I was privileged to get an invitation from 2K Games to join them at Gamescom 2015 for a presentation of their upcoming new franchise, Battleborn. After a warm welcome, I got a presentation from the big man, Randy Pitchford, himself. After the presentation, we got some hands-on time with Battleborn and even talked with some of the Gearbox staff.
if you like Borderlands and you aren’t into Battleborn yet, IT’S TIME!MentalMars
Table of contents
While still looking over at the Battleborn artwork hanging on the wall of the briefing room Randy started his presentation. This wasn’t the basic presentation that you got at the public booth. He was telling how Gearbox Software is now making its third IP, Battleborn (The others being Brothers in Arms and Borderlands). So he started with the story of how the universe started collapsing and how all these different kinds of civilizations ended up around the last star called Solus. And that all these species have different opinions about how to move on, like saving the star or just going out with a bang believing there is an afterlife. You could notice Randy was enthusiastic about the game and how he sometimes got sidetracked and started telling background information. For example, who did the art direction for Battleborn. But before I get sidetracked let’s continue with the story…
So we got to the last star, leading this assault is the warlord, Lothar Rendain. Once part of the Jennerit Imperium but now he’s the leader of the Jennerit Empire. Rendain made a deal with the Varelsi, the evil entity that’s responsible for the darkening of the stars. By helping the Varelsi he will get to travel alongside of them to their dimension. As the other factions learn about this threat they manage to put their differences aside and team up against the evil.
After getting to know a bit about the story behind the game we were presented with these four new Battleborn; Benedict, Mellka, Ambra & Reyna. As they loaded in the different heroes we got a quick overlook of what they could do. The fun part about this was that some of my predictions in my “Who is” articles were actually true. They are somewhat executed differently but I was right with some of the core elements.
Benedict – Peacekeeper
August Benedict Jr. is one of several surviving races of bird-like “Aviant” refugees. He swore allegiance to the Peacekeepers where he’s gained considerable notoriety for being a self-centered jerk that’s capable of astounding destruction with his rocket launcher. Double jumping, rocket jumping, and flying – Benedict’s good at all of them and he lets his teammates know it.
Yes, Benedict has a rocket launcher and has flying capabilities. He has a really fun attitude of letting the other battleborn know how cool he is. I liked the way Gearbox made use of his wings. One of the abilities is that Benedict can use his wings to get out of dangerous situations and his Helix skill tree lets you customize this move. With Liftoff Benedict will jump into the air, you can choose to add a backjump to this moving you away from the danger. But if for example you are playing through the story mode (PvE) and a wave of enemies is swarming you, you can add some extra between you and the enemies adding some knockback to this move scattering your enemies. But if you are in a multiplayer scenario (PvP) you might want to add a slowing effect to your foes with this move as you are playing against other gamers. Slowing down opposing Battleborn also helps your buddies land their shots. There is also a skill that will let you do a double jump and get even higher into the air. This way you can get more airtime if you are gliding through the air. Because if you hold down the jump button Benedict will spread his wings and soar through the sky.
Another ability of Benedict is to shoot guided rockets. He will slam his rocket launcher to get the thing going. This will shoot out a rocket that homes towards your opponent. Your helix skill tree will let you extend its homing duration, and you will be able to add extra rockets to each shot. By choosing the right skill you can shoot 3 rockets instead of one. Other handy skills for your rockets are the level 3 skills. Do you choose to faster reload speed so you can shoot more rockets or do you choose faster traveling rockets? So if you are good at predicting where your opponent will be you want to fire as many rockets as you can. But if they are good at dodging your fire, you can speed up your rockets resulting in more hits.
Benedict’s ultimate ability lets him shoot a guided missile, but instead of a homing device, you are in control of the rocket. As you fire this baby an awesome HUD will appear and you will go in first person mode of the rocket. This lets you pick down those baddies. Remember Benedict is a swift character but this powerful ability makes him a sitting duck. So don’t go on an excursion with your badass rocket because your character will be free target practice.
Mellka – Eldrid
A stealthy assassin, Mellka lost her parents at a young age before eventually earning her place among the Eldrid’s black op’s and intelligence bureau. Her life has been defined by a series of staggering losses, but her response to these losses was never despair – it was fury. She strikes quickly, disorienting foes with her nerve gas machine pistol and bio-glaive melee attacks.
Mellka kinda plays like Caldarius as I predicted. She had a mutated art and a pistol. This kinda plays like a Bioshock game, giving a left/right gameplay. In one hand you got your gun and in the other, you got your magic attacks. BTW. The attachment underneath the barrel is the ammo clip. So I can stop speculating about that. One of Mellka’s abilities is a forward dash, the Claw Lunge, as she quickly moves forward she can strike an opponent and deal great damage. Mellka’s Skill tree, the Helix, has some stacking capabilities like you might know from Borderlands. If you perform a certain action you gain a stack, the more stacks you gain the better a power gets boosted. Mellka has the capability the use venom. Poisoned enemies take more damage from melee attacks, including the Claw Lunge. So shoot an enemy with Venom then get in for the kill. Killing these poisoned enemies will play their role throughout Mellka’s Helix.
