The team at Gearbox Software already has a big reputation in the industry thanks to the Borderlands series. The first-person shooter/adventure title has spawned three games as well as an episodic, story-based game from another well-known development team, Telltale Games. However, Gearbox's presence last week at E3 didn't feature another chapter in the Borderlands franchise. Instead, it showed off Battleborn.
What We Know
Instead of a small band of treasure hunters wandering an unknown planet, this new game is all about survival as time runs out for the entire universe. An unknown force has destroyed almost everything in the galaxy with the exception of one last star called Solus. Surrounding this star are five different factions fighting each other over the last resources in order to survive for as long as possible: the Peacekeepers, the Eldrid, the Rogues, the Last Light Consortium and the Jennerit Empire. Each faction has its own set of heroes called Battleborn, which fight on the faction's behalf. However, in order to destroy the universe-crushing force, the Battleborn heroes need to work together.
Unlike any of the Borderlands games, which only feature a handful of characters (four to start plus additional DLC characters), Battleborn will have 25 characters for every type of play style, from long-range guns or a bow and arrow to melee weapons such as an axe or sword. Additionally, each character has three activated powers and a fourth passive ability.
As with other Gearbox games, the story can be played solo or with a two-player split screen, or online co-op multiplayer with up to five friends. However, that's not the only mode you can play in the game. There's also the introduction of five versus five multiplayer matches with three types of modes, including Incursion, where the team must defend its base from AI hordes while also attempting to destroy the opponent's base. Devastation is a small twist in team deathmatch because it also includes objectives that must be captured throughout the map. Finally, Meltdown is a very strange mode where you have to lead minions to the middle of the map, where they throw themselves into an incinerator. The team with the most minions incinerated wins. (I know, it's weird.)
Going On An Adventure
As interesting as it sounds, we didn't get to try multiplayer gameplay. After a brief introduction to the game and its story, we were led to a gameplay demo featuring the story. I sat on the same row along with four other players and began playing a co-op story mission. For the demo, I chose Oscar Mike, a soldier who mainly uses an assault rifle and pistol but can also throw grenades and use stealth camouflage to sneak up on enemies for a short amount of time.
The first thing the developers told us to do was to level up our characters with the new Helix system, which started at level 1 and ended at level 10. At each level, you had to choose between two upgrades for your character. For Oscar Mike, that could be a choice between more powerful bullets or a wider radius for your grenades. Throughout the demo, it was easy to gain more levels to become a really powerful character. However, I'm not sure if it will stay this way for short missions, or if the experience gained will scale so it requires even more work to achieve the higher levels. However, this rapid way of leveling up could work very well in multiplayer.
With my four teammates, we tore through a snowy tundra and a large compound as we worked together to take out hordes of enemies. Aside from the main rifle and pistol, I also used my character's grenades to take out a pocket of enemies while also sneaking up to lone, unsuspecting patrols with stealth. Each character also has an Ultimate ability. In Oscar Mike's case, that was calling down an airstrike, which really helped in a tight situation, especially with boss fights.
Another character, Miko, used its Ultimate ability to spawn a large mushroom, and any ally in its range was healed for a certain amount of time. Again, each character has a role to play in the fight, so it's important to not only choose one that you're comfortable with, but also can help out the team in a pinch.
Halfway through the mission, a large mechanical robot called the Wolf Sentry came down, and we had to escort it to open a large door on the other side of the map. Throughout the demo, the entire landscape was just full of chaos. Bullets and grenades littered the field while other players hacked and slashed their way forward. There were a few times when other players, including myself, were down, but teammates eventually came to the rescue and we kept going.
Eventually, we came to the door, and we had to protect the Wolf Sentry one final time from a more dangerous boss and its minions. By activating the turrets in the area to our advantage, we had a little more help this time around and once again proceeded to get every enemy in sight. In the end, we gave the robot enough time to unlock the door, which ended the demo.
Old Dog, New Tricks
There are many cues taken from the Borderlands series that were incorporated into Battleborn, such as parts of the heads-up display, the menu and even a little bit of the art style used in the game. Even with the similarities, the game was still fun, and I didn't really notice the similar cues anymore. The fast-paced, chaotic gameplay easily distracted me, and the potential combinations of characters can make for a unique playthrough every time.
I only played the demo once, but I wish I had the time to play it a few more times, just to get an idea of how to use the other characters in the game. It's just that exciting to play Battleborn, and with 25 characters to choose from, it will take a while to master them all. Hopefully, the next time I see it at a show, Gearbox will have the multiplayer demo set up. I can only imagine how much fun it will be to play it against other players instead of the game's AI. We'll definitely keep our eye on this game as it gets closer to launch sometime this winter.