Back in April, I took part in the beta for a game called Battleborn. In the short time I spent with it, I thoroughly enjoyed the game. I found the deep and complex gameplay system incredibly rewarding, the individual characters you could play as all amusing and fun and different, and the short snippet of the campaign as enjoyable, challenging, and hilarious. All things I’ve come to expect from any game from Gearbox and 2K, the same two studios who created the Borderlands series.
But first, let’s talk about what Battleborn is. Battleborn, to most people’s surprise, is not an Overwatch clone. While it may also be a hero shooter, the gameplay is very different. Battleborn takes a more traditional MOBA style approach, with various lanes, towers, minions, and a mid-match leveling system, all wrapped up in a highly-stylized FPS package. It also comes with something many people were upset Overwatch didn’t have, which is a campaign that you can play solo. While it’s not necessary for a game to have a campaign to be good under any circumstances, more content is always better, especially with such a polished, humorous plot. If you’re a fan of the humor in Borderlands, you’ll love Battleborn.
One of the main reasons for which Battleborn failed is marketing. We all know that marketing is a very, very important tool when it comes to selling just about anything, and while Gearbox and 2K utilized marketing, their approach left something to be desired. In an interview earlier this year, Gearbox president Randy Pitchford stated that the way to market a first-person shooter is to focus on what abilities the characters had. This shaped the development of the game as well, leading to 25 different heroes with different abilities, which is what the marketing team seemed to focus on. In the launch trailer, there was no mention of the plot, no background information. It was all in-game footage of various characters that we never got the name of, doing “cool-looking” attacks and taunts. While it certainly looked good, it gave nothing for the consumer to identify with or look at and say, “Hey, that seems really interesting.”
In contrast, the launch trailer for Overwatch was entirely plot-focused, centered around the four characters Winston, Tracer, Widowmaker, and Reaper, giving us no in-game footage, but providing a sense of wonder and giving the consumer something to attach to, and characters that were instantly recognizable. The differences are certainly ironic, with the focus on plot-based marketing for the game with no plot hyping it far more than the game with plot that marketed no story whatsoever.
The gameplay itself was also a glaring issue when it came to drawing in new players. The first-person MOBA formula was a match made in Heaven, for those who could figure it out. MOBAs are already incredibly complicated, and while the system worked great and had plenty of depth, it turned away droves of new players that preferred the much more simple, much more fluid Overwatch. Of the time spent with Battleborn, a solid 4 or so hours was spent getting the hang of the mechanics, especially since I don’t play MOBAs very much in the first place. The issue is most people don’t want to spend 4 hours or more of a game learning how to play the game.
I play this game with sadness, as it had the potential to be a heavy hitter, had it been given more time and marketed properly. But now, even as a free to play game, it can’t catch a break. I would encourage you to give it a shot, and see what could’ve been for yourself. I would love to know your thoughts and opinions down in the comments.