You don’t have to look far to see how influential the MOBA has been on modern blockbuster games, and Battleborn is the least apologetic when it comes to wearing those influences proudly. Gearbox’s sprightly FPS already has a per-match levelling system spread across 25 characters with unique skill trees, but the PvP Incursion mode is perhaps the most blatant nod to League of Legends.
I played a round of Incursion last week, and as someone who has long wanted League of Legends with first-person shooting, this is basically what I’ve been looking for. Two teams of five spawn on opposite ends of a laned map, each with a gaggle of minions serving as cannon fodder for the opposition. These minions can also deactivate the otherwise impenetrable shield on enemy sentries, and destroying these sentries is the aim of each match.
In keeping with the MOBA theme, the map I played was roughly parallel, though it was less “laned” compared to an earlier Incursion map Gearbox has shown off. Instead, the grassy, labyrinthine ruins are full of shallow hidey-holes and flanking opportunities, and the openness allows for quick changes of tack. Unlockable turrets can be activated with shards, which are mined from shard clusters spread throughout the map.
I played as Mellka, who stands among the more conventional characters in Battleborn: she packs a “venom launcher”, which is basically a pistol, in addition to a fancy gauntlet she uses to punch things to death. During another round I played as Orendi – a multi-limbed creature with magical projectiles. The latter – in addition to several other heroes I witnessed in Battleborn – demonstrates that this is only very loosely a first-person shooter. At times I felt like I was playing a first-person Smite, rather than a MOBA-influenced Borderlands.
Indeed, most characters have primary weapons that shoot from the hip and eschew the tight, powerful feedback that most conventional shooters take pains to perfect. This is a first-person shooter only by name. Rapid movement and an intimate knowledge of both the hero’s weaponry and their skill tree feel more important assets than the ability to aim and fire.
My team, a gaggle of Australian games journalists, weren’t quite organised during our first round of Incursion. Activating as many turrets as possible is a must, so charging all nearby shard clusters in the opening minutes of a match feels critical. Given the honeycomb layout of the map, minions and enemy players encroached upon our territory from every direction, and things heated up a lot quicker than they usually do in standard MOBAs.
Even though the 20-odd minute rounds intensify quickly, there’s still a refreshing sense of climax to every battle, given the rapid in-match skill acquisition. Matches never taper off – they just get more fraught. That also has the side effect that, once you’re losing, it feels like you’re pretty much stuffed. Each death results in a longer wait to respawn, naturally pushing the losing side into a more defensive approach towards the end of the game. My team, hapless as we were, started ramming our opponents with the juvenile arrogance of a young rhino and, naturally, got our backsides handed to us.
I enjoyed my time with Incursion, but I do have reservations: it could have been the low skill level of both myself and my team, but shoot-outs often resembled the type of MMO encounter where flashing lights and impressive effects obscured crucial visual information. With a handful of minions, player characters and Sentries on the screen, there's a lot to parse. I felt like spamming fire in the general direction of the enemy was my only option at times, and I sense that my co-op buddies and opponents felt the same way.
I've played other Battleborn modes, and that sense of dazzling futility doesn't affect the game as a whole. Indeed, it might be testament to Incursion's longevity that it has a relatively steep learning curve. Still, as an entry level MOBA player myself, I quickly understood the spirit of Incursion, and while it's not as immediately appealing as some of Battleborn's more free-ranging, Raid-esque game modes, I feel like it might be the one that people end up playing the most.