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Dissecting The Elements And Influences Of Battleborn

by Jeff Marchiafava on Jul 23, 2014 at 09:00 AM

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In 2009, Gearbox's hit Borderlands set itself apart from other action games by combining the fast-paced combat of first-person shooters, the varied skills and progression of RPGs, and the endless loot of dungeon crawlers into a new and unique experience. For Battleborn, the developer is once again blending ideas and elements of a number of genres. We break down the core components that simultaneously make Battleborn feel familiar and unique.

Team-based Competitive Matches
What It's Like: Ever since the inception of team deathmatch, first-person shooters have been mixing cooperative and competitive play. Battleborn's five-player team size encourages and rewards groups who play together as a tight-knit squad, similar to shooter series like Battlefield and Rainbow Six, as well as the multiplayer offerings of the Left 4 Dead series. Battleborn's Incursion mode, which we played during our visit to Gearbox, was structured similarly to MOBAs like League of Legends and Dota 2, tasking players with taking down the opposing team's base and a pair of A.I.-controlled mechs in between.

Why It's Different: While MOBAs may be the easiest comparison point for the structure of Incursion mode, Battleborn plays like a shooter through and through. The matches we played had more of a tug-of-war feel than most competitive shooters, with both the scores (earned from killing players, NPCs, and taking down the opposing team's massive spider mechs) and map territory constantly oscillating between the two teams. The smaller player count also makes matches feel more intimate than most shooters, while the inclusion of NPCs (which we'll discuss later) ensures there isn't much downtime.

A Massive Roster Of Playable Characters
What It's Like: Gearbox likened the game's stable of playable characters to the fighting-game genre, and the comparison is apt; each hero not only sports his or her own unique abilities, but the wildly different themes and aesthetics of Battleborn's gang of misfits reminded us more of a Marvel vs. Capcom or Mortal Kombat than a shooter. MOBAs like League of Legends and Dota 2 also have giant rosters of disparate and unique characters, making it another obvious comparison point.

Why It's Different: Many shooters like Battlefield and Team Fortress 2 feature different classes with unique abilities, but they pale in comparison to Battleborn's extreme sense of variety. The closest comparison would be Evolve, but unlike the hunters in Turtle Rock's shooter, the characters in Battleborn aren't just limited to guns; melee-focused characters like Rath and Phoebe change up the feel of battles and team tactics even further. I played as five of Battleborn's characters, and each felt satisfyingly different – Thorn in particular felt like she was from a completely different kind of first-person game, but still somehow meshes with Battleborn's world and gameplay. I'm looking forward to seeing some of the wilder characters like Phoebe and Caldarius in action, but on the whole, Battleborn's stable of unique heroes is what distinguishes the game most from other shooters.

Coming Up Next: We break down Battleborn's leveling system and A.I.-controlled combatants...

Helix Leveling System
What It's Like: Battleborn features a rapid leveling system that resets after every match. This style of session-based leveling is another hallmark of the MOBA genre, and allows everyone to start on an even playing field. In the shooter genre, Counter-Strike's money system played a similar role, allowing players to purchase new weapons and items between rounds with cash earned from that match. However, Evolve's monsters are a more apt comparison to Battleborn's characters, as they also level up during the course of a single match, unlocking new skills and abilities as they progress. 

Why It's Different: Most shooters feature lengthy progression paths that award the best items and weapons to those who have been playing the longest. In comparison, Battleborn's leveling system feels more accessible and fast-paced; in the matches we played, I rarely went more than a few minutes without leveling up and unlocking a new bonus, which provided a continual and satisfying sense of progression. Battleborn's leveling is also more streamlined than other games; each level of the upgrade helix offers players a choice of two augmentations, selected with either the left or right trigger. This either-or structure seemed limiting at first, but each character I played as felt markedly different by the end of each match, which has me eager to experiment with different builds.

A.I.-Controlled Characters In Multiplayer
What It's Like: From MMOs to strategy games to shooters, many genres have incorporated A.I.-controlled characters into their multiplayer offerings. On the shooter front, Star Wars: Battlefront and Titanfall both fill out the ranks of their respective warring factions with autonomous soldiers, while Left 4 Dead's A.I. zombies give the series' multiplayer modes a distinctive style. The creep-like minions and massive spider mechs of Battleborn's Incursion mode once again call to mind games like League of Legends and Dota 2, albeit with some unique twists on the MOBA genre's structure.

Why It's Different: Battleborn's A.I.-controlled minions give the five-versus-five matches an added layer of depth and ensure every player can contribute to their team – even if they suck at competitive multiplayer. Minions aren't difficult to take down, but can be dangerous to your hero in packs, and are vital for destroying the opposing team's heavily shielded spider mechs. These giant robots fill the same role as towers and turrets in Dota 2 and League of Legends respectively, but in practice they just feel like massive, overpowered enemy bosses that you need to blow up before assaulting the other team's base. They can also move around their respective area on the map, making them more lively (and deadly) targets. The A.I.-controlled characters in Battleborn help facilitate leveling up your character without detracting from the player-versus-player match-ups that are at the heart of the game's competitive experience.

Learn more about Battleborn's playable heroes by checking out our week of character profiles, located here, here, and here. For more on the game, visit our Battleborn hub by clicking the banner below.