Battleborn may not be the game you think it is. I say this because when I downloaded the open beta on a whim last month, I was expecting something totally different than what I experienced. I feel like my expectations were probably in line with a lot of other people’s expectations of the game, so I wanted to spend some time at the beginning of the review to try to make it perfectly clear what kind of game Battleborn is and isn’t.
Battleborn is not a MOBA (a MOBA being a game like Dota 2 or League of Legends). Early information and previews of the game seemed to advertise it is a first-person MOBA, and in my opinion that is entirely not the case. There are some attributes to the game that it shares with MOBAs (a sizable hero roster, an in-game leveling system that resets each game, and character-specific skill sets), but the gameplay feels far more like Borderlands to me than a MOBA - which, you know, makes sense since Gearbox created both Battleborn and Borderlands.
Battleborn is not a PVP-focused game. It features two separate gameplay types: Competitive and Cooperative. A player could decide to only play one type and they would still have a fulfilling gaming experience. All characters are unlockable through playing either type of gameplay (though players can likely unlock them faster through playing some of both PVE and PVP). In addition to the gameplay types being completely separate, they are also completely different. The co-op gameplay is not simply comp stomp of the competitive gameplay. It’s a mission-based system, but more on this later. Any account-based progression earned through either mode works for the other mode as well.
Battleborn isn’t Borderlands 3. While there are similarities between the games (such as humor and aesthetics), there are some very clear differences. Character levels are not persistent and weapons are character-specific (there’s no replacing a character’s weapon with another one, as there are no weapon drops at all in the game). The progression is account-based and not character-based, and while Battleborn has a much larger character roster than Borderlands, it also features an unlock system for many of those characters.
These are some of the major misconceptions I see flying around about Battleborn, so I hope that addressing them may be helpful to some of you out there reading this. So let’s talk co-op.
The co-op gameplay provided in Battleborn is a story campaign which is chopped up into 8 missions. Upon installing the game, players will have to play a Prologue (must be played solo) which basically teaches them how to play the game while introducing the story of the game. After completing the prologue, the first mission will become available. Completing a mission will unlock the next one. There are two ways to play the co-op missions: a publicly or privately. A public mission will put players in a matchmaking queue to find four other players to play a mission with. Players can only choose to queue for a random mission or the very last mission if they have it unlocked. If queued for a random mission, upon being matchmade, the players will be presented with a choice of 3 random missions to vote on. The mission with the most votes is selected to play. A private mission can be launched with anywhere between 1 and 5 players in the lobby (players can simply invite their friends through Steam to join their lobby). The party leader can select any mission he or she has unlocked, regardless of whether everyone else in the lobby also has it unlocked.
Regardless of whether it’s a public or private match, once the mission starts they act exactly the same. Players can select from any of the characters they have unlocked to play as for the entirety of the mission. At the very beginning, 8 (out of 25 total) characters are unlocked to pick between. Each character has unique active and passive abilities. During the mission, characters will level up (max level 10). These character levels are only persistent for the duration of the mission. Each level up allows players to invest a point in their “Helix” tree. For each level, the Helix tree offers two choices to mutate their active abilities in some way, or provide them passive bonuses. For example, players may be asked to choose between making one or their skills also debuff enemies versus boosting the damage of another skill. All point investments are permanent for the duration of the match.
Missions generally take between 30 and 45 minutes (usually longer on advanced difficulty). There two difficulties (normal and advanced) and both are playable in “hardcore” mode (only one life per character). The missions will each have some kind of story which facilitates the objectives that must be done. These objectives include things like protecting an area, holding out against waves of enemies, and escorting NPCs. Each mission will contain some kind of boss and probably a couple of mini-bosses. The maps contain chests which include power-ups (e.g. speed, cooldown reduction, health pick-ups), extra lives, score, coins, and gear. The extra lives are shared between the whole team. When a character dies, they get about 20 seconds before they bleed out. During this time they can only call for help or release to the waypoint. Other players can revive them before they bleed out in order to save the extra life. If all extra lives run out, players cannot respawn anymore.
