If you haven't heard about Battleborn, we wouldn't be at all surprised. The game seemed to materialize out of thin air about a year ago as the next project from Gearbox Studio of Borderlands fame. Battleborn was a surprising announcement, given everyone expected them to be working on the surefire blockbuster of Borderlands 3.
Battleborn certainly exhibits all the trademarks of a Gearbox game. The off-beat gameplay, large cast of memorable characters and and hyper-stylized look of the game smacks you in the face right from the get-go. In fact, the game's opening sequence looks like it could be spun off as its own TV show, as it gives glimpses into many of the quirky playable characters available in the game. Unfortunately, the awesome 2D animation style used in that opener doesn't translate into the game which opts for a more ho-hum 3D approach. Still, the style is there and makes for a unique look when the landscape of other games continues toward ever-increasing realism.
Once we dug into the game, the realization quickly washed over us that Battleborn's gameplay is some of the most polarizing we've seen lately. On the one hand, the huge cast and clever skill trees full of character buffs (which reset after each round) are a wonderfully creative approach to the Battle Arena style missions. Battleborn's "Live Together or Die Alone" motto gets pounded into you, both in cut-scene exposition and in the simple fact that the game emphasizes teamwork, to the point of solid matchmaking that rounds out your five-man team at the outset of every match.
Conversely, the downsides are just as obvious as the things about Battleborn that make it great. Multiple game modes add variety to the missions you're tasked with tackling, but some of them are slow slogs through tired levels (each game type only offers up two maps at launch) that lack imagination in both mission and environment. Had it not been for the co-op nature of the game and the fact that we were playing with a group of our buddies, the more stagnant elements of playing would have undermined the enjoyment. Instead, playing with friends made up for it as we compared stats and worked to improve while competing among ourselves.
Battleborn promises to address some of these downsides with further updates from both free DLC packs and a paid season pass. In an era of video games where shipping too soon is the surest path to failure, we're surprised that 2K is resting on future promises to save a new IP. Just look at Evolve’s wasteland of empty servers. For now, Battleborn has a definite appeal that may not hook everyone outside of a devout user base but only time will tell if Gearbox’s new property has genuine staying power.