It’s good to mix things up.
Gearbox finally revealed the final two characters for their upcoming shooter/MOBA thing, Battleborn. There’s Kleese, an old man in a hover chair-tank, and El Dragon, a buff Mexican wrestler with giant robot arms. Yes, these are both characters in an actual video game due in May, and they’re joined by a talking bird, a guy with three swords, a Victorian era dressed robot (with his cute little owl) and a penguin in a mech suit.
The game looks pretty great, and part of why is just how crazy Battleborn is willing to get with its cast of characters. It’s not every day you see a AAA video game, much less a shooter, throw up its arms and let the team go nuts with character design. That, as it turns out, was a more or less intentional move from Gearbox. In their Game Informer cover issue, they openly stated that if anyone on the development team had an idea for a new character, the fiction would be bent to accommodate the new arrival. It sounds like a nightmare for the writing team having to justify everyone’s existence, but it also may end up being a strength in the game’s favor.
In the past decade or so, most shooters have fallen on the spectrum of “grim, grey present day military war” or “we really loved Star Wars and aliens, we hope you do too.” Take the stylistic similarities between titles like Call of Duty, The Division, and Homefront: The Revolution. Though these games don’t necessarily suffer from it, they often cover the same thematic ground, and Battleborn benefits from branching so far from this.
During a press Q&A when the game was first shown off, art director Scott Kester said that to him, each playable character was “the main character of a game that hadn’t come out yet.” This rings so true that it’s almost hard to believe these characters exist in the same universe. Hailing from different factions of multiple alien races, characters are distinct in their alliance yet soulless tropes. This isn’t just science fantasy, it’s science fantasy times 100.
Battleborn shows that a unique style can be just as important to a game as mechanics. Of course, Gearbox isn’t the only one to leverage this. Visual games full of personality are on the rise, titles like Splatoon and Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, which are so out there that they almost live in another star system. And, of course, there’s also Blizzard’s Overwatch, which literally looks like they kidnapped a character designer for a Pixar superhero movie.
There’s not a thing wrong with shooters and games focusing on post-apocalyptic environments and grim stories, as we’ve seen with the success of The Division. But they’re like having Chinese food for lunch and dinner every day. Sometimes you have to mix things up and try something new. Battleborn’s a blend of multiple personalities, from wacky humor and grand sci-fi, to first person shooters and MOBAs. Regardless of how well the game ultimately plays, its cast of characters and spectrum of heroes is something to be commended.
But seriously, any game that’s got a penguin in a mech suit is a day one buy.