How Battleborn's RPG mechanics extend its replayability

Our sister site GameSpot spent four hours with Battleborn, upgrading 25 characters through the extensive Command system.

Battleborn's combat may be confined to half-hour matches, but its rewards last much longer. And with 25 characters, dozens of gear items, and hundreds of challenges, there's a plethora of rewards to be had.

Billed as a "hero shooter" by developer Gearbox Software, Battleborn is an amalgam of several different disciplines: first-person shooting, competitive multiplayer and MOBA strategy -- all nestled under an umbrella of RPG progression called the Command system.

By combining each of these into a cohesive whole, and creating a consistent web of unlocks across its modes and characters, Gearbox is hoping to craft something with more longevity than its individual parts.

The Command system hearkens back to the Badass ranking of Borderlands 2, an earlier Gearbox title with multitudes of challenges across each playable character. It not only encouraged multiple playthroughs, but tracked players' career progress over dozens--even hundreds--of hours.

"We like games with depth," designer Graeme Timmins said during a recent demo at publisher 2K's headquarters in Novato, California. "And we like RPGs. Obviously, Borderlands has incredible depth. We wanted to speed that up, in individual Battleborn matches, but also have this overarching sense of leveling up the more you play the entire game."

After four hours playing Battleborn, that progress is apparent on both levels. That is, unlocking character abilities for each match, but also improving the overall Command rank throughout the metagame.

The Command system's milestones unlock myriad improvements. At level five, I gained an extra loadout slot for subsequent matches. By garnering 25 multiplayer kills, I got an experience boost for Benedict, one of my favorite characters. This raised his individual rank, paving the way for mutations to his flying abilities and rocket launcher attacks. And by accruing enough in-game currency, I bought an item pack with randomized buffs, armor mods, and health boosts. Each match yielded its own rewards.

In turn, these items and upgrades and alterations fed into the next match, and the next, and so on. Of the four hours I played, each campaign mission and multiplayer match contributed to my overall standing in Battleborn's universe. I unlocked new characters. I upgraded my favorites. I tried new ones.

"I come from first-person shooter land," Timmins said. "I love Quake and Doom. I love Team Fortress 2. And Battleborn is, first and foremost, based around first-person combat. But it encompasses so much more. There's a real sense of self-improvement we're trying to get across."

My progress during the demo manifested in Battleborn's Incursion mode -- multiplayer matches with MOBA inspirations. My team of four heroes and I escorted lesser AI minions along a central lane, inching them closer to the enemy's sentry robots. We set up turrets to make counterattacks more difficult. We gathered currency shards to hire mercenary robots for our cause. By destroying the sentries and pushing toward the opposing team's base, we whittled away at its collective score, and when 30 minutes came to a close, we had sustained less damage than the other team, and won.

After a couple hours, I collected more than a dozen new loadout items. When playing Caldarius, for instance, I pre-equipped my best damage buff to augment his offensive prowess. As Boldur the tank, my main focus was health -- so I brought armor into battle. As long as I had enough currency shards -- which were scattered across the map -- I could easily equip them at any point during the match.

Lastly: the Command system is tracked across both the campaign and multiplayer elements in Battleborn. So, players could focus on either exclusively, or use experience from one to train for the other. In the interest of making Battleborn accessible, Gearbox is trying to cater to both camps.

"We originally experimented with a system that was very MOBA traditional," Timmins said. "But we pushed the RPG mechanics instead, and simplified the MOBA characteristics. Battleborn's pace is faster now because of that decision."

With seven starting characters and an additional 18 to unlock, Battleborn's RPG elements hint at a longevity sometimes absent from multiplayer shooters. The extensive web of unlocks, items, improvements, and challenges are enticing, and could be the thing to set Battleborn apart in the multiplayer shooter landscape when it releases on May 3.

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