Battleborn: perfect hybrid shooter, Preview

Pushing recent unpleasantness aside for a second, Gearbox’s track record for splicing the genetics of the first person shooter with new and exotic genres is impressive. Brothers In Arms snuck sentimentalism and squad commands behind enemy lines to produce a World War II shooter which stood out from what was at the time a considerable crowd, and exuded character. Borderlands opened Pandora’s +12 box of RPG isms and sent hit points and loot seeping into the FPS blueprint forever more, today you might as well brag that your game has 3D graphics as alluding to ‘RPG elements’.

Keeping that recent unpleasantness pressed firmly against the periphery and ignoring its silly tiptoe walk and ongoing legal proceedings, let’s address Gearbox’s latest attempt to revitalise the shooter by adding the greatest hits albums of other genres to it. Meet Battleborn, the co-op/competitive MOBA/RPG/shooter. Gearbox prefers ‘hero shooter’, but as that makes us dry-heave every time we write it let’s stick to an elegant ‘MOBARPGFPS’ instead.

DNA ok
The former genre’s influence on Battleborn breaks down as follows: you’re working in a team of five, either competitively against another five strong squad or battling only AI. Each of you has a handful of unique abilities on cooldown timers (more on the breadth of weaponry and characters in good time), you’re fighting in arena-like layouts rather than point-to-point maps, and AI enemies are present even when you’re fighting in a competitive match. Battleborn’s definitely game for a LOL, then.

But as the Texas studio’s taken pains to clarify, the MOBA is but one of a raft of influences. Reppin’ the RPG staples is Battleborn’s character progression system, which is a bit complicated. Roughly every minute while you’re in-game, your character will level up. Before you pull that face, know that the mid-round progression layer is one of three. It isn’t as Fisher Price as it sounds, honest. Those quick-fire
level-ups are dealt with on the Helix Menu, which give you binary options such as ‘faster movement speed, or more ammo?’ In this way you’re able to read the way a round is going, anticipate the strengths you’ll need to prevail and shape your character accordingly. It’s really rather clever, and we like the fact that the menu actually looks like a DNA double helix.

As if it was ever in doubt, enemies spew clouds of hit point numbers when they’re shot to give you that Borderlands RPG feedback and really illustrate the benefits to a new character perk or weapon boost. And over time, you’ll see those hit points gradually increase as the longer form character progression takes
place. Gearbox isn’t demonstrating this yet with the game in ‘pre-pre-alpha’ it’s likely to change mechanically. Oh, and just to complicate things, there’s a third layer that allows you to buff yourself, the keeper of all these characters.

But there are also fighting game elements within Battleborn. Part of that comes with its huge roster of characters Gearbox won’t put a figure on it yet bearing in mind its early developmental phase, but so far we’ve seen nine playable Battleborn belonging to five separate factions. And the variety within those nine, who include a mushroom, a gold plated robot gentleman wearing a monocle, and a sour-faced alien snob named Rath, is considerable. But there’s also a touch of the Street Fighters et al in Battleborn’s animation.
“NOT SINCE TEAM FORTRESS 2 HAVE YOU SEEN SUCH AN ARRAY OF BIZARRE SILHOUETTES SCRAPPING TOGETHER”
Draw distance
None of it is motion captured (much to the chagrin of all the local struggling mushroom actors), but rather ‘hand drawn’ like the old days. Bigger, sillier, more game ified animations are the result, and they actually work beautifully within the strange spectacle of Battleborn’s combat.

Not since Team Fortress 2 have you seen such an array of bizarre silhouettes scrapping together. Miko, the previously mentioned fighting fungus, uses close range martial arts skills and spore based attacks. Marquis, on the other hand, has a mechanical owl he can send out to scout the battlefield for him, and a weaponised cane. You can see how this might look a bit odd in a 5v5 scenario. Characterisation is strong already, and supplemented by touches of what’s becoming Gearbox’s trademark self aware humour in dialogue between the ’born.

The only thing we’re not quite sold on yet is the look. It’s colourful, and it takes a lovely screenshot. But it’s simply too friendly for our weathered tastes. Mechanically this new IP’s anything but kid gloves, but you’d never know that by gazing upon it.

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