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Our Battleborn Hands-On Impressions

We spent two days at Gearbox's studio learning what sets Battleborn apart from other multiplayer shooters, but you can't divine how fun a game really is until you play it for yourself. That's why we were thrilled when the developer handed us the controller and dropped us into the five-versus-five Incursion mode. Here are our early impressions, based on several hours of hands-on play.

Incursion mode pits two five-player teams against each other in tense, tug-of-war multiplayer matches. The goal is to infiltrate and attack the opposing team's base. Four massive, A.I.-controlled spider mechs (two per team) stand in the way; players attack or defend them during the course of the match with the help of a steady stream of smaller autonomous minion droids. Read on for our impressions of the mode, as well as Battleborn's host of unique playable characters and the rapid leveling system that resets after every match.

Character Diversity

Jeff M: I'm really liking the new trend of shooters offering up a bunch of different playable characters that all have their own unique abilities, and Battleborn is taking that idea to the absurd. Gearbox says it's aiming to have 20 playable characters in the main game, and the nine we saw were all over the map in terms of design and abilities. Battleborn's Call of Duty-inspired grunt Oscar Mike played exactly how I expected him to as a shooter fan, but Thorn – the swift, elf-like archer – was much more agile and required more concentrated strikes. When we first heard that Gearbox was trying to create characters based on every style of first-person game and put them all into one competitive shooter, I was intrigued, but thought it might end up being a disaster. As soon as we started playing, however, it felt totally natural and fun. I don't think any FPS fans are going to have a problem finding characters that mesh with their play style.

Tim: The problem with most competitive multiplayer games is that if you're not great at a specific gameplay mechanic out of the gate – like twitch-oriented first-person shooting – then you have to endure hours of repeated deaths at the hands of veteran players until your skills are passable. What I like about Battleborn is if you're struggling to take down enemies as one character, you have a ton of other heroes to choose from that play differently at a fundamental level. For instance, one day I might be better at lining up single shots than spraying targets continually, so the heavy damage of Thorn's bow works better for me. Or maybe I'm the type of player that prefers sneaking up and delivering swift melee damage before fleeing, so the sword-wielding Rath might be the way to go. Characters have their own learning curve and play style, which I think is going to help keep the match-to-match action feeling fresh.

Ben H: I can't help but root for the underdog. When surveying the roster of potential characters to play in Battleborn, I was just scanning for what would be the least popular choice. I settled on Miko, the androgynous mushroom creature that plays more of a support role. Miko's primary attacks involve throwing blades that regenerate. Outside of the wildly different abilities, Gearbox does a nice job reminding you of the unique properties of the characters within a first-person perspective; one of the first things that stood out to me when playing as Miko is that its "skirt" flaps up in the camera's view a bit whenever you jump.  Miko's ultimate ability (which unlocks at level 7) has the character remove its mushroom cap and set it on the ground, creating an area of effect that can damage enemies or heal teammates. Miko doesn't have a lot of health, but can fully regenerate over time. The most terrifying moment was seeing Rath charging right at me with his swords swinging; all I could do was throw a toxic spore sac his way before running and praying for the support of a beefier teammate. I appreciated the oddball nature of Miko, but it probably isn't the easiest character for your first venture into Battleborn.

After Miko, I was in the mood for some meat and potatoes FPS-action. Oscar Mike fit the bill perfectly. This space marine with a machine gun and grenades spits out action-movie one-liners like "Today is a good day to not die and stay alive." It was satisfying seeing my old rival Rath in a heated battle and lobbing in a devastating frag grenade from a safe distance. Another really satisfying character was also the most visually striking: Marquis, the aristocratic robot sniper. You can look down while running and see his gangly robotic legs flailing about and other players can see him struggling to keep his hat on his head. My favorite ability with Marquis is deploying a robotic owl that circles a small area and attacks enemies that stumble across its path. Battleborn's creative director Randy Varnell aptly compared this ability to the Vulture's spider mines in Starcraft. It was bittersweet to die on the battlefield, and then see my robotic owl enact sweet vengeance on my killer.

Coming Up Next: We discuss Battleborn's Incursion mode, environments, and rapid leveling system...

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