercooked and thoroughly unbalance in unfun way.

    • Didn’t Destiny only have 4 strikes and many missions can be completed in 5-10 minutes? The shortest I’ve finished a Battleborn mission in was half an hour and the longest 70 minutes… not quite a fair comparison.

      • i thought it had six on launch (1 on Earth, Moon, two on Mars and Venus) but a lot of the 22 missions were between 30-60mins long, depending if you were min/maxing or not, taking your time exploring. made shorter of course after you had done them heaps and were rushing like so many gamers choose to do.
        the only reason Battleborn are that long is that most of them feature multiple waves of enemies to fight (sure Destiny had that but it was rarely more than one or twice) most battleborns are three of four and the waves are longer and more spread out, often multiple times in the same map. so a lot of time on their maps were repetitive filler. (hell all shooters have that but on battleborn it felt more artificial to me)

  • Battleborn, Gigantic, Paragon, BattleWar, Paladins, Overwatch, HeroFight, BattleCry

    Be honest, how many of those did you just make up?

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