Successfully completing a mission will award players with a medal based on their score (score is shared between teammates). Score is gained through the mission by killing enemies, completing random timed objectives, and picking up the score orbs found in chests. This medal is generally only important for unlocking characters and bragging rights. Players will also receive two kinds of XP (command XP and character XP for the character they played) as well as coins.
Command XP goes towards account level and gives players more options (e.g. unlocks the ability to use gear at level 3) and unlocks more characters are certain milestones. Characters can also be unlocked through alternative challenges besides account level (e.g. win 5 matches as a specific faction-aligned character). Character XP unlocks cosmetics (skins and taunts) for that character as well as a few mutations in the Helix tree so they have more options in all their later matches on that character. Coins can be used to purchase gear packs, inventory slots, and gear loadouts. Gear provides perks (e.g. cooldown reduction, sprint speed, attack damage) to specialize a player’s role, but requires shards to activate during a mission. Unlike coins and XP, shards are mission-specific and do not persist after a mission. They are collected during the game and only used to activate gear, build turrets, and complete certain mission-based objectives.
Overall, the co-op seems to have been done well. Enemies scale based on the number of players, so the game does not become trivial with a full 5-person group (if anything, it’s harder). Everything except shards and the power-ups are shared, meaning that if someone picks up a gear piece everyone will get a gear piece at the end of the match. All of the characters have their strengths and there are both characters that shine more when played with others as well as Helix upgrades that can be selected for better team-based play. Miko and Reyna, for example, get healing and shielding abilities that are specifically designed to be used on friends. Galilea can upgrade her aura so it heals allies that are within it. Kelvin can choose a Helix upgrade that passively buffs his health regen when he’s near other friendly players. Also, co-op missions count as “matches,” so the alternate character unlock challenges the specific winning a certain number of matches can be worked towards by beating missions.
So what do I think of Battleborn’s co-op missions? I’m a pretty big fan, but I fully acknowledge that they probably aren’t for everyone. If you’re someone who wants to play a game once for the story, then Battleborn is not a game for you. These missions are meant to be played repeatedly with different characters to try to get higher scores and increase character and command XP. The repetition of doing the same missions is not something that bothers me, because I like the goals the game gives me and the variety of which to attempt them. I want to try to get gold medals on all the missions and then move onto trying to get gold for all the advanced versions. I know that some people would get bored to tears at redoing the same missions over and over. I just happen to be the kind of person that this type of game is really geared towards.In my eyes, Battleborn is a game for people who like account progression and for people who like to experiment with different characters and team compositions.
I’ve really enjoyed unlocking characters through challenges and trying out different combinations of character’s Helix skills. I’m looking forward to leveling up my character level with some of my favorite characters and unlocking new skins, taunts, and mutations for them. For example, I’ve been playing a lot of Ambra lately. She’s one of my favorite characters because she has abilities that can be used both offensively and defensively (her Sunspots act as turrets that can heal friends and harm foes at the cost of their own health). I recently unlocked a Helix mutation that gives me a third option at a certain level to increase my max Sunspots by one, which is pretty nifty. I like these subtle rewards for playing a character more. They don’t usually feel straight-up better, they just offer more options for the experienced player.
There are some flaws in the game to be sure. There are some scaling issues for missions. On the one hand, higher medals are easier to get with more people in the group, but on the other hand certain missions are harder to complete with more people due to the sheer number of enemies destroying objectives faster than the players can kill them. I’ve found some (happily infrequent) bugs. One time I had to start a mission over because an enemy got stuck and the mission wouldn’t progress. I also wish that completing a mission with a friend would unlock it for them as well, even if they were further back in the story. In general, though, these are fairly minor issues for me and I think some of them will be addressed soon.
I think Battleborn is a very solid pick for a certain type of player. If, like me, you like account-based progression and you don’t mind doing the same missions a bunch of times, then Battleborn may be a great pick for you. If you like doing casual PVP, then you’ll get an even greater bang for your buck. If you’re not interested in account-based progression, would have really preferred all characters to be unlocked from the start, and the thought of redoing the same missions over and over fills you with a sense of dread, then you probably want to steer clear of this one.