Battleborn: takes players to the last star in the universe

Gearbox Software loves a challenge. It had one in 2008 with a drastic 11th-hour art design change for Borderlands. The studio turned a generic-looking Fallout-inspired shooter into an anarchic, cel-shaded playground that eventually shifted millions. In 2014, Gearbox wants to solve an age-old genre problem: how can someone play a first-person shooter on a casual basis without feeling inferior to the trained killer who spends more time on that same game day in, day out? It believes the answer lies in Battleborn.

Battleborn has the hallmarks of a shooter for busy people. Gearbox wants to pummel you with rewards and layered progression in a single sitting, so much so that you can reach the in-game level cap in the span of one 30 minute arena encounter the catch is that every character resets to Level 1 at the start of a new match.

This works because Battleborn also features a long term progression system for each character that grows upon concluding any session, not to mention overarching user profile progression. With this multi-tiered approach, Gearbox hopes two things will happen: engrossed users will be invested in upgrading the entire cast, and casual users won’t feel the pressure of playing just to keep up.

Cartoon kudos
If you’re sifting for Borderlands DNA in Battleborn, you’ll find traces of it in the art direction. Both ensemble casts exude a cartoony sense of style, although Battleborn takes more chances with exaggerated and abstract character designs, where skinny legs might meet giant torsos for an imposing effect. Whereas Borderlands looks like a fluid graphic novel, Battleborn shows more of a Pixar meets-Team Fortress influence. Add to that a curious 2D animation style for weapon effects and explosions. These originate from the arty mind of Michel Gagn√©, who worked on The Iron Giant and the Star Wars: The Clone Wars 2D animated series. Don't worry about its 2D style clashing with 3D models all the art is key framed; there’s no motion capture. This handmade vibe is only reinforced by Battleborn’s competitive maps, where art director Scott Kester seeks to make each environment as
memorable and packed with life as any Street Fighter stage background. 

Kester's obsession with fighting games is even more evident in a given character’s spectrum of skills. In his words, “If a fighter’s trio of special attacks aren’t as unforgettable as Ryu’s fireball, dragon punch and tatsumaki, then the project is failing.”

Much like the non traditional classes in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Battleborn shows promise in its mould breaking characterisations. Yet just by looking at a given combatant’s style, it’s easy to make an educated guess as to who would equate to a tank or a glass cannon. The refined-looking Marquis looks too well-dressed for close-quarters combat, so it makes sense that he’s a sniper. Oscar Mike’s generic appearance as a soldier is 100% intentional since he’s there to lampoon modern warfare tropes. Thorn has a bow, arrow, and an agile build that easily communicates both her mobility and firepower in the field.

Much of Gearbox’s plan to keep the appeal fresh lies in the helix-shaped binary skill tree, which resets at the start of a new match. Each time you level up, you have two enhancements or mods to choose from. Gearbox is pinning a lot of faith that one player’s in-game skill progression will have a meaningful effect in the overall match. Akin to the butterfly effect, a battle’s end result could be significantly different by choosing one skill over another.

Star brawls
Reminiscent of Bungie’s Destiny, the premise of Battleborn speaks in broad terms. It’s set at the end of time and space in the far, far future when all of the stars have gone dark. All civilisations have converged on one last star, Solus, creating conflict among the factions. It’s a struggle over power, resources, and the factions’ very survival. However, it doesn’t take long for these factions to realise that they aren’t their own worst enemies. Instead it’s the Varelsi, a hidden and ambitious foe that have been behind the darkening of the stars and the consumption of the universe. Emerging from the throng of factions are the Battleborn, warriors who have put down their factional differences in order to confront the Varelsi.
Battleborn strives to be a rare thing, a game equally valued for its campaign as its multiplayer
These factions have forged an uneasy truce, but their big, broad philosophies still exist. The Jennerit are the obligatory power-hungry imperialists, the faction most likely to stab other groups in the back. As the game’s war profiteers, the LLC both complement and conflict with the Jennerit; they just want to arm everyone and are happy as long as they make a profit. The foils of the Jennerit and LLC are the Peacekeepers and the Eldrid, the former being protectors of Solus while the latter are Battleborn’s idea of space elves. With interests beyond Solus itself, the Eldrid exist to preserve the natural order of the cosmos, giving the game a fantasy element to accompany the science fiction. Lastly, there’s the Rogue, a bunch of self-serving space pirates who’ll likely be the game’s dark horses.

Hearing Gearbox’s passion for telling a fleshed out story provides assurance that Battleborn will strive to be that very rare thing, a game equally valued for its campaign as its multiplayer. As in Titanfall which also benefited by borrowing from the MOBA genre both modes in Battleborn will feature hostile bots on both sides, making for useful practice targets. For the sake of consistency, the in match progression system where a character can reach the level cap in a session also applies to the co-op campaign. This translates to a more segmented, less open ended experience a contrast to Borderlands and more in tune with the last couple Gears of War games. So while Gearbox Software is making another shooter with RPG elements, you would be greatly mistaken to generalise Battleborn as Borderlands 3.0.

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