Following the success of the Borderlands games, Gearbox Software could have played it safe and moved forward with Borderlands 3 as its next project. Instead, Gearbox decided to take a riskier route, betting on a new IP in the form of Battleborn. In some ways, Gearbox’s gamble with Battleborn pays off, but it fails to reach the heights of the studio’s best work.
Before we get into where Battleborn falters, let’s take a look at what it does right. For one, the game’s cast of playable characters is very impressive. Players can choose from 25 different heroes, all of which have distinct visual styles, play very differently from one another, and all have well-written personalities. Gearbox injects a healthy dose of its trademark humor into the characters as well, making most of them a joy to play.
Gearbox managing to make 25 characters all unique and fun to play is an impressive feat, but that’s not the only thing the studio accomplishes with Battleborn. The core shooting gameplay is solid, and the game is full of intense, exciting firefights. Objectives in Battleborn‘s campaign mode can be a little repetitive, often asking players to protect things from swarms of enemies, but it’s easy to forgive the game for its repetitiveness when the combat is this well-designed.
For the most part, Battleborn‘s combat feels similar to other big shooter games on the market today, like Destiny and The Division. Where Battleborn manages to set itself apart from the pack, however, is by borrowing numerous elements from the MOBA genre. While Gearbox insists that Battleborn isn’t a MOBA, the elements it implements from the genre certainly make it feel like one.
One of the defining characteristics of most MOBA titles is having players start at level 1 for every match. Players earn XP through the course of the game, which allows them to purchase new abilities for their character of choice. This is a large part of Battleborn‘s gameplay, as is the other MOBA trait of battling minions alongside player-controlled characters during multiplayer sessions.
So, despite claims from Gearbox to the contrary, it has a lot in common with titles in the MOBA genre – yet it also tries to set itself apart from those games as well. This is mainly accomplished through Battleborn‘s campaign story, a rarity for MOBA titles, but it is in this campaign mode where players may first start to realize that – as great as the characters are and as tight as the core gameplay is – there’s just not a lot to do in the game.
Battleborn‘s lack of content is apparent in the campaign mode, as players have just a prologue and eight missions to play through. Granted, each mission lasts about half an hour to 45 minutes, but even so, the story is a little on the short side. Battleborn‘s content deficiency can also be seen in the competitive multiplayer component, as there are three multiplayer modes, each with only two maps apiece.
Players that are wanting to experience Battleborn solo are going to get burned out quick due to the game’s lack of content. Those that have a group of friends to play with will be able to squeeze a decent number of hours out of the game’s competitive modes, but after unlocking all the characters, Battleborn doesn’t give players many compelling reasons to keep playing.
Players are able to unlock gear that can improve the stats of various characters, but grinding for items in Battleborn isn’t as satisfying as it is in other FPS games. With gear not being the driving force to keep people playing Battleborn, players are left to unlock lore for the various characters in-game, as well as alternate skins, though the new skins in Battleborn tend to be simple palette swaps that lack imagination.
Disappointing progression aside, Battleborn can still be a fun time thanks to its solid core gameplay mechanics and interesting characters, but server problems sometimes make it hard to enjoy those aspects of the game as well. It’s probable that Gearbox will get Battleborn‘s ongoing server problems ironed out in the coming weeks – and the issues certainly aren’t as problematic as, say, Battlefield 4‘s rocky launch – but as of this writing, the game’s servers are a source of frustration.
It’s difficult at times to get into any public matches, and players will find that they lose connection to the servers a little too often. Since the game is always online regardless of what game mode one is playing, even playing private matches in split-screen or with the AI can be ruined thanks to server connection problems.
Having Battleborn be always online is one of many strange design choices made by Gearbox Software during the development of this game. Forcing players to restart at the beginning of the long campaign levels is another one, as that can be maddening when players are kicked out of a mission due to server issues and not because they lost all of their lives.
Another odd design decision is that Gearbox forces everyone to play the prologue before accessing any other game modes. So, if two gamers want to go through Battleborn‘s campaign missions in split-screen, both will have to complete the prologue separately (since the prologue doesn’t allow for split-screen). This issue is going to be patched out of the game in a future update, but in the meantime there are even more questionable design choices that can be found within the title.
For example, when using public matchmaking for the story, players aren’t allowed to choose which story mission they want to play specifically. Instead they’re thrown into a lobby where three possible levels will appear. The lobby then votes on which episode of the campaign to play, which means players can end up playing levels out of order. While the bare bones story makes this a minor issue, it’s still strange that players can’t just choose whatever campaign level they want to play in matchmaking.
It’s clear that Battleborn is a little rough around the edges, but the game has some things going for it. Again, it has a good sense of humor, the core shooting mechanics are satisfying, and it has a strong lineup of 25 characters that all feel like they bring something to the table. This ensemble cast of 25 characters all being fun to play is perhaps Battleborn‘s biggest achievement, but the game’s lack of content in terms of game modes, coupled with its ongoing server issues, make it a bit of a letdown. If Gearbox addresses these concerns in future updates, Battleborn could become much closer in quality to the studio’s Borderlands franchise. For now, however, it falls a little flat on its lofty ambitions.
Battleborn is available now for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for this review.