I remember, way back in 2016, taking in Battleborn, coming away from the experience with a decent amount of enjoyment. As it’s now the fifth anniversary of the release of the game, I thought it would be fun to look back and see what memories I can dredge up from my time with the game. So come with me down memory lane and we’ll see how the MOBA stylings of Battleborn worked.
The first thing that attracted me to Battleborn was the pedigree of those behind it. Coming from Gearbox Software and published by 2K Games, this combination has only ever meant one thing to me: Borderlands. So, as you can imagine, when a new game featuring all-new characters was announced, I was all over it, expecting and hoping for a similar experience. Was I disappointed with the end result? Well, yes and no. You see, the descent of the game into a free-to-play model later in its life-cycle was a particular low point, but more on that later.
Starting with the positives though and the work that was put in to the characters was very good indeed, and it was fairly easy to find a character that you clicked with; one that you could invest some time in getting to know them and their foibles. Battleborn even looked a bit like Borderlands too, with a first-person perspective playing out, and beautifully hand-drawn visuals and a colourful style of game delivered. The similarities are quite striking.
It was in the gameplay where things diverged from the tried and tested formula. With Borderlands, the story was all, with multiplayer bolted on as a co-op experience. In Battleborn, the story was, to be brutally honest, pretty weak, and the main thrust of the gameplay seemed to be aimed squarely at the PvP modes. To be fair, the PvP wasn’t too bad, and with a variety of modes to choose from, it was easy to find a match, at least in the early days from release.
There were many options too, with Meltdown being an escort mode where AI controlled robots had to be sacrificed while killing enemy robots, Incursion which was your typical MOBA, leaving you to capture an enemy base while protecting your own, and finally Capture, which is pretty much Conquest from the Battlefield series of games. After a while, and in an attempt to drag players back to Battleborn, there were two further modes added. These were Face-Off, where masks had to be captured from defeated mobs and deposited in your base, to score points, and finally Supercharge, which unlike the other 5v5 modes is restricted to 3v3, otherwise basically working the same as Meltdown, with the addition of a Supercharge pad which gives the team holding it various advantages.
The single player, or to be more precise, story mode (the campaign mode could be played with friends or random folk off of the internet) had an interesting premise. The whole universe seems to have been destroyed, and the majority of the survivors have been gathered around a star called Solus. The leader of the baddies, Lothar Rendam, started a campaign of terror by destroying all the stars, and so a coalition of the rest of the peoples, called Battleborn, are sent on various missions to save the day. The thing that I remember most about the campaign was the humour in the writing, with wacky enemies to kill, including a robot who was having an identity crisis. The action was good too, the writing was laugh out loud funny, and while the story was somewhat slight, there was fun to be had when playing with friends.
The big problem for Battleborn, ironically enough, wasn’t anything of its own doing; more a case of timing. You see, shortly after the launch of Battleborn, the player base pretty much fell off a cliff, and this was all due to Blizzard’s latest release, Overwatch. Compared to Battleborn, the new kid on the block was much more polished, and much better designed. As a result Overwatch is still going strong today. Battleborn? Not so much.
As an example, by July 2016, a full two months after release, the maximum number of players on the PC platform had fallen to below 1000, from a high of 12000 concurrent players when the game launched. It has been a sad story of a slow collapse and decay into, among other things, a free-to-play model, which was a real kick in the teeth for those of us who bought Battleborn back in the day. Despite this, there were a couple of perks to having actually bought the game over playing the free version. These weren’t anything major, giving access to all the characters when you played instead of a rotating roster of characters (just like the free to play version of Killer Instinct back in the day), and in addition to that you could set up private games to play with your friends.
The final nail in the coffin though came in January 2021, when Battleborn’s servers were finally shut down, once and for all, rendering the game unplayable.
In the conclusion of these Looking Back articles, I generally pose a question to the readers of my scribblings: did you play the game, and are you tempted to give it a try based on what you have read? However, this time around, I can only ask you about the plays of the past, as even if you were to buy the game right now, it would not work at all. This is because the game was always online, and without servers no possibility of play exists. Honestly, this does make me a little bit sad, as while I didn’t play Battleborn for very long (neither did I play Overwatch, I should make clear), what I did play was fun, and the loss of the possibility of that fun again saddens me.
So, these are my memories of Battleborn, a short-lived but fun game from the same stable as the brilliant Borderlands. Did you play back in the day, or did you prefer Overwatch? Let us know in the comments!