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We go hands on with the upcoming MOBA-like FPS hybrid from the creators of Borderlands.

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We don’t just play released games here at Popzara, you know! Sometimes our managing editor cracks the whip, leading all the writers to cower behind his desks. He’ll order a preview! A preview, he cries! Preview this game that’s not yet out! Tell the people what you see or you’ll face my scourge! I’m trying to avoid anything like that, of course, so I took some time this weekend to try out the technical preview for Battleborn, the upcoming FPS/RPG/MOBA from the makers of Borderlands.

This might come as a huge surprise given that it’s coming from the developers and publisher of Borderlands, but based on the technical preview, Battleborn is a lot like Borderlands. Like, a whole lot. The physics are similar and the humor is spot on. Instead of focusing on a vast collection of randomly-generated guns, though, Battleborn is more like a MOBA, focusing on individual characters with a specific set of skills.

Those characters are, of course, the focus of a game like this. In the technical preview there’s a selection of around ten, which many more promised to be available in the full release. The Battleborn range from the tiny energy-spewing witch Orendi to Montana, a hulking mass of man hauling around a giant minigun. My favorite was Phoebe, a graceful floating scientist wielding multiple rapiers simultaneously who combines powerful physical attacks with teleportation and stuns. Battleborn’s characters are dripping with charm in the style we’ve come to expect from Gearbox, launching quips back and forth during combat and striking poses when you taunt.

Naturally, the marketing line on this one at the moment is that it’s not a MOBA. That’s understandable; MOBAs get an entirely justified bad rap both for possessing an agonizing learning curve and for being full of selfish assholes who’d like nothing more than to ruin your experience. Years of saturation in the genre have done basically nothing to address these problems. They’re a good time if you can get some friends together or if you can overlook nerd rage, but the same issues plague every title in the genre.

I must confirm that it looks like a significant portion of this one is going to be a MOBA. The competitive multiplayer in the preview consists of guarding creeps as they progress down lanes from one side of the arena to the other while simultaneously attempting to kill the other team’s creeps. All the while you’ll be coming into conflict with other players and sorting it out with diplomacy, tea and rapiers to the face. You can construct turrets and other support structures, though during my time with the game I found these to be weak and easily destroyed; you’re better off spending your currency on spawning better creeps or activating the boosts in the loadout you set up before each match.

Smite has several modes that play a lot like this and Battleborn mirrors the pick-up-and-play qualities of that game to some extent; given that they’re both a bit more action-focused than the average MOBA, they’re a little easier to get into for new players. It’s still absolutely a MOBA, though, and claims to the contrary are disingenuous at best. Despite this, matches are in-and-out affairs that begin and end quickly, ensuring that the usual rage over hour-long matches in your average MOBA is less present here.

There’s a story in place here as well, and the technical preview offered a single stage’s worth of it. This looks, feels and plays pretty much exactly like a new Borderlands game. A crazed AI lambasts you with threats and bad jokes as you battle your way through a compound while fighting off evil droids. Your characters’ movement and combat abilities are responsive and visually impressive; it’s a great time, though at least one friend complained that the graphics were a little too bombastic at first, with neon and explosions flying all over the place. Eventually you’ll make your way to the stage’s boss: Geoff, the giant spider-droid, which you’ll take on in a phased battle where you’ll take breaks to battle mooks After defeating Geoff, you earn some loot and the game wraps up. It’s very short, lasting around 15 minutes at most, but running through this stage is a great time and suggests that Battleborn is a worthy Borderlands-ish FPS/RPG.

That’s pretty much all the content there was in the preview, so at the moment it’s difficult to say a huge amount about how worthwhile Battleborn will be when it’s fully released in February. For what it’s worth, though, I had a great time trying the game out, especially once I got a few friends into the mix. Barring any unforeseen issues, I’m looking forward to giving this one a shot next year – MOBA or no!

About the Author: Cory Galliher