I tried to like BATTLEBORN. I really did. Okay, maybe not really, considering how dismal I found the beta, but I did try to keep an open mind. After all, betas don’t represent the final product, and my stance on some games has changed from prelaunch to release several times before. That being said, it was to no surprise of my own that each of the issues I raised with BATTLEBORN during my initial runthrough were only exacerbated in the retail copy.
BATTLEBORN opens up pretty… well, there’s no sugarcoating it, it leaves a pretty acrid first impression. Players must first complete a tutorial prologue before accessing the rest of the game’s content, a contrivance in a genre where control is learned only after testing each character in a live match. The prologue starts with a cool enough hand-drawn cutscene showcasing the starting lineup of heroes, only to be accompanied by Deltron 3030’s “Countdown,” a track so cringe-inducing that I still feel a deep sense of shame for bringing it into my household.
As far as scene-building goes, however, Deltron should be thanked; the ensuing mission features equally embarrassing dialogue between a cast of spazoids that sets up the premise of “bad guy is going to end life as we know it, heroes of the universe unite.” Gearbox tried to retain the same level of crass from the first game, but with a Teen-rated game like BATTLEBORN, the result is a cacophony of censors and bad writing. Though I’ve made the joke before, this was the first game where I actually had to go into the options menu and crank the dialogue volume slider down to zero.
Make my day, you meme-loving fuck
Gameplay, the core of BATTLEBORN’s experience, doesn’t fare too much better. BATTLEBORN is decidedly a MOBA, not a competitive shooter, but the first person presentation makes it hard to separate the game from its FPS cousins. After all, ironsights, headshots, and reloads are not features present in MOBAs, but are all key within BATTLEBORN. Though the ebb and flow of a match in BATTLEBORN feels like it was ripped right out of LoL, the minute-to-minute mechanics of jumping and shooting are decidedly those of a shooter. As a result, you’ve got a game where arena shooter tactics are just as valid as those you’d use in a lane-based MOBA. It sounds flexible on paper, but the truth is that BATTLEBORN fails to be particularly compelling in either department. This is a game that suffers an identity crisis, not knowing whether to reward player skill or resource management and team composition more.
The first person perspective doesn’t do any favors for playability, either. MOBAs traditionally have cluttered interfaces, and BATTLEBORN is no exception. Health, shields, ammo, equipment, skills, map, and team scores are all tracked on screen by default, and that’s before you factor in teammate locations, opponent health, and damage numbers. Most MOBAs are top down, meaning that you can easily track your character in the environment or among mobs, but BATTLEBORN’s decision to go FPS removes this visual crutch. Instead, you’ve got massive weapon models that obscure half the screen and waves of foes that are often at head level, meaning seeing past the initial row of enemy minions is often impossible, especially when they’re bombarding you with lasers.
BATTLEBORN comes with three main competitive game modes. Incursion is the vanilla “blow up the enemy base” gametype from most MOBAs, while Meltdown simplifies the formula by only requiring each team’s minions to reach a point on the map. It’s this second mode that truly shines, requiring players to alternate between escorting their own troops and destroying their foes’. Capture rounds out the trio with a purely PVP king of the hill mode, but suffers from a lack of balance. With no NPCs to farm for experience, character levelling is entirely dependent on player kills and point control. All too often in capture, one team will simply outlevel the competition, turning the match into a lopsided slaughter that isn’t fun for either side. Though it would fit in any FPS, this type of gameplay is completely unsuited for a MOBA, and shows how even Gearbox seems unsure on what kind of game they made. This leaves two modes with only two maps each that have any replay value, which is simply unexcusable for a $60 purchase.
Even in terms of graphics, I’m not sure what BATTLEBORN was going for. BATTLEBORN has been, and will continue to be, compared to OVERWATCH, which is completely unfair to either game. That being said, the one area these games merit comparison is visual design, as both feature a wide cast of wacky characters in a cartoon setting. But like every other aspect of BATTLEBORN, the visuals here lack focus. OVERWATCH is clearly inspired by Pixar, while BORDERLANDS before had a definite comic book look. BATTLEBORN lies somewhere in between, lacking the bold outlines and standardized designs of BORDERLANDS and the refined themes and vision of OVERWATCH. The style here is a mix of muddy textures, character designs that feel like they belong in completely different titles, and minimalist models that are practically cubist in their simplicity. Unlike the other two games mentioned, BATTLEBORN is simply ugly to look at.
BATTLEBORN or BLOODBORNE? Eh, both will make you suffer
But is it all bad? Yes. The few positive notes I could give this game (great first person animations, allowance for duplicate heroes that justifies the progression system) don’t even come close to the negatives. BATTLEBORN is a mess, plain and simple. It’s been years since I’ve seen a game so confused in concept. It’s a MOBA that plays too much like a shooter. Its writing tries to be both edgy and family friendly. It wants to be a cartoon, but doesn’t commit to the aesthetic. BATTLEBORN is ambitious in its breadth of ideas, but a dozen half-baked concepts does not a good game make.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
Reviewed on PlayStation 4, also available on Xbox One and PC.