Battleborn Incursion Mode Preview: More Than A MOBA

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Much has been said about the fresh direction Gearbox Software is taking with their latest game. Described as the developer’s most ambitious title to date, Battleborn seeks to straddle the line between video game trends old and new by combining elements of multiplayer online battle arena titles and first person shooters. To achieve this the game maintains two separate modes that, while related, offer very different experiences.

While Gearbox Software prefers to call Battleborn a “hero shooter”, the game’s Incursion Mode has lent itself to comparisons to MOBA titles like League of Legends and DOTA 2. At a recent preview event at the 2K offices I was able to get my hands on it for a few hours to get a direct look at what it will entail.

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Incursion Mode plays out as a team vs team based game of capture the flag, only in this case there are two sets of sentry bots and the goal is to blow them up. Matches last for 30 minutes, and teams are tasked with escorting a fleet of robotic drones to two key defense points while also protecting their own. A number of assist turrets and drones can be purchased on the battlefield, using star shards which are collected from clusters along the paths on the map.

There are currently 25 heroes to choose from, each with very specific abilities based on their associated archetype. The character selection screen features four tabs, and each tab also has specific submenus; for instance a Lore tab in each hero’s file offers new information about them as missions are completed, while Gear allows you to adorn various talisman gained from achievements in battle. A detailed profile of their attacks and passive player boosts helps plan for a match, while the stats screens makes note of which missions have been played and what difficulty level, how long they took to complete, and other notable achievements. Anything you could possibly need or want to know about your character or your performance in combat is available for perusal.

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There are three ways for your characters to “level up”: the first is within each Incursion Mode match, which will allow you to pick up to ten boosts or bonuses from the helix-structured skill tree while in-game, for a total of ten levels. Another system unlocks a characters potential, called “mutation”, which can be used to further hone and customize their build, while an overarching profile-based rank, like the Badass Rank from Borderlands, applies boosts and bonuses over all of the heroes you use in Battleborn.

The character balance between all the heroes on the roster is excellent in that powers between co-op players can be combined in supremely effective ways. Strategizing around the abilities of the colorful cast of heroes, who together more resemble a fighting game roster than one for a MOBA, is half the fun. The game also does a good job of covering its bases when it comes to typical shooter and team-based game characters, standards of the genre with their own twist: sniper/archer, tank/berserker, healers, and interesting spins on each. Their personalities come through predominately through the snippets of dialogue and battle cries, of which there are hundreds for each hero. Among them, there will be something for everybody.

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This was my first time playing Battleborn, and as I got comfortable with the game I was immediately overcome by nostalgia for Borderlands. While some of the key features that personify Borderlands are missing (most notably the tiered loot drop system), the ghost of the series lingers on. It haunts the menu, map, level layout, HUD, gameplay challenges, and even the environment modeling, closely mirroring the rocky crags of Pandora and the metallic platforms and open plazas of tech-focused locations like Opportunity and Helios. Even the character interjections and voice acting seem familiar.

Obviously this is a byproduct of being made by the same team with many of the same artists; within a development studio there is often design overlap from between games, for instance many of the crossover features between The Elder Scrolls and Fallout . While it evoked a sense of comfort it equally felt repetitious; for those whose enjoyment of a shooter or MOBA relies on the stimulation of new environments in which to shoot things, the aesthetic elements of Battleborn more stale than familiar. This will largely depend on the amount of time put into Borderlands.

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If I could sum up the mode in a single word, it’d be: chaos. The character design of the heroes has been described as the product of pure unrestrained creativity, and in combat, it shows. The animations and attack effects are the stuff of carnival barkers: fantastic, unbelievable, absurd. Combined with the sheer amount of players and assorted support figures on-screen, it is be downright overstimulating. The player is given almost no time to think, and this can be panic-inducing when choosing a leveling bonus during combat or getting familiar with a new chosen hero’s attacks. I suggest before playing Incursion Mode first testing them out extensively in Story Mode, (which will have a preview for on March 23rd). Oh and snag Ambra if you can: in the two hours I played, this powerful Egyptian inspired robo-lady came out as the most useful and well rounded character of the entire roster. She will likely become a fan favorite.

Ultimately I enjoy the Incursion Mode. It’s a challenge to adapt to the MOBA pacing but with the creative line-up of heroes I’m motivated to rise to the occasion despite my general dislike of the genre. With the many features of the game that mirror or closely mimic its predecessor, in many ways it feels like Borderlands with a MOBA mode, especially the emphasis on team balance. It brings to mind the constant re-speccing and character building of Borderlands, a feature that kept the game fresh and adaptable as personal tastes and teammates changed. Between that and the wildly imaginative roster I predict Battleborn will be a hit.