Ambra – Jennerit
Born into an ancient order of priestesses responsible for discovering a way to prolong life indefinitely, Ambra was betrayed by her leader and her faction, the Jennerit Empire, and now fights alongside the Battleborn. She is a specialist hero, dealing damage up close through her melee attacks and powerful abilities, while healing her allies in the process.
Ambra is like an Egyptian sun priestess for the Jennerit and this totally falls into my prediction. Her taunt was over the top, how wrong can you get by letting her do the ‘walk like an Egyptian” dance move? It’s so wrong that it becomes right, I had to laugh at this. I love the fact that Gearbox doesn’t take things so seriously and has a little fun. I envisioned Ambra to be a support character and she can totally do that. She can heal her team, but also can spec into a more offensive playstyle.
Sunspot creates up to 3 spots that will explode on touching them. These will heal your party members but deal damage to your enemies. Casting these does take a brief moment but can be sped up with your helix.
Solar wind is a shockwave that will knock back your opponents and deal damage to them. But this ability can also heal your friends.
This is Ambra’s Ultimate ability and I said in my prediction she would be dropping a Spirit Bomb like Goku in Dragon Ball Z. But it’s actually a meteor dealing massive damage. Randy (and co) showed off this move in the testing stage. They got into an arena that showed tiles that matured impact. While a simple melee strike had a hitbox of 3 tiles. This meteor had a blast range that expanded almost as wide as the testing area. I think it’s somewhere around 30 tiles. All tiles lit up dark red. The darker the color the more damage that tile received. This ability is strong but it took some time for the meteor to actually impact.
Reyna – Rogue
Known by her followers as “The Valkyrie,” Reyna was born aboard the Rogue faction’s ailing junk heap of a flagship and is a native to the last star system. Reyna has fought tirelessly for the freedom of her space pirate comrades, finding her calling as their inspirational leader. She dishes damage with her laser pistol and uses her command glove to support her teammates.
It was about time that Reyna got officially introduced as a playable character. She was part of the first few characters that got introduced with the exclusive hands-on of Game Informer last year. At Gearbox panels, during PAX, the development team talked about her, but she was absent during the introduction of the first 10 characters. During my presentation, Randy was quite brief on Reyna. So maybe he was trying to gain some time because they had fallen behind schedule. The thing you immediately notice is that Reyna holds her pistol sideways (gangsta style).
Reyna had the ability to overshield her party members. This even applies to the Eldrid faction because most of them don’t have a shield. Reyna also had the blast cannon that you can lock onto targets.
So here comes a very interesting part of the presentation. Although Randy stated that the menu we got to see was a temporary setup he did go into more specifics about the loot we could collect within Battleborn. This is also one of the systems that carries over from Borderlands and they kinda work like class mods. Throughout the game, you can find these pieces of gear, you earn them after each match or you can buy them with your shards. Just like Borderlands, they come in different rarities like the common white ones and the rare purple ones. Each piece of gear has unique features and they can affect everything.
So you got your common boost like gaining a certain percentage of bonus damage on your melee or primary attack. Faster recharge delay or speed of your shield. They also seem to hook into your helix skill tree to boost your abilities, like more power or a shorter cooldown timer. even more cool is that they can unlock new skills in your helix skill tree giving you the option to choose between 3 skills instead of 2.
Loot for Multiplayer
Another unique boost I noticed was more centered towards the multiplayer aspect (PvP) of the game. There was a skill that would let you augment the opposing force shield by giving your enemy a lower shield or slower recharge capabilities. Gives you the upper hand unless your foe chooses to play as the eldrid Battleborn and therefore has no shield. Making your boost useless. This brings some unique gear to Battleborn as you could affect your character, your team, and even the enemy. Looking at some of the icon designs some seem to be more faction-based. So picking the right character could make a difference. Battleborn is all about character choice and even some pieces of gear are character-specific.
The temp. menu screen we saw had 24 inventory slots (24/24). I don’t know how many you can store, but since Borderlands had more inventory space than the 24 from the preview menu, I think there will be more space to store your gear. I do know that you will be able to take 3 pieces of gear with you during each battle. You will be able to make presets of your favorite gear, creating specific load-outs. Be warned using the best gear comes with a price. In able to use them you need to have the shards to back it up in order to activate them. So remember get all the shards! The gear that was shown off, had a price tag of ~1250 Shards in order to enable it. You will be able to sell your inferior gear but from what I have seen they don’t add a lot to your cash flow (~50 Shards). You can always trade with a friend, but at what price is still unknown. With Borderlands 2 you could just give it, ask for money, swap items, or dual for it.
