Battleborn is a game we (almost) all forgot, and as such, finds itself at death’s door with failing life support. While developer Gearbox is still supporting the game with updates and the DLC promised to season pass holders, the game is suffering from a faster population decline than that of most endangered species. It currently sits at an average of 665 concurrent players, with a 33% decline over the past 30 days1, whereas its asking price has plummeted by over 76%2— despite only being on the market for just over three months. Save a miracle cure3, Battleborn shows little sign of ever recovering. Thus I offer the following ‘eulogy’ in which I highlight what Battleborn got so fantastically right, while lamenting where it went horrifically wrong.
Before I start my testimonial for Battleborn, I find myself in the awkward position of having to offer an apology. Prior to the game’s release, I passionately put my name down to write the Ground Punch review—indeed the game was amongst my most anticipated titles for this year. Both Battleborn‘s visual style and its Beta captivated me (by showcasing the extensive gameplay options on offer). Upon release, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Battleborn, but when the opportunity arose to play Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, I quickly bounced (albeit with an honest intention to afterwards return to Battleborn). Post Uncharted 4 (you can read Kevin’s review of Uncharted 4 here), I had forgotten about Battleborn, as had many gamers, and thus I moved on to new pastures
The truth about Battleborn is that it’s not a bad game, despite what some may have led you to believe. That’s not to say that Battleborn isn’t without a long list of damning faults, but that underneath the game offered a relatively unique approach to the genre, with engaging and fun gameplay, accompanied by a strong visual style, and splatterings of charm.
Starting off with the capital element of most games—gameplay—Battleborn offered a number of mechanics that piqued my interest, mainly the Helix system. This allows players to choose from one of two upgrades each time you level up, which affect how your abilities work, unlock new abilities, and even change base stats. As such, you can construct a range of character builds, and experimenting with the variety on offer provided me with some of my most enjoyable times with the game. For instance, while using the character Thorn, one upgrade offered me the choice to slow enemies, or have arrows go through multiple targets. Slowing enemies in PvE was mostly pointless (especially considering the alternative allowed my arrows to tear through multiple members of the oncoming enemy horde), but proved to be one of my most powerful weapons in PvP. Each new match starts characters at level one, and thus you have the ability to choose a different upgrade set each time you play, and spec your character according to the demands of situations as they develop.
In addition to the Helix system, Battleborn also featured gear upgrades—which you could activate mid-match to provide stat bonuses. These gear upgrades are found in loot crates rewarded from killing bosses and completing matches and offered more long-term progression. Common gear pieces would lead to rarer and rarer pieces that naturally are more and more powerful. As such, the gear system meant I felt I was constantly getting stronger from match to match, as opposed to the Helix system which makes you stronger as part of the ebb and flow of individual matches. Furthermore, the gear system allowed for greater control over character customization according to my preferred playstyle.
The visual style of Battleborn is without a doubt my favourite part of the game. Inspired by 3D cartoons that emerged during the rise of high definition television, the game offers a vibrant colour palette, soft edges and lines, and inviting character design. As a result of these designs, I quickly became infatuated with the game’s cast, whom all benefitted from the cartoon approach—it was as if each were the stars of their own Saturday morning show. Each character has an air of arrogance about them that helps to build Battleborn’s cheeky style, which proliferates through a number of elements of the game, including the dialogue.
The dialogue itself appeared almost as if it had been written by someone who thought Deadpool was as child-friendly as Bambi, but instead of hiring a new writer, an editor tried their best to dial it back to PG-13. For instance, Battleborn bleeps out swear words. It was (probably) intentionally bad, and (mostly) successful because of it. Yes, there’s a handful of lines that miss their mark by more than a country mile, but the most calamitous element was the frequency with which these lines were repeated—an unforgivable misstep considering humour generated from intentionally bad writing dries up almost immediately.
In addition to their inherent charms, each character offered a distinct playstyle thanks to a combination of completely unique abilities and a bespoke weapon for each (albeit with several coming under the same archetype). Coupling their idiosyncratic personalities and designs, to their unique ability trees, led to every character being worth at least testing out. Furthermore, I found the time I invested in each character to be rewarding. Frequent play with a single character will unlock a host of rewards from new skins to new taunts, and best of all, Helix Mutations. These Helix Mutations offer a third potential ability to choose from when your character levels up, adding to the enjoyment of forging, and experimenting with, my own renditions. Sadly, I was unable to experiment with a number of characters that appeared particularly compelling, due to the fact that three-fifths of the roster are locked behind challenges, or an asinine level grind. And herein lies one of Battleborn’s key problems.
Should you wish to, there are a number of elements in Battleborn you can grind out. Most I’ve already listed, such as Helix Mutations and gear upgrades, although there are additional strands. In over a dozen hours spent with the game, I barely made a dent in completing the extremely lengthy list and while there are certainly laborious tasks scattered amongst them, most are fun and interesting. The problem here is too much breadth and not enough depth. To slowly progress through Battleborn’s protracted grind, I would have had to rinse and repeat the game’s sparse offering of campaign missions and multiplayer modes.
