It’s difficult to categorise Battleborn easily. Clearly, Gearbox set out to make a shooter with the emphasis on multiplayer enjoyment, be that co-op or the competitive modes, and that’s exactly what they’ve delivered. But it’s also impossible to avoid the strong nod towards the suddenly popular MOBA genre which is cropping up in force on consoles; that’s fine, and it works well, but there are just a few little niggles which make Battleborn feel like it could just do with a little more.
Don’t assume too much from that final comment though, there’s a lot of stuff in Battleborn, it just feels like it’s not balanced so well. There are loads of characters to unlock and use, each with additional boosts and costumes to earn to kit your favourites out with some pretty attractive gear. While the characters all fit into one of a few categories (your standard selections of tanks, melee fighters, distance attackers and so on) each one has its own characteristics, its own strengths and weaknesses, and its own upgrades. Here though the upgrades work on a per-match basis, there’s no need to worry about choosing the wrong option and being stuck with a sub-par character, abilities are unlocked as the match wears on, so you can pick and choose your upgrades to suit your mood, teammates or based on how the match is panning out. It’s a system I liked, although you’ll soon learn that trying to upgrade mid-battle is a sure fire way of losing one of your team respawn tokens.
The vast number of characters and related options possibly only goes to highlight the shortage of campaign-based game on offer though. Currently there are 8 missions to take on, each lasting about half an hour and working a little like a mini raid from an MMO. You’ll press through various checkpoints where swarms of bad guys will head your way in an attempt to rid your team of all available respawns (you have a team total which drops each time someone buys the farm) and eventually end up at an enormous, bullet-sponge boss which will take all of your ammo, patience and teamwork to defeat. They’re great fun with other people (and the useful matchmaking will make sure you’re always in a full team) but get a little drab if you choose to go solo. The beauty of being in a team is the fact that multiple playing styles come together as one big force, with air strikes dropping in around other players who are busy dual-wielding swords and slicing as many creatures up close as they can get within reach of. It’s great, but just over too quickly.
Elsewhere the competitive multiplayer options have a few game modes including a very MOBA inspired Incursion mode where the game’s balance will swing one way then the next, as small choke point battles open up into full scale scraps lasting for bewildering amounts of time before one team either succumbs to the other, or just gets bored and looks for an alternative route. It’s a make-or-break idea really – if you’re after a shooter where you can run around freely and take pot-shots at people then you won’t find what you’re after here, even in the Capture mode which, as you’d expect, is that game mode where you capture various points by standing nearby for long enough. You know the one, it’s been in every first person shooter game since about 2006.
What redeems the shortcomings though is the humour, which is every bit as great as you’d expect from the guys behind Borderlands and shows that Battleborn, whatever it set out to be in terms of a game, never set out to take itself overly seriously. Some of the comments from the characters, as well as the dialogue at various stages in the levels are genuinely funny and can almost put you off your stride as you try to contain a laugh while flinging a grenade half way across the arena. Combine this, at the right moment, with the right team of five players and Battleborn can really shine, offering a level of enjoyment not seen much since… well… Borderlands, actually.
But the opportunities for this level of fun aren’t quite as numerous as we might like. There’s every chance the options will grow in time, more campaign levels can be added, more multiplayer options, and (if 20-odd isn’t enough) more characters. But you’d want that to be bundled in the box, not dropped in later. Don’t get me wrong, what’s here is great, and while the competitive multiplayer won’t grab everyone in the same way they’re still tense and exhausting affairs, but there’s a bit of a crisis of identity, which doesn’t help.
Battleborn could be brilliant. Right now, it’s not quite there.
Reviewed on PS4