What do you get when you blend an online MOBA structure with the multiplayer goodness of Borderlands and an aesthetic style vaguely reminiscent of Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank? You get Battleborn, a new multiplayer-centric shooter from Gearbox Software, set in a topsy-turvy universe with a boatload of characters. In fact, the developer has said their new project boasts more playable characters than the entire Borderlands franchise combined: A grand total of 25 fighters hailing from 5 different Factions. And of course, that's just for the launch; chances are, they'll deliver more characters via DLC, even though 25 out of the gate is certainly nothing to sneeze at.
For the most part, the studio in question isn't exactly abandoning its well-established roots. Those who have enjoyed the look and feel of the Borderlands entries will probably find a comfortable familiarity in Battleborn, even though the new title features brighter and perhaps more cartoon-y fighters. As for the genre, "MOBA" stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, where you control a single character when playing as one of two teams. This is also known as Action Real-Time Strategy (ARTS) and Defense of the Ancients (Dota) was one of the first of its kind. Basically, you have to utilize the strengths of your chosen fighter in tandem with your team, and attempt to exploit the weaknesses of your opponents in a tactical deathmatch.
Gearbox has opted to call their new game a "Hero Shooter," as they're trying to focus on the large, highly diverse roster of characters that we don't get in most MOBA experiences. In Battleborn, there will be two teams comprised of five characters each, and these fighters have distinct sets of abilities. As a few examples, there's Montana, a massive brute who wields a chain-gun, Miko, a ninja mushroom that tries to poison everyone within striking distance, and Rath, a super speedy samurai warrior of sorts with a thirst for blood. There are many, many more and you'll be encouraged to experiment. While I typically like to stick to one character so I can level him or her up to the point of super strength, the fighter variety here is so pronounced, I think players will frequently jump from one character to another.
The goal of each match will be to infiltrate the enemy's base and destroy it and of course, this can happen any number of ways. As you progress, you gain levels and when you do, you can select one of two upgrades from the helix menu. This is a simple, streamlined form of character advancement that won't detract from the action. The interesting part is that while you do earn permanent gear and other rewards, each character's core skills and level are reset at the start of every match. This will undoubtedly contribute to the heatedness of the competition and might also entice new players to pick up the controller. Of course, those who have worked for those permanent goodies will still have the edge, but that doesn't mean newcomers can't enjoy themselves, which is often a stumbling block in the realm of online multiplayer.
As you might expect, we'll get the standard first-person controls and Gearbox is full of FPS experts. Therefore, slick, intuitive controls are almost a given, but the biggest hurdle will involve the myriad of skills each character has, and how the more elaborate abilities are executed. This will go beyond the basic shooter format, so be prepared for some gameplay mechanics that might be alien to the FPS aficionado. No matter what, though, that fast and responsive control will be evident throughout and each match will be fiercely paced. And because your character's level resets at the start, you'll want to push forward and rise through the ranks as you play match after match. The fluidity and immediacy of the progression system keeps everything moving along at a fever pitch, which most will appreciate.
We don't know all the modes just yet but Devastation should be a favorite. This is where teams must capture and defend various points (yeah, good ol' Domination, really), and you'll also like Meltdown, which is larger in scope and forces you to escort a team of robot minions to an incinerator. For every robot that drops to his fiery death, you get points. And of course, you'll want to take down the opposing team's convoy, too. That's just a small sampling of what to expect when the full game arrives in February, and I'm willing to bet it'll appeal to both Borderlands and MOBA fans. For those who have a healthy list of reliable online buddies who love such games, Battleborn should be like highly competitive and addictive catnip.
11/4/2015 Ben Dutka