Much has been made of the rivalry between Blizzard and Gearbox Software, with the former seemingly attempting to hinder the success of the latter at every turn. Overwatch’s Open Beta’s Early Access period launched at the same time as the full release of Battleborn, making this the second time that version of the two titles have gone head to head with playable builds. There are a ton of similarities between the two titles, as both have over twenty playable heroes that each have a distinct personality and set of skills, but Overwatch and Battleborn are less similar than one might initially imagine. Whereas Battleborn is essentially a MOBA with a campaign (despite Gearbox’s complete avoidance of that four letter acronym over the years), Overwatch is an arena shooter in the vein of Team Fortress 2.
It seems as though everyone is picking sides in this debate, and after playing extensive amounts of both titles on PC over the course of the week, I can safely say that I’m more fond of Blizzard’s newest title. Granted, Battleborn has started to grow on me, which is impressive considering I have traditionally held the most negative opinion towards it on our staff, but there are three important reasons why Overwatch is emerging as the superior product for those looking to dive into a hero shooter this Spring.
There are certain developers out there that make games that are far more polished than everything else out on the market. Blizzard pretty much leads the charge here, and Overwatch is absolutely no exception. In my over one-hundred matches played during the Overwatch beta, I haven’t experienced a single dropped frame or moment of lag. Think about that for a second. We live in an age where AAA games routinely launch broken, so for a beta (though this beta is essentially a final build) to be more polished than the final release of its closest competitor, that really says something.
Battleborn, for all of the chaos on screen at any given moment, suffers from some notable framerate issues on PC, even on my high-end machine. This is something that has been reported on in mass across the Steam discussion boards, and while it certainly isn’t game-breaking, these dips in framerate are extremely noticable after a buttery smooth Overwatch session. Add this to the fact that the weaponry in Battleborn lacks the tactile punch of that in Overwatch, and the former starts to feel like the less polished product. Shooting in Overwatch feels tighter and more responsive than it does in Battleborn, which is kind of a shame considering that you end up firing way more bullets and projectiles in Gearbox’s shooter. On top of all of this, Overwatch is the better looking game, with Battleborn sporting noticable aliasing and texture blurriness, even on completely maxed out settings.
This is the portion of the article where I include that infamous Randy Pitchford tweet from 2014 about what Battleborn is:
Battleborn is: FPS; hobby-grade coop campaign; genre-blended, multi-mode competitive e-sports; meta-growth, choice + epic Battleborn Heroes!
— Randy Pitchford (@DuvalMagic) July 8, 2014
While this tweet has become the lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to criticizing Battleborn, it’s completely emblematic of a game that doesn’t always feel like it knows what it is. Whereas Overwatch maintains its laser-focus on providing the best multiplayer arena shooter experience possible, Battleborn often feels like it wants to be everything at once. While this provides a great deal of content for players to dive into, it also makes it feel like there’s far too much present for any given mode to succeed. The campaign, which is widely considered to be the weakest portion of the entire package, is loaded with fairly mundane combat encounters and a story that feels a bit too bare-boned for its own good. Combine this with a standard point-capture mode, a straight up MOBA playlist and a MOBA-like twist mode, and Battleborn begins to lack the focus that Overwatch is priding itself on. Granted, if Overwatch wasn’t so damn replayable, one could argue that it’s lacking in content, but the sheer dynamism of its combat more than makes up for this.
Another major factor in Overwatch’s superior focus is its combat readability. In other words, it’s far easier to recognize what’s happening on the screen at any given moment and react accordingly. It’s easy to figure out what powers each hero has, how they would use them in any given situation and the potential counters to each hero’s strategy. The sheer amount of lunacy on the screen at any given moment does make Battleborn exciting, but it’s often extremely tough to figure out the best strategy to take in a given encounter. What makes Overwatch special is that high-level play isn’t hindered by its combat readability, so both new and old players have the potential to plan out their moves in the best way possible. Battleborn, for all of its chaos and excitement, doesn’t necessarily do a great job communicating with the player (this can also be seen in its awkward menu system).
My single biggest complaint when it comes to Battleborn is how annoying all of its characters are to me. Now, this is about as subjective as it gets, and I’ve had discussions with players that find every inch of its universe charming as can be. To me, it often feels like Gearbox is trying way too hard to be funny, which results in Battleborn’s characters all seeming like that annoying guy at your office who thinks he’s a stand-up comedian. The fact that the While Overwatch doesn’t have a core campaign, there is definitely a fair amount of lore to be discovered by sheer observation, and every character manages to nail that ever so important balance between charm and obnoxiousness. It says something that there is a dedicated way to turn off Battleborn’s dialogue; after all, in a game whose dialogue is exceptionally well done, shouldn’t including this option not be a possibility?
Overwatch’s Tracer is a perfect example of why Blizzard has created a game with a more appetizing personality than Gearbox. With a press of the E key, Tracer has the ability to warp back to a previous position, restoring the health and ammo she had at that point. Around half of the time one utilizes Tracer’s Recall skill, she’ll use her adorable English twang to drop the line, “Ever get that feeling of déjà vu?” Now, this is the type of quip that could be obnoxious if delivered imperfectly or too frequently, but it actually winds up being wonderfully charming every time. Combine this with her shrills of joy whenever she uses her Blink skill to warp around the map, and it’s clear why Blizzard has made Overwatch’s first hero the face of the franchise. With Battleborn, each character feels like the cheesiest character in a Borderlands game, and they never seem to be quiet. Add this to the fact that curse words are bleeped out, despite the fact that they’re used frequently, and it often feels like Gearbox missed the mark on Battleborn’s personality, which is a shame considering that its visual style is so striking and engaging.