The campaign missions themselves were fun, offering a variety of mission objects that range from; tearing through waves upon waves of oncoming hordes, defending areas and objects for a set period of time, escorting allies to objective points, platforming sections, and a range of beguiling bosses that each require a unique set of tactics to best. That’s not to mention the gorgeous aesthetic of the levels, which range from dense jungle temples to picturesque snowy mountains. Unfortunately, the campaign is not without its faults, the first being its relatively short length of only eight missions. I say relatively since each of these missions takes on average an hour or more to complete.
Herein, perhaps counter-intuitively, lies the second major fault of the campaign. Lengthy missions may at first sound like a plus, but when said missions need to be completed over and over and over again for the purposes of leveling up, earning rewards, and completing challenges, their elongated structure works against them. And the long list of problems doesn’t stop there, with the lack of a checkpoint system to allows players to leave a mission and later resume at the same point being another. It is also possible to accidentally play a mission with a character who has not been designed in such a way that they can complete said mission. Finally, I can’t understand why Battleborn didn’t borrow from MMOs and implement daily missions, altering some element of the mission to provide a new challenge. All-in-all, Battleborn’s campaign is entertaining and engaging the first time through, but suffers from ever diminishing returns.
Of course, there are multiplayer modes that players can turn to for an alternative. Unfortunately, once again Battleborn gets some key fundamentals very wrong. First off, there is a criminally low number of maps, sitting at six total! But don’t worry, the developers then took the unbelievable, idiotic, and quite frankly amateurish decision of limiting each map to only one of game’s three game modes i.e. there are only two maps per game mode! Add in Battleborn’s map voting and the effective map count is one per game mode.
In terms of the three game modes on offer; Meltdown, Capture, and Incursion, I only enjoyed my time with the lattermost. Meltdown, meanwhile, is the worst of Battleborn’s PvP offering— revolving around escorting minions to grinders (where they sacrifice themselves to gain appeasement points for the players). On paper, this mode should be perfect for a quasi-MOBA, but in reality, it just doesn’t function as intended. A combination of map lanes being poorly designed and players opting to target one another as opposed to the objective turns this mode into the worst sort of chaos. What’s more I found that ranged characters were mostly moot, since minions are best protected by placing your character between them and the enemy, which resulted in frustrating imbalances.
The next game mode, Capture, while being a standard affair of capturing zones for points, does offer short bursts of amusement and satisfaction. The main draw of Capture is that your team is not harshly punished if you decide to pursue kills instead of the objective, and thus allows players to test both their characters and their skills in head to head deathmatch-esque scenarios. That said, this mode lacks the strategy that makes Incursion a cocktail of bombastic fun and exacting tactics.
Incursion sees players attempting to destroy the enemy team’s two sentry bots, by combining their power with that of waves of allied minions. Minions are deployed at intervals, and slowly work their ways towards the enemy’s sentry, where they will quickly destroy its shields. Now players can use their powers to also destroy a sentry’s shield, but their damage against the shields are significantly lower than that of the minions. When the shields are down, however, it’s a different story. Just this element alone creates a nice ebb and flow of defending minions (by killing enemy players) until they can reach and destroy a sentry’s shields, after which players are advised to unload everything they have on the sentry’s to make the most of the short window of opportunity.
However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Incursion. Remember the gear system I spoke of earlier? Gear can be used across PvP and PvE modes, but in the case of Incursion, players have to make difficult choices between activating gear pieces or setting up devices located throughout the map. These devices include accelerators (that speed up allied minions), turrets to mow down enemies, and summoning brutes to help protect your minions while aggravating your opponents. Then there’s which lanes you decide to utilise, the impact of a team make up, and deciding how to best utilise the map design. Add it all up and the resulting mix of tactical combat and Battleborn’s fun systems and gameplay make for gripping romps, where tension and demanding use of strategy results in euphoric victories that are hard-fought and earned.
In conclusion, Battleborn was a victim of being both undeveloped and being slaughtered by the gaming community at large, who only wanted a Borderlands sequel ,and consequently refused to give Battleborn a chance. While Gearbox should be blamed for many of the game’s failings, the lack of engagement from gamers resulted in potential future development and improvements becoming null and void. As such, a game with great ideas, and even greater potential, became a mitigated failure, forgotten by almost everyone. So considering the wasteland that is the player base, it is with a heavy heart I must advise against anyone purchasing a game, for which I carry a flame of sincere affection.
May you Rest in Peace Battleborn,
And maybe rise in glory as a free-to-play game.
1 Statistics based on Steam Users, and sourced from steamcharts.com. The 665 figure represents the average number of concurrent users over the past 30 days. Information was sourced on 23/07/2016
2 Statistic based on pricing of the PlayStation 4 version of the game if purchased from Base.com – which sat at £12.95 at the time of sourcing – when compared to original price Base.com sold the game for, £54.99. Information was soured on 23/07/2016
3 Examples of how Battleborn could potentially recover include making the game free-to-play, in the hope of causing a drastic increase to the active player base. This has already been seen with Evolve when Turtle Rock Studios launched Evolve Stage 2 earlier this month, and saw the active player base increase by over 150 times that of the active player base seen the week prior. See here for more details on Evolve Stage 2.