Mish-Mashed Heroics in Space
Fair warning, readers. This preview was originally meant to be based on a clear and concise recollection of what I had played of Gearbox’s new “hero-shooter”, Battleborn, at E3. But for the life of me, I struggle to recall, for my brain has been addled beyond repair by the traumatic experience that was waiting in line for roughly 90 minutes, all while the trailer below repeatedly played from overhanging TV screens with the volume set to 12.
Ugh, just seeing it there gives me the shivers. It holds so much sway over my mind now. How could I possibly be able to provide a proper preview?
I suppose putting the kibosh on my overexaggerating and getting on with it would be a good start (still, that unending loop of sound and video really was a brutal thing to endure for an hour and a half).
Given the size of Battleborn’s stylistically diverse cast, I was unsure of what to expect going in. Ten of the game’s twenty-five heroes were available for the co-op missions playable at E3, and they represented a fairly large range of gameplay styles for me to try to choose from. Go with space marine Oscar Mike and his more traditional shooter setup, or go with immortal swordsman Rath and sacrifice range for devastating close-range attack power, or go with mushroom medic Miko and play a more support-oriented role, or go with... you get the idea.
After a long time to think about it (because, you know, the line), I settled on Phoebe, a Victorian-ish levitating wielder of mage-tech and floating rapiers, who proved to be an interesting mix of close and mid-range capabilities. Her primary selection of sword jabs and sweeps enabled me to punish enemies that got too close with speed and precision, while her special abilities –which included unleashing a quick barrage of rapiers and near-instant teleportation– allowed me to briefly compensate for her short attack range and change my position to surprise enemies or assist teammates.
The MOBA-inspired quick-leveling system in Battleborn also opened up new options for me. With each level I gained, I unlocked two new augments on Phoebe’s helix-shaped upgrade tree. By choosing one augment for each level (the unpicked one gets locked for the remainder of the mission), I was free to upgrade her teleport ability with either a damaging electrical burst or a slowdown-inducing energy field, or increase the speed of either her melee attacks or shield recharge, and so on.
I only got to play one mission, so I can’t say if this loop of constantly re-upgrading heroes with every co-op mission risks getting repetitive with time. I can imagine players who like their character progression a little more permanent won’t be too thrilled. That said, even with their fleeting nature, the augments provide an impressive level of character customization and make it possible for the same character to be played in considerably different ways.
While I’m no expert on Gearbox’s catalog of shooters (this having been my first time playing one of their games), I could still see the skill that they’ve put into Battleborn. The controls are tight, the combat is quick and engaging, and the variety of characters is impressive. I also like how they’ve managed to create a game where sci-fi warriors can fight alongside more fantasy-inspired fighters and have them mesh together without it contrasting visually. It’s a neat stylistic feat that opens up the game’s universe to a greater amount of narrative opportunities.
From what I can tell, the developer is set to take full advantage of that, while offering an interesting MOBA-ish twist on first-person action, when they and 2K Games bring Battleborn to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC this winter.
A writer, journalist, and aspiring storyteller, Peter Grimm has been gaming since the days of the Nintendo 64, and reporting on the goings-on in the World of Gaming since late 2011. His base of writing operations is located within the void between Here and There, or so he would have you think.
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