The first thing that strikes you in Battleborn, the latest obscenely over-the-top shooter from Gearbox Software, isn't a bullet, blade, or blunt object, but its striking visual style. An eye-pleasing blend of Pixar-like polish and anime-style edginess, its pop-off-the-screen presentation makes the studio's cel-shaded Borderlands look like it got the rubbish end of the rainbow.
Despite appearing as though it jumped from the pages of a comic book, Battleborn's visuals aren't nearly as colorful as its characters. A few hours into its story mode, we find ourselves firing elemental blasts from behind the four palms of Orendi. A cackling Chaos Witch who taunts targets with gems like “Look up and open your mouth so this will bake your intestines!”, before summoning a pillar of fire from the sky, she could easily carry her own game.
While a far more interesting protagonist than most first-person shooters' super-soldiers and space marines, Orendi represents just one playable character in a cast of 25. Among the other two dozen heroes is a bearded, bubble gum-chewing grunt who mows down baddies with a minigun, when not stomping them into oblivion with his “Mansformation” ability, and Marqui, a bowler hat-sporting robo-chap who can command a golden owl to do his bidding.
Most characters possess primary and secondary attacks, as well as specialized skills that can be tweaked and upgraded throughout each story mission or multiplayer match. This latter feature will be a divisive one, though, as it forgoes the deep, slow-burn leveling of Borderlands for a more rapid-fire approach to character growth. Players can feed their leveling addiction a whopping 10 times per mission, but their stats are reset upon completing the chapter.
An eye-pleasing blend of Pixar-like polish and anime-style edginess.
Of course, this structure encourages experimenting with the different characters— which can be swapped between missions — while also supporting the game's team-based multiplayer modes. Battleborn's story-driven content is, in fact, best enjoyed with friends. It's slightly chaotic unleashing hell alongside four comrades, but laying waste to ugly hordes with one or two buddies by your side will certianly stretch a smile across your face.
As fun as it is plowing through the co-op campaign with a team that could potentially consist of a mech-piloting penguin, a spore-shooting mushroom soldier, and a lumberjack who can carve his own likeness out of a log, Battleborn's story doesn't deliver the same imaginative energy as its personality-packed cast. Missions involve objectives of the familiar defend, protect, kill, and escort variety, while the save-the-universe narrative mostly fades into the background.
For most, the story mode will serve as an appetizer to the multiplayer main course. Mixing and matching the 25 characters in the game's three competitive modes—Incursion, Capture, and Meltdown—is the meat of the experience. And, between the trio of modes, six maps, and a brimming slate of playable heroes, there's a decent amount of content to dig into, with more DLC on the way.
Early in Battleborn's story, a commander responds to a call for a plan with “Blowing stuff up's workin' out good so far. I was thinkin' we'd do more of that.” If you can get behind that line of thinking, this clever, character-driven take on team-based combat will easily exceed your expectations.