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    Battleborn Preview

    On our trip to Gearbox Software, we had the chance to play some of the competitive, five versus five mode.

    Recently, we got a quick primer on that offering at a preview in New York City. Gearbox rattled off a number of features that sounded familiar. Despite shunning the term MOBA (the studio prefers “hero shooter”), the competitive gameplay shares a lot of mind-space with games like League of Legends, even if the player perspective is entirely  different.

    The cooperative modes deviate even more significantly from the center of the MOBA sphere. These aren’t simply bot matches, but instead offer narrative threads and multiple, varied objectives as teams move through a linear map.

    Just like in the competitive modes though, players will group up on a team of five. In-game progression starts anew as players land on the planet, with each level earning an upgrade on a helix. Unlike MOBAs, which allow players to choose multiple upgrade paths, Battleborn pushes players to choose one of two related boosts.For instance, players that choose the dapper robot Marquis will be able to increase base damage or critical hit damage, sprint speed or regular movement, and different boosts for his clockwork owl that increase its strike damage or allow you to send another into the field. Since there isn’t the typical MOBA “return to base” for a breather to upgrade or buy items, Gearbox needed to streamline the process without muting the options for  character  building.

    In the cooperative playthrough I saw, players land on the Jennerit homeworld (one of the game’s five factions). This rocky, redskied world seems inhospitable.

    The team of five is guided through the mission by two off-screen NPCs. Kleese pilots a salvage vehicle and Mellka is responsible for acquiring access codes so the team can make its escape. These characters are the source of some of Gearbox’s notable humor, and the short demo included a number of funny moments. I was particularly pleased at the context-sensitive dialog among the playable characters, and Gearbox says that 500 to 700 lines have been recorded for each. Unlike competitive play, the cooperative mode rolls out closer to Left 4 Dead. The team progresses through the map,
    encountering set piece moments that advance the  encapsulated  story.

    In this setting, the squad first reaches a battle arena in which they have to take on waves of creeps, earning experience and leveling up. At level seven, ultimate abilities unlock, like Montana’s “Mansformation,” air strikes, group heals, and magical assaults. These are flashy and filled with their own humor (like Montana’s Kids in the Hall style “crush your head” to target his  Mansformation  attack).

    After wiping out the waves of enemies, the team moves on to a new objective. This time, it’s all about defense, like protecting Kleese while he harvests an enormous fallen star shard. Enemies flood in waves, and it’s a matter of holding them off until the invisible  timer  expires.

    From there, it’s a seek-and-destroy mission. A jammer is blotting out communication, and there’s no escape until the team knocks it out. The rhythm of the co-op missions starts to become apparent: move, fight, level up, rinse, and repeat. In bite-sized chunks, everything can be centered around the objectives in a satisfying loop.

    The demo ends right before an enormous boss encounter, but we get a sense for how the post-game plays out. There are three levels of progression: in-game, character, and profile.Each of the characters will grow as you use them, affording new build options, but not greater power (you’ll always start at level 1 in each encounter). Loot is earned at the end of the match, which will help you further customize your combatant beyond the helix upgrades.

    Each of the five factions will have some common threads and their own restricted equipment. For instance, the Eldrin Battleborn don’t have shields and the Jennerit typically have a life leech ability. This helps shape the narrative, but also creates some logic for the character design.

    Your profile will allow you to unlock new characters, and will be the repository for all the loot you’ve earned playing. This will likely be a measure of your skill level and not tied to power gains, again focusing on balance within a single co-op or  competitive  mission.

    There is still much we don’t know about Battleborn (in part because Gearbox is still in development and decisions haven’t yet been made). However, between our look at the game’s competitive offering in August and our recent introduction to cooperative missions, it’s looking to be a unique experience.

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