UPDATE: Created a dedicated Gear FAQ
- Page 1 – Intro, Benedict & Mellka
- Page 2 – About Ambra & Reyna
- Page 3 – About Battleborn’s Loot
- Page 4 – Battleborn Hands on Impression
Hands-on with Battleborn
After the presentation, I finally got to play Battleborn. Coming to Gamescom knowing Gearbox & 2K would announce 4 new characters I was kinda hoping to play as one of these heroes. This was not the case, just like the visitors from SDCC, I got to play the E3 demo. The mission on the snowy side of Blizz. Beforehand I had a hard time picking which Battleborn I would play. Almost not being able to pick 1 of the 10 characters and adding 4 more would have made it a harder choice.
You might ask which character did I pick, well the answer is none.
After the presentation, I was talking to Jeff from Gearbox and someone picked a character for me so they were able to start the game. So when I got there my team was already fighting their first battle. So for my first playthrough, I got to play as Rath. Before going to Gamescom I didn’t want to play a melee character. It’s a shooter, first-person view isn’t made for melee gameplay. But playing as Rath made me change my perspective. Yes, he was an aggressive character, getting in close, and always on the move. But his skill set was great, I liked his abilities. Making my choices in the helix system changed my abilities and I started liking these moves more and more. Having the Crossblades come back to deal another wave of damage was great. Rath is a powerful hero and his skills load just right to use them quite often, dealing with the waves of enemies. I also liked his ultimate ability, the spin2win (dreadwind), i wanted to use it more but the cooldown didn’t let me., it’s just that good.
Overview of Rath’s abilities.
For my second run, I picked Caldarius. Recently I did see a gameplay walkthrough of him and the person playing didn’t do a great job at first. Caldarius seemed really squishy and he is, but you have to play the right way. Before Gamescom I also thought Caldarius wasn’t for me, he is a fly that you can crush with ease. But Rath surprised me so I took my chance. Caldarius has a hit-and-run playstyle, knowing that lets you play him just right. You need to get in close get those melee hits and get out of there. Caldarius abilities do help him get in for the kill. The flashbangs make your opponents go blind for a brief moment and the Gravitic Burst lets him come in close with a bang. Making good use of these abilities and picking your moments lets Caldarius do massive damage in that brief moment. So I managed to go down just once and I’m quite proud of that. Not because I’m a terrible gamer, but I think Caldarius does need some skill/strategy to play. In the right hands he can be lethal, but seen in that gameplay video he didn’t stand out as a badass.
Overview of Caldarius’ abilities.
Near the end of my GamesCom visit, I went back for another go at Battleborn and picked a less aggressive, in-your-face, character. Oscar Mike, your typical soldier. As he may seem basic is did like his diverse move set. Yes, he has the frags, but you can alter them to do crazy things. Turning them into a napalm kinda strike. For my level one tier I was kinda greedy and picked ‘sneak attack’, dealing +20% damage to any attack leaving stealth mode. Yes, more damage!!! but now my frags don’t detonate on contact. So I hated my first choice. By knowing how the frags bounced off the surface I was able to predict its impact. By selecting the incendiary upgrade I started shooting my frags to the ground and making the napalm fall in the area of my choice. Increasing the area of effect on my frags made the surface of Blizz a sea of fire. Those Varelsi coming through the portals never knew what hit them.
Later on, I picked the skill where if you exit your cloak early you will get a reduced cooldown. This was useful for my first helix choice, sneak attack, now I could use that +20% damage more often. Also, the final boss had a rough time as I upgraded my ultimate ability, the airstrike, to the focused laser beam that deals more damage. When exiting stealth mode I hit the final boss with my laser strike and it ate through its lifebar. Awesome!
I had a great time playing the game. On my 3rd playthrough, I started teaching others how to play the game. I noticed one that kept following my lead. The game looks great. I have invested a lot of time covering Battleborn at Forehand. It did cross my mind what if I don’t like the game? If you haven’t yet noticed, I LIKE IT !!! I was skeptical about the 2D visuals you see during the trailers, but during my hands-on experience, it didn’t feel weird or stand out. The characters I played were diverse and not as flat as you might think. The helix makes all the difference and that’s just one of the things you can level in. The loot / Gear looks promising and can make some strategic choices, add the variety of turrets you can build and I can only dream what this would mean for the online multiplayer. I asked Jeff if there would be a Battleborn Xbox One console that I could buy. But I need to get one soon because I need to play the beta! So if you like Borderlands and you aren’t into Battleborn yet, IT’S TIME!
Battleborn will be in a galaxy near you on February 9, 2016, for PC, Xbox One & PlayStation 4.
I would like to thank my friends from 2K Benelux for the invite and all the lovely people from Gearbox & 2K Games at Gamescom!