Battleborn has a brilliant idea at its core: mixing together MOBAs and the first person shooter. And that brilliant idea is enough to carry it to being really fun, even if you hate multiplayer as much as I do. But it could be a bit better.
Battleborn (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Battleborn has a wacky, cartoony aesthetic that it commits to completely, most notably in the form of a hand-drawn opening animation scored to Gearbox’s usual impeccable music curation, and it really does help leaven the proceedings. It is a bit close to Borderlands in overall tone and ideas, from cheerily homicidal AIs to deadpan snark in the menus, close enough that you’re forced to wonder if this was originally going to be the multiplayer for Borderlands 3.
That said, it will easily be one of the most frantic games you play. Everything is up close, in your face, and covered in graphics, and the sound mix is absurdly busy. Since there’s no such thing as friendly fire in this game, you just unload into the chaos and see what dies.
Mashing up the FPS and the MOBA is simple, yet brilliant. For one thing, since it’s very much a multiplayer game, in competitive modes, it takes the pressure off. Instead of being ranked on how many times you can kill the same dude, rookie players can go on defense, gunning down minions and building support structures. You might still lose, but you always feel like you’re getting something done. That is… when you can play.
In terms of gameplay, it’s more or less Borderlands. A nice touch is that you’ve got a huge variety of heroes to fight with. If you like sneaking up and meleeing, or you’re a sniper, or you want to lead the charge, you’ve got options, more of which quickly unlock. When it comes together, it’s a blast.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t come together as often as it should. The fundamental weakness of Battleborn is your fellow gamers. For some baffling reason, you can use bots in “private” sessions, but if even one player disconnects from a competitive match, which happened in roughly half the games I tried to set up, then the match is effectively over before it starts. The game won’t sub in a bot and it won’t start the match without a full complement of players, most of whom seem to be bailing because they don’t want to play the map or somebody chose their favorite character. It creates a domino effect: one player quits, then another, then another, then another, until you’re the only one left. It’s incredibly frustrating and the problem most in need of addressing.
The maps are another issue. The selection is limited and the voting system means that more often than not, there’s effectively only one map in many modes. All of the character unlocks, thankfully, can be opened up by other means, but you only get three story missions at a time and two competitive maps in each mode at a time, and you can’t even access other maps when playing privately.
Finally, the story missions have a lot of fun cooperative play, but they also tend to hinge around basic mechanics like defending a checkpoint or escorting a giant robot. A little more variety would have been welcome.
Just getting through the story mode will take you 10 hours. Considering there are 25 characters to play, all of which can be upgraded through level 15, if you’re committed to this game you might be playing it for a long, long time.
There’s DLC incoming, of course, but it’s exclusively story missions and cosmetic items, and pretty cheap by that standard, at $5 a pop or $20 for the season pass. Everything else, from five new heroes to new competitive maps and modes, is going to be a free update.
I generally dislike multiplayer and I enjoyed the hell out of this game. When Battleborn comes together, it’s a fresh, fun experience. But until some checks are put in for players who bail for no reason, or bots sub in for players who get disconnected, it’s not a consistent one, and that might be too frustrating for many players.