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PAX Prime 2015: Battleborn Preview

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Battleborn is one of those games that I have to admit I didn’t take much notice of until PAX Prime 2015.  It also subsequently is one of those games you couldn’t help but notice at the show because it was one of the first games you see when you enter and had a massive (and impressive) display out in front.  Clearly I was not the only person who thought so, a line that wrapped around the booth was always present as the game brought together a handful of people for a lengthy demo of campaign co-op.  If you aren’t familiar with the title, it’s the newest project from Gearbox (Borderlands) that is taking a somewhat unique look at team-based first person shooters: it has 25 different playable characters.  This can either be a strength or a weakness depending on how specific you like to get in your shooter games, because while you do get to take on a distinct role where a specific character has a unique story and play style you also appear to surrender any form of customization.  I guess after tackling the demo with a handful of fellow press the bottom line is that Battleborn has a heck of a lot of potential but I don’t think I got to see much of what the core of it is.

battleborn_2Battleborn has 25 characters, each with a name, a role, a weapon, special powers, and of course an aesthetic.  How much work must go into all of the designs and then balancing of all of these factors, I can only guess, but when you look at this title from that perspective it’s an impressive roster.  To help guide you each character has a bio that defines their character type (healer, assassin, etc) and four main stats: health, speed, range, and damage.  Your play style should help dictate your character – for example I chose to go Orendi, a four-armed chaos witch with stats that lean to speed and health over damage and range.  Not paying close attention to this may ruin your experience, like Heffe learned when he chose a healer for his character despite his extreme aggro play style.  For the purposes of the demo we were dropped into an escort mission – clearly Gearbox has some balls on them to make a demo out of one of most hated mission types to grace gaming – and off we went.  Right off the bat I have to admit it was a lot of fun.  The design borrows heavily from Borderlands complete with a diamond for your next destination, cartoon-like style, and damage numbers popping off of enemies.  Oh and that person we were escorting, well it turns out that was a four-legged massive tank robot that has abilities like shields and massive explosions, so it was escorting us as much as we were escorting it.  I saw a handful of different enemy types that ranged from robots to creatures to, of course, some alien or demonic-like being.  In the vein of Borderlands as well each enemy was a decent sponge for damage and the bosses could downright absorb a munitions factory.  That’s where I started to notice that, in fact, Destiny has started to creep into video games.  We weren’t getting any loot, glow orbs that gave shield and health were dropped constantly, and both missions ended at a wall where we had to hold off hordes of enemies and a boss before moving on.

battleborn_1So you see, it’s not the next Borderlands.  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by a lack of loot, but I figured in the least Gearbox would have different weapons based on each class that we could pick up.  Granted, the person who helped us was not from the development team, so perhaps it’s in there and it’s possible that even if we had a dev they couldn’t reveal it.  Still, that caused me to grow tired of moving forward and at a certain point I stopped looking at the items on the ground altogether.  The same is true of the story, which was relatively absent and I have a hard time figuring out how the team can write for 25 characters in a campaign anyway.  I’m also curious about classes; while they have revealed 10 of the different characters and there are some repeats, like healer, I wonder if there are enough for a team of four.  What if we all want to be tanks or assassins, is that possible since we can’t both be a single character?  If not, this can also be an obstacle when trying to come together with a specific team for online play.  These concepts, coupled with what turned out to be a bare-bones rush through a bunch of kill rooms left me concerned about the draw to keep moving forward.  What is my drive to play if not for loot or story?  Perhaps that will reveal itself in time and keep in mind this is a 20 minute demo on a game that I’m hoping will be much longer.

battleborn_3You’ll also notice I didn’t mention multiplayer.  What will it be?  With character types I’m sure it’s been suggested that perhaps the PvP will be somewhat MOBA-esque or perhaps just another deathmatch a la already named Bungie first person shooter.  We don’t know yet because it has yet to be revealed, although with a February 9th, 2016 release date and a promised open beta, there’s a lot to be announced and shown off before the game launches in the near future.  Fortunately the engine and the shooting seems spot on; it ran without so much as a hitch in the demo (always a good sign at conventions) and the shooting felt much like Borderlands, which to me is a good thing.  That’s why I can’t really take a positive or negative side on Battleborn coming out of PAX Prime because I simply don’t know enough about the game yet.  I am slated to get an interview sometime this month, so hopefully it can shed some light.  In the meantime, this is one of the few games soon to come out that I can recommend watching for info on because I need to know more about the 15 unannounced characters (10 have been revealed and have profiles on the game’s web site), multiplayer, and exactly what the plot or draw for the campaign will be.  As I said at the beginning of this piece, the biggest ray of light coming from Battleborn is that from the foundation I’ve seen the game is teeming with potential.

 
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