Playing through the same Battleborn mission twice at a recent media event, I was struck by one particular notion: this game has a hell of a lot going on.
Battleborn is a first-person co-op combat arena game in which, at least for the mission I played, the goal was to clear a lurid sci-fi area of enemy waves.
On my first frantic play, along with four other human warriors, I took on the role of a dwarven melee tank and made a nuisance of myself against enemies. Unfortunately, I also needed to prevail upon allies to resuscitate my man when he (OK, I) too eagerly wandered into the fray, swinging axes.
It was enormous fun and entirely confusing. I just hammered away at anything that looked vaguely menacing until cooler heads had guided us through the mess. There were upgrade options along the way, offered as one of two options at decent intervals. Being a melee animal, I chose "hurt people more" every time, or its closest analog.
Once the mission was completed we all agreed that it had been fun, that we had all played pretty badly and we should try it again.
This time, I picked a cool, detached elf-like archer called Thorn, who was able to survey her surroundings with a little less intensity than my retired dwarf-like pal. There were other possibilities, like Armored Robot Dude or Deathly Spell Creature, but when it comes to fantasy characters, I have my favorites and that is that.
A word here about characters. During each match-up players are offered multiple class-based characters to choose from. None of these are the most original individuals you have ever seen (tall, dreamy elf fires arrows!). But the point of this game is to create a fun-box of cliches that we can all mess around with and enjoy.
The game is set in the distant future, where "the only hope for the last star in a dying universe is a new breed of warriors who must put aside their differences to drive back an unstoppable menace." Battleborn is about its heroes and having fun messing around with each one.
As you might expect from Gearbox — the maker of the tongue-in-cheek Borderlands series — there's a lot of self-mocking playfulness in these characters, in the sidekick robots encountered along the way and in the absurdly over-the-top super-villains, hooting and cackling from their fastnesses.
While Borderlands is about a multitude of weapons, Battleborn is about a host of characters, all of whom are extensively customizable in terms of their abilities.
While in multiplayer and story mode, players are also able to level up their characters with a MOBA-influenced system that allows players to swap out augments in their skill tree as well as unlock skins. They can also unlock badges and titles to impress friends.
And so, in our second game, I took my time enjoying the enemies and their now anticipated attacks. I got to grips with the limitations of my primary weapon and the glorious effectiveness of my secondary weapon. I became a sniper, assessing risks and saving the hides of my comrades, getting the feel of how differently I moved, in comparison to the dwarf.
I stood and watched as a friend zoomed about the level as a shiny robot type called Calderius, marvlling that perhaps I would try that jetpack next time. There was also a mushroom-head thing called Miko who doles out healing power and poisoned knives.
When archer-elf Thorn did die, I didn't mind so much the long trek back from her distant respawn point because (a) I now knew where I was going and (b) I understood that I sorta deserved to be thusly punished for my carelessness in expiring.
Absurdly over-the-top villains hoot and cackle.
Gearbox has made its way in the world by exploiting RPG leveling and bringing it to the shooter. Now the company is tagging on a lot of MOBA influences. In this scenario-based shooter, players and teams pick up loot and are given binary upgrade options along the way that offer the potential for experimentation. On that second play-through, I just wanted to see how far I could push my multiple-arrow super weapon, but there were other options that were worth toying with.
This mission featured a giant insect robot ally that needed shepherding to a geographic point of usefulness. As a team, we were given the chance to upgrade that unit and to see how that helped us through the mission. This is all part and parcel of the Gearbox way. Give the player choices and make them feel like they have consequences.
Battleborn will be released by 2K Games for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One later this year.