It’s now been about three months since the MOBA/FPS hybrid Battleborn was released and then promptly kicked out of bed by the the insanely-hyped Overwatch. I owned both games. I played both games extensively. I enjoyed both games immensely. I wrote multiple articles about both games. Then I moved on for a while and played other games.
But competitive FPS multiplayer never really dies, does it? It’s an itch that occasionally needs to be scratched. It’s why Halo and Call of Duty continue to be massively successful franchises even as the single player campaigns continually degrade. It’s why Destiny is still a thing. Many of us need games like these in our lives to give us something to fight against and get better at; something that isn’t predictable like AI opponents are. Gamers like me crave the chaos that can only come from other gamers and so I feel like I always need a designated PvP shooter on my shelf.
I’ve already detailed my thoughts on things Overwatch did better than the competition as well as being released as half a game because Blizzard crafted it as an afterthought to a failed project in order to recoup expenses, whereas Battleborn was at worst a full game that was a bit light on content. When Gamestop offered me thirty dollars to sell back a sixty dollar game I felt was highly overpriced, I was actually excited at the thought of recouping my own investment in Overwatch having done everything worth doing many times over. But Battleborn? I felt like I had so much more left to to do in that game. I couldn’t part with it.
So why is somebody else probably playing my copy of the current big thing in gaming and likely Game of the Year while I continue to spend time on a game that got creamed on Metacritic and is usually laughed off in the gaming community as a nonentity? Well, I’ve got five good reasons right here…
Battleborn has one of the best playable casts in any game ever, and perhaps the most ingeniously developed. There are characters I played for over ten hours in-game and was still hearing new dialogue from them. And there are twenty-seven of them with more on the way. Admittedly, Overwatch has possibly the best character models ever in a shooter from a visual standpoint, but beyond the pretty graphics and endearing animations they are shallow, shallow, shallow.
The quotable quotes from Battleborn’s cast could fill this article. They are routinely hilarious and each have random quips for every situation both in the campaign and in PvP. If you are 3edgy5me and are enraged by the thought of your characters actually SPEAKING in-game, you have the option to turn it off, but personally I find the vocal performances and writing in this game to be absolutely outstanding. You can infer so much about the characters, their pasts, and their relationships to each other from their in-game trash talk and observations that it’s actually staggering to think about how much care went into it. No cutscenes are necessary. You learn about them while you actively roast their compatriots or the bad guys.
Beyond that, by completing certain milestones, you unlock lore files which can take the form of backstory details coupled with cool art or even funny little voice-recorded skits that are almost always good for a smile. My favorite so far has to be aquatic avatar Alani’s recorded message drafts as she tries to find a way to make friends on the team. In PvP you can occasionally hear her mention that she hasn’t received her invitation to the after-battle party yet and other little hints about her social awkwardness, but unlocking her outgoing voicemail really helped expand on it. Check it:
Beats the hell out of hearing Mei tell you that our world is worth fighting for for the millionth time, don’t it?
Overwatch’s awesome visuals and smooth gameplay have all of the makings of a true classic shooter. It’s a damn shame it doesn’t really give you anything to do beyond stand next to a car or stand in a glowing rectangle and shoot anybody who tries to stop you. I can’t wait for Blizzard to release a sequel that makes it all it could be, but right now Battleborn not only has a substantial co-op raid campaign that is a ton of fun, but their PvP modes are far superior to boot.
Overwatch thrives on a lightning fast pace; get in, git ‘r dun, next match. Battleborn’s multiplayer has a strategic depth to its objectives that goes so far beyond that, it can’t even be seen from where Overwatch is. The pace is slower (matches routinely last for half an hour) but the pay-off is there, and more time in each match means less time in menus.
Every match is much bigger than just a simple 5-on-5 (or 6-on-6) competition. There are fortifications to build, upgrade, and destroy, armies of minions to guide to victory or obliterate to hobble your opponents, currency to collect and spend to activate your gear boosts or build with, and that’s all on top of battling with the other team towards your objective.
You level up your character in-match to unlock new buffs and abilities as you go and as you complete challenges you gain experience and currency for unlockables as well. There are so many ways to help your team beyond either basic objective-sitting or player killing. If you maybe don’t have the skill to take on pros head-to-head, you can focus on slipping past them and destroying their base’s fortifications, gathering currency and building up your own defenses, or preying on minions .
Alternatively, you could be a harassment player using speed and maneuverability to hit enemies when they aren’t looking and then lead them away from the objective when they try to retaliate. You can focus on healing and support. There are characters that excel at all of these things. I love the thought of a FPS where you don’t have to just kill, kill, kill to succeed. That’s the kind of depth that doesn’t get old. For me, an evolving multi-faceted battle beats repetitive objective sitting all day, every day.
Fun fact about me: I don’t do microtransactions. Not ever. Battleborn is not an exception, but at least it has made me think about it. Overwatch’s approach literally appalled and insulted me. For one thing, Battleborn gives you in-game currency for every thing you do in the game.Win a match? Kick some ass during a loss? Complete a challenge? You get paid accordingly. And you can use that to buy loot packs on top of the ones you already get for leveling up. You can also buy the new characters if you save up enough.
