Battleborn tries to set a new standard for the first-person MOBA genre by being bigger than everyone else. With 25 playable characters at launch, each different from one another, the bar has already been set quite high. With a full single-player campaign playable cooperatively, as well as a fully-fleshed PvP mode, Battleborn is more than raising the bar. At GamesCom 2015 we’ve seen 4 new characters, in addition to the 10 already revealed, and even had a chance to experience the game hands-on.
Battleborn’s art-style is obviously heavily inspired by Borderlands, with similar shading and character styles as well as very similar approach to effects and environments. Gearbox has also hired the services of animator Michel Gagné, who worked on movies such as The Iron Giant and Ratatouille, to add a special touch. Just looking at the different characters with their unique appearances and styles makes you drool over the possibilities of the game – and this is just half the planned “cast”.
First among the new characters revealed is Reyna, a rogue pirate captain with a deadly laser pistol and an energy glove which shoots great balls of plasma fire at your foes. We’ve also seen Ambra, a sun priestess, which is a pretty big gig considering there’s only one sun in the entire universe, and her magic staff capable of shooting even greater balls of fire (also, meteors). The third and certainly most innovative character is Benedict, the half-man, half-eagle rocket-launcher-wielding peacekeeper. Benedict can use his wings to glide great distances across the battlefield and rain explosive death from above. Last but not least is Mellka, an elf from the same world as Thorn, looking similar to her elven relative but with a widely different play style.
Of course, we also had our chance for a hands-on experience. I played a match as Miko, Montana and Oscar Mike each and loved every moment. Miko, the knife-throwing mushroom person, is a support character with abilities focusing on healing and protecting the squad, with a side of throwing knives and some poison bombs. The ballistics of the throwing knives and the poison bombs are amazingly satisfying and the character design overall makes you want to be a mushroom.
Montana is best described as the team’s “Heavy”. Armed with a minigun, Montana’s slow but steady advance is followed by an inexorable hail of bullets. Instead of reloading, Montana’s minigun overheats and when the temperature reaches critical levels, the gun jams. Of course, there are various skill choices to mitigate the problem, as well as a few tank-oriented skills which allow Montana to dish out the pain even when not firing.
Last but not least for today was Oscar Mike, a clone warrior clad in power armor, filling the traditional assault role. Oscar Mike, like Montana, can unleash a hail of bullets from his automatic assault rifle and back it up with grenades and even artillery strikes. What makes Oscar Mike really unique, though, is his armor’s cloaking field, allowing him to turn invisible for a short while. In fact, if you take the right skill upgrades, you can easily turn Oscar Mike into a scout/sniper hybrid as opposed to his more obvious assault duty.
Oscar Mike’s dual-role is something that is consistent in all of Battleborn’s characters. For example, Montana’s upgrades can make him either an even better gunner, with upgrades to his minigun’s cooldown, or a more traditional “tank” role with damage mitigation and durability upgrades. If you’re wondering, Miko’s upgrade tree lets you choose between enhanced healing capability or enhancing the deadliness of the poison spores and bombs.
In terms of skill acquisition, Battleborn follows the standard MOBA template: you begin with your basic weapon and two special abilities and the other two remaining skills unlock as the match progresses. In fact, the developers made a point of mentioning their skill tree philosophy – during a single play session (a multiplayer match or a campaign scenario) your skills will unlock completely, no matter the length.
While release a few months away, Battleborn already feels like a polished title with its impressive array of characters and enemies. The mechanics in play are already solid and there’s an overall sense of a polished game, waiting to be released. The one feature I haven’t had the chance to see was the game’s loadout and inventory system. These are still being tweaked so while it was demoed during the presentation, it was unavailable for the hands-on play.
Battleborn will be available early next year on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.