If there’s one thing to take away from E3 this year, it’s that there weren’t many surprises. Whether you roam the show floor or sit in the comfortably air conditioned meeting rooms, most of what we saw was sequel after sequel after HD remaster, and it’s becoming a depressing sight. Fortunately, like the last generation, Gearbox Software is trying something new to help move this new age of video games along, and having an extended period of hands-on time with their next big title, I can tell you that Battleborn is a true contender that will help revitalize this generation. Maybe that’s coming off a bit strong considering it’s still a ways away from release, but what we were able to experience of Battleborn was a new and fresh take on first person shooters that will leave players overwhelmed in diversity.
Firstly, Battleborn is an online centric shooter through and through. While Borderlands was still enjoyable playing solo, although a lot more fun with friends, Battleborn might not have that trait. This is a game that thrives on cooperative play, and rightfully so. Battleborn supports up to five players on a team, with no characters duplicates. Don’t worry about the selection, though, as Gearbox has promised twenty-five characters at launch. Only ten have been officially revealed so far (Boldur, Caldarius, Marquis, Miko, Montana, Oscar Mike, Orendi, Phoebe, Rath and Thorn), and each one is already incredibly varied, offering drastically different types of combat strategies. Someone like Orendi is a crazy mage who shoots magic from her hands while Phoebe is a sword wielder who fights up and personal. But, selecting the best team for the job is still needed as you will still need people to pull agro away from those with little health or are more situated in the back.
I was able to play as Teshka Elessamorn, also known as Thorn, who is a more ranged character wielding a longbow named Kreshek. She doesn’t have a lot of power behind her strikes, so she’s not necessarily great to be in the thick of things, but staying at a distance, she’s able to pick enemies off while not worrying too much about health management. Due to her lacking power attributes, Thorn’s skills are a little more defensive than they are offensive. For one, she can lay down a ring of power called Eldrid Vitality that will slowly regenerate the health of anyone who’s situated in the circle. She’s not without power abilities, though, as her volley attack shoots five different arrows at once, and it helps that the cooldown is very low. There’s also Blight, which will trap enemies inside a circular field that will do damage over time. All of these abilities can be enhanced based on each level that’s gained, such as increased damage output, a decreased cooldown rate, and even higher accuracy for regular attacks. Other than that, Thorn is a very fast and agile character, so it’s easy to get in and out of combat, while at the same time miss an attack.
Battleborn has been compared to a MOBA a lot recently, and to some degree there is a case to be made. Coming from the developer of Borderlands which has deep RPG elements and loot, Battleborn has a very different system. For one, at the beginning of each match, you will start at level 1 and make your way down a helix skill tree to unlock abilities and strengths. There is traditional progression elements, though, as in a mission, players will need to go through a linear pathing and fight scripted bosses throughout. In terms of how missions are structured, the one that was offered was pretty straightforward although multi-layered by moving throughout the leveling, activating a device, killing a boss and then defending a machine. It’s also something to mention that there’s a down-but-not-out state if someone is reduced down to 0 health that will require aid from someone else. If there’s no one around to pick you up, you’ll be transferred back to the last checkpoint with what seemed like a non-existent penalty for death.
Battleborn is a unique shooter you see once every blue moon. While games like Call of Duty and Halo go after the same crowd and more or less build on top of an existing model, Gearbox has gone down a different path by merging elements from a more online centric framework while maintaining their trademark humor and charisma. If what we got to play at E3 this year was just a minuscule slice of what is to be expected, Battleborn could be a highlighted showpiece when it hits PS4, Xbox One and PC sometime this winter.