To their credit, Overwatch gives new heroes for free, but that’s where the good ends. All other unlocks are tied purely to chance, which with my luck means I got almost nothing but tags, weak vocal lines to repeat ad nauseum, player icons (dozens to unlock, but can only use one), and skins for characters I seldom used. In-game currency that can be used to get things you actually want is also part of this lottery, but I seldom received any. But if I was willing to pay a dollar a pop (at a two dollar minimum) for the possibility of maybe getting something I might like -but probably just more worthless crap I don’t want- well, that’s a thing. Yay?
In Battleborn, unlockables are partly tied to leveling up each character and partly tied to the lottery, which you can enter using in-game currency which, as mentioned before, is not hard to obtain while you play the game. They introduced real money microtransaction credits for skins and taunts, but guess what? YOU CAN DIRECTLY PAY FOR THE THING YOU WANT! Again, I don’t spend money on such things, but it’s genuinely pleasing to know that if I want Thorn’s middle finger taunt to blast onto somebody’s screen every time I get a kill with her, I can just pay the two bucks and get it and not spend an open-ended amount of time and money feverishly praying that the next loot pack bestows it upon me.
I’ve got to say that the Overwatch community is the nastiest gaming community I’ve encountered online. From rampant fanboyism to unnecessary aggressiveness to general grossness, all negative stereotypical bases are covered. From the get-go, the fanart was full of childishly oversized T&A, the message boards were filled with arguments about whether Mei is “bay” or fat in addition to the usual screams that every single character needs to be both nerfed and buffed, and in-game chat was usually limited to people yelling at their families in the background, blasting bad music, or otherwise making terrible noises that ruin the game.
Not that the Battleborn boards don’t have people screaming for nerfs at all times, but the game genuinely seems to have attracted a different class of player. I actually had somebody thank me for healing him in-game. Literally, I was taken aback. He then invited me to PSN’s Battleborn Community which has built-in features making it really easy to find parties and matches and make friends, which is something I’ve sorely missed in recent years. It’s a whole different experience than playing with randoms, but I’ve met some really fun people randomly as well.
The message board discussions themselves seem to be more focused on technical discussion about the game and characters rather than how hot the girls are or how much they weigh. Plus, my search for bad sexual fan art yielded next to nothing. I’m sure it’s probably out there somewhere, but with Overwatch it’s everywhere.
But there is one thing that has been said about the Battleborn community that’s true and that is the inferiority complex that developed after the release of Overwatch. People who gave Battleborn the time of day as a general rule really love it, are pissed that there aren’t more people playing it, and are very vocal about their disdain for Overwatch. Unfortunately, this has created a rivalry they can’t win. Badmouthing a game everybody likes does not really inspire that game’s fans to want to support the one you like so much as trash it back. That said…
Battleborn is a different beast than Overwatch. Unfortunately, they are also really similar in and came out really close together. One had a massive advertising budget that would have been better spent on in-game content, but was released with cobbled-together assets of a failed MMO project from one of the richest companies in gaming to recoup expenses from said project. The other was a smaller game from a smaller developer best known for its quirky Borderlands series.
Borderlands was never expected to compete with Call of Duty, but somehow Battleborn has been completely eclipsed by Overwatch amidst the rampant and never-ending media hype. Such hype can be purchased easily online and it carries a ton of weight among casuals. That’s just life. It’s up to the hardcore to carry the smaller titles. Sales for Battleborn have been slow, but reports of empty servers have been more dire than the situation really is, which only serves to drive more gamers away when they should be giving the game a try without fear of not being able to find a match.
Wilt Chamberlain once proclaimed that “nobody roots for Goliath”, but in this case, that’s proven to be false. It’d be a tragedy to see a game like this fade away while mainstream gamers are arguing about which Overwatch girls are the hottest. It just makes me want to play it more. If you haven’t tried it and you prefer thoughtful strategy to a lightning fast pace and personality to eye candy, do yourself a favor and give it a go sometime. If you want to wait until the price goes down, there’s nothing wrong with that either. There’s plenty of room for two hero shooters on the market and supporting both is the best way to ensure more games like them get made and supported in the future.
Exclusively supporting Overwatch as it currently is sends a message that less content and depth in a game coupled with more hype equals more success, and rest assured other gaming companies are watching those numbers. Why put the work into fleshing out your characters or work on exciting and nuanced game modes if gamers just want the bare minimum gameplay and some waifu bait? I’d rather support companies and practices that focus on making the best games possible as opposed to just the most profitable business models.
Battleborn feels like a passion project built to be exactly what it is: a multiplayer-based companion to the rightfully beloved Borderlands series. Overwatch feels thrown together to make money as quickly as possible with as little investment as possible; a teaser of what could well become the dominant shooter franchise in years to come, but still just a teaser. There’s nothing wrong with loving Overwatch as it is, as it’s a really damn fun game, but let’s not get carried away and forget that there are other games out there either that give more bang for buck.
Personally, the current iteration with its massive hitboxes and condescending feature of counting every assist as a kill to make the player feel better about their K/D lost its flavor in weeks. But I feel like I will never run out of things to achieve and earn in Battleborn and the fact that a game with so much to offer has been discounted makes it an easy choice for me. And that’s probably the biggest reason I sold Blizzard’s billion dollar afterthought and kept Gearbox Software’s spunky alternative. Gamers know what it means to be swept under the rug and treated as not good enough by the mainstream. That’s reason enough to flip off the critics and support the little guy.