In Defense of Battleborn

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Like most people, I’ve spent the majority of this year viewing Battleborn as nothing more than a joke. With its poor sales numbers, unavoidable comparison to Overwatch, and now the rumors that the game is transitioning to a free-to-play model, I’ve had a very hard time taking it seriously. However, when GameFly shipped me a copy of the game (which I didn’t even have in my queue!) by accident, I decided I would give it a try anyways to see just how bad it actually was.

To my pleasant surprise, Battleborn is not only a legitimately delightful experience, it’s one of my favorite games of the year. So, how did it become so negatively viewed by the gaming world? Why aren’t more people playing it? More importantly, what makes it stand out in a world where competitive character-driven games are dominated by the juggernaut that is Overwatch?

The issues circling around Battleborn can almost surely be traced back to its marketing. While its biggest competition, Overwatch, was widely marketed and took up ad space all across the internet, Battleborn seemed to be virtually invisible. After talking with a group of friends, we all realized that we never saw a single advertisement on the internet or on television for Battleborn. Sure, there was the E3 trailer and the videos posted to the developer’s YouTube page, but it almost seems like Battleborn didn’t even have a marketing budget. This resulted in developer Gearbox not being able to spread their message and their product to a majority of gamers.

It also doesn’t help that the hype for Overwatch went through the roof. Blizzard is a legendary developer known for making genre-defining experiences, so when they announced that they were going to make a competitive first-person shooter, it was all anybody could talk about. Unlike Gearbox, Blizzard poured their heart and soul into marketing their game. You can see this shine through in the gorgeously animated character videos done to promote Overwatch. Not only were these Pixar-level animated shorts, they made the public connect to and love their characters.

With Blizzard dominating the marketing for this type of a game, Battleborn seemed to have its back against the wall. While I wish I could be writing about some underdog title that rose up to beat their Goliath, that’s sadly not the case for this story. In attempt to combat the competition, Battleborn released on May 03, 2016. With Overwatch releasing on the 24th of that same month, I can only imagine Gearbox put their game out beforehand to try and get it in the hands of as many people as possible before the bigger, more well known, and more anticipated title landed.

While the game received some positive reviews (it’s now sitting at 69 on Metacritic), it didn’t manage to become the critical or commercial success Gearbox was hoping it would be. Releasing twenty-one days before Overwatch might have helped sales a little bit, but when the 24th rolled around and Blizzard’s game released to universal acclaim, almost the entirety of the Battleborn player base dropped away.

Thankfully, despite its outside issues, Battleborn is ridiculously fun to play.
While there seems to be nothing but comparison between Battleborn and Overwatch across the internet (which is understandable), the two games are vastly different. Where Overwatch is more of a traditional first-person shooter, Battleborn is a first-person MOBA.

In Battleborn, you pick from a wide roster of characters with several abilities to create a powerful team to combat your foes, and while Overwatch follows the same approach, the difference is in the execution. If you’ve played League of Legends, DOTA, or any similar MOBA, you’ll be able to grasp Battleborn pretty easily. You move through the enemy lane destroying turrets, minions, and enemy players, all while working towards the end goal, which changes with each mode.

There’s also a meaty campaign that finds the universe in peril, with the Battleborn being the only hope to save the day. I played through the campaign in split-screen with my brother and we had an absolute blast. Gearbox is well known for their hilarious Borderlands series, and that same sense of humor carries over to Battleborn. Odd, eccentric characters abound in Battleborn. Whether it’s the crazy scientist Kleese, the gentleman robot Marquis, or the crazy cultist Ambra, Battleborn is full of several memorable characters who never ceased to crack me up with their witty banter.

Battleborn also includes an EXP system similar to an RPG or traditional MOBA. As you level up, you can upgrade your abilities with additional effects and powers via a skill tree that resembles a strand of D.N.A. Your level is set back to 1 at the beginning of every match and mission, so you can level up in different ways every time. This allows you to level up your character depending on what each individual match calls for. Learning how to best utilize the skills from leveling up to fit your playstyle is part of the fun of Battleborn.

Likewise, you also have a player level that levels up the more you play the game. As you level this up, you unlock more characters to play as. While I wish all of the Battleborn were playable from the start (like the characters are in Overwatch), I am starting to enjoy the thrill of unlocking them.

Another feature I’m enjoying is the lore challenges for each Battleborn. To unlock parts of a characters lore, you’re given a list of character exclusive challenges to complete. Some are for winning matches under certain conditions, some are for getting certain amounts of kills with a skill, and some require you to beat campaign missions on the harder settings. Similar to the rest of the game, the lore is usually pretty funny, giving you a deeper understanding of each character while delivering a good laugh at the same time.

There’s also a deep loot system that’s full of countless items to buff your characters stats. Similar to Borderlands, there’s a rarity system implemented into this as well. The rarer the piece, the better its buff. You unlock this gear from playing campaign missions, with better loot dropping on higher difficulties. Also, every Battleborn has one unique piece of gear that’s only unlocked after completing all of their lore challenges.

However, my biggest problem with the game stems from its rocky launch and small player base. I literally haven’t been able to get into a single match online. I waited in a lobby for twenty minutes and only connected to two other players. I love these characters and their abilities, so playing with them against other players sounds like a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I’ve had to resort to only playing bot games or the campaign. While these two modes are still a lot of fun to play, I wish there was more people playing so that I could try the game as it was intended.

Hopefully the rumors of it going to free-to-play are true. This would hopefully breathe life back into the game, resulting in more people picking it up. It’s a shame to see that despite the poor marketing and sales, there’s a good game waiting to be played. I feel like the majority of the poor views on the game come from people who haven’t played it, and I sadly think the game might be too far gone in reputation to make a solid comeback.

Regardless, the campaign, characters, humor, and bot matches have provide me with hours of entertainment. Is it a perfect game? No, but it doesn’t need to be. And while the small player base means you may not be able to play the game as it was originally intended, there’s still a lot to love in Battleborn.

So yes, I’m defending Battleborn. I absolutely think it’s worth checking out. If the rumors are true, then you may be able to play it for free soon. Besides, what do you have to lose with a free game? Who knows, you might even end up loving it like I do.

– Zack Burrows

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