Hands-on with co-op shooter Battleborn

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Earlier this week Stuff was invited to meet some of the folks from 2K Games and to check out upcoming first-person co-op/competitive shooter Battleborn. Rather than just a presentation and a detailed look at the game, we got a chance to jump into an early version of the game itself with four other players to see just what Battleborn is going to be all about when it releases towards (or just after) the end of the year. Here’s most of what happened, with the swearing omitted.

What is a Battleborn?

Battleborn (4)Battleborn revolves around the last star in existence. Everything else is dead, thanks to some evil figures who have been accelerating entropy or something along those lines, and the remaining sentient races are probably going to die soon. But on this final star, called Solus, there are a collection of fighters. These fighters, representatives of the various races that make up the population of this final outpost, are called Battleborn. We’re guessing because they were born to excel in battle.

And the reason that these Battleborn fight is to stave off the final end of all things, a task that might seem extremely depressing in a game that was built on realism but the brightly-coloured settings and oddball characters that make up the playable fighter roster make the impending apocalypse seem almost jaunty. Battleborn is being brought to us by Gearbox, the studio that created Borderlands. You can tell, can’t you?

Show Some Class

Battleborn CharsBattleborn takes a few cues from other titles. Borderlands is an obvious influence but we saw some Team Fortress 2 in there, the upcoming Overwatch from Blizzard exhibits some similar elements and there’s also a touch of hugely popular DOTA 2 in Battleborn. Yes, in an FPS. It happens.

Each playable character is a member of a faction, of which there are several. We’re not really sure what the point of factions is yet, the demonstration was too limited to really give an idea of those functions, but there will be a lot of characters. At launch there will be 25 player characters, which wouldn’t disgrace a fighting game, but for the preview we had access to ten of the roster.

Due to a series of technical malfunctions we had control of Phoebe, a character that we normally would have avoided. She is a dual-blade melee fighter, for the most part, with a single ranged special attack that comes with a cooldown, and the ability to teleport. There are a few melee characters, mid-range players with the familiar assault rifle (like Oscar Mike) or even a bow and then long-range specialists who are terrible in up-close combat to choose from, with more options to be revealed later.

5-Player Mayhem

Battleborn (5)As it happens, the up-close-and-stabby Phoebe is a fantastic character to play as. Able to launch into a fight from a distant and dealing a whole lot of damage while she’s in there, clever players will find that Phoebe is a lot more formidable than she appears at first glance. Phoebe isn’t a tank, able to stand right up against a mob of enemies and deal damage while absorbing it, but there are tank classes available for that. Instead, she darts in and out of battle while scoring a few hits and just occasionally acting as a distraction for those who can deal more damage per second.

But she can’t romp through the objective-laden level that we experienced alone, there needs to be some sort of backup. And that’s where having up to four other players along for the ride makes Battleborn interesting. With 25 classes eventually becoming available, tactical options will vary wildly. If the party of five is lacking a healer, then it falls to players to stick together and assist those who go down. If one person wanders off on their own, then they’re going to be killed in short order. There needs to be cohesion, an awareness of how your chosen character moves, plays and will develop when they have levelled up, and how those upgrades will work along the DNA helix upgrade tree and how that development will tie into other players on the team in order to be properly effective.

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along

Battleborn (6)Unfortunately when you load a bunch of gaming writers into a room with beer, snacks and PCs running a new game, that’s the last thing anyone wants to do. Everyone knows best and they’re keen on trying out the game on their terms. But the fact that the random collection of gamers managed to get all the way through to the end of the demonstration level without incident or significant bloodshed does indicate that Battleborn has a shot at being a popular online multiplayer title.

Character classes as they stand seem to be well balanced to work with each other, as long as players are keeping their eyes vaguely on the prize. Enemy waves are designed to keep players together and there’s little advantage to be had in leaving your team behind and wandering off – whether this will remain the case is something we’ll have to wait and see.

Objectively Speaking

Battleborn (2)With only one stage available, there wasn’t enough space to see just how much gameplay variety there is in Battleborn’s levels, though there’s certainly a lot crammed into a single level.

To cut it down to shorthand, the objectives we saw over about 15 to 20 minutes were: Spawn, travel to point A, wipe out enemy stronghold, open gate, survive enemy waves, drop shields, survive sneak attack by enemy bastards, survive another enemy wave, defeat enemy sub-boss, hold area for Wolf mech drop, upgrade mech and escort to point B. At point B, protect Wolf, remove enemy presence, open gate to next area and escort mech to point C. At point C, establish hardpoints by installing sentry guns, protect Wolf from increasing numbers of enemies until another enemy boss appears (and is promptly stomped into the ground). Fade to cutscene that cuts off just as it was getting really interesting.

So there’s a whole lot to do, we just wonder how they’re going to keep gameplay fresh in other stages and in the competitive multiplayer modes that areplanned.

The Shape Of Things To Come

Battleborn (3)Battleborn, based on what we’ve seen, is going to be a chaotic experience at the very least. How the story is going to play out, how the single-player mode and true multiplayer will work is still somewhat of a mystery but having five players in the story-based mode has proved to be a lot of fun. As with all previews, what we’ve seen isn’t necessarily what everyone else will get at the end of the day but if Gearbox keep it up then Battleborn has the potential to draw in less-serious shooter fans with something different. Until Overwatch comes along, when we’ll probably see a BattlebornOverwatchTeam-Fortress-2 rivalry develop. For now, Gearbox’s new shooter is definitely worth keeping tabs on.

 

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