Battleborn rolled into PAX Prime 2015 this weekend after a strong showing at Gamescom, determined to continue that momentum with an enormous booth statue and the latest build of their ambitious shooter/MOBA (0r multiplayer online battle arena) hybrid title. After a couple of rounds through the story mode demo level, Gearbox may have cracked the difficult challenge of blending a pair of seemingly disparate genres together with a blend of careful presentation and narrative design.
First and foremost, the shooting and movement in Battleborn feel smooth and responsive on an Xbox One controller. The bow and arrow wielded by the archer character Thorn had a versatile blend of quick and charge shots, augmented by a multi-arrow spread shot for mass damage. and an area of effect burst for crowd control while the hulking Caldarius combines a quick firing energy pistol with rapid dashing and missile bombardment abilities optimized for boss fights. The controls have an effective blend of actions upon press and actions upon release based on context, a design that many other shooters frustratingly continue to struggle with. The actual act of jumping has the floating sensation of classic Halo titles while the variety of dashes and boosts provide an expanded array of tactical options: I repeatedly dove off a ledge onto a surface below that was blanketed in energy shard resources, quickly collect them and speed burst away as Caldarius before sustaining substantial damage. Quite handy!
On top of that, the game layers in a (non-persistent) power augmentation skill tree that lets you enhance the properties of your special abilities with a range of buffs and performance enhancements. The aforementioned energy shards can be used to add powers and abilities to friendly NPCs, build defensive turrets and more: savvy players should keep their eyes peeled for floating crystals that can be broken apart for rich deposits of shards. Combined with a science fiction setting and a large selection of unique heroes (about 10 available at the demo, 25+ at launch), Battleborn should have a character to fit almost any preferred play style.
The game feels like a combination of Borderlands and Destiny, while eschewing the persistent RPG elements that made both games occasionally drag between the climactic set pieces. The demo carries over the story driven tiered objectives and bombastic presentation from the former including a big text splash for major characters to kick off epic fights, bold humour and a love of huge reveals: Gearbox Software looks set to launch an exciting new universe in 2016 that draws from the elements that have made them successful and blown it up to create something really bold in Battleborn.