Open Beta Impressions: DOOM and Battleborn
Last weekend was a pretty big one for betas, with DOOM (not Doom, DOOM!), Battleborn and Overwatch all clamouring for attention. I didn’t get into the Overwatch beta (again) but I did get to spend a good amount of time with both DOOM and Battleborn. Here are my thoughts :
DOOM’s open beta is a multiplayer only affair, and has divided gamers everywhere, with a huge amount of angry criticism landing on the shoulders of Bethesda and id. I should state multiplayer has never been what I’ve looked for in a Doom game, and in some ways I feel I played the series so far completely differently to some. The originals I didn’t have the internet or the inclination to play multiplayer, but I always did enjoy the atmosphere. Indeed, I rather enjoyed Doom 3, which a lot of people bounced completely off of. This isn’t to say I don’t like arena shooters, as I was a huge fan of both Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament (and the new Unreal Tournament), but I never saw the Doom series as a fast-paced fragfest like many have, which has probably impacted my opinion of it.
It certainly is an arena shooter, but with some odd twists. Chief among them is the loadout system, which limits you to two weapons, plus any bonus weapons you pick up. You can choose from between three premade loadouts to start with, and as you play you gain the ability to create your own loadouts. There’s also a large array of customisation options, though we don’t know the full extent of them, but its been revealed further customisation will be in the form of paid DLC. The game world is littered with armor, ammo and health pickups in the vein of many arena shooters, but the lack of spawning weaponry to pick up leads to a less tactical gameplay style than UT or Quake. It’s fleeting fun, but it feels like its been overly modified to appeal to the mainstream mass market, and as a side effect it feels like there is a hole where the soul of the game should be. It’s almost as if every time a member of the development team said ‘We want this to feel like an oldschool FPS’ someone upstairs in marketing said ‘Sure, but only if you slap this part of popular modern shooters in with it’.
It just leads to a game that seems confused over what it wants to be and how often it feels this way is mind boggling. The game certainly is fast paced, but oddly, the movement feels rather slow. The weapons should look and feel fantastic, but when fired they feel distinctly underwhelming. The PC controls often feel slow and unresponsive, as if they were designed as an afterthought with little testing. There’s health, armor and ammo scattered around that can give you an advantage in a scrap if you think on your feet, but ammo is plentiful and I just ended up constantly using the rocket launcher and the lightning gun without ever needing or wanting to change. There’s even superpower pickups that give you massive damage or turn you into a demon, but they just spawn randomly in the level, not in an area that is any challenge to reach, so you aren’t getting a reward for anything when you get it, you just feel like you won a lottery to be in the right place at the right time.
Even the beta itself captures this division in its two modes, deathmatch and warpath. Deathmatch is the usual first team to X frags killfest, nothing interesting there, but warpath is a far more interesting capture and hold of a moving area of the map. It plays like king of the hill, except in this mode the ‘hill’ moves. It’s a really nice little idea that works well in this kind of game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the only interesting multiplayer mode the game has when it comes out alongside the usual free for all and capture the flag variants.
While I hope the single player comes with enough atmosphere to provide a gripping solo experience, the multiplayer overall is fun to begin with, but spend the time to peek underneath the pretty effects and visuals, and you’re left with a rather generic shooter with few interesting innovations to its name.
Battleborn is the next game from Gearbox, creators of the Borderlands series of games. This is worth mentioning mostly because if you’ve played Borderlands, Battleborns gameplay and flow will feel remarkably similar. In the story missions, you play as part of a team (though you can play solo, I found it just as dull as solo play in Borderlands!) fighting through the landscape, using your combined weapons and abilities to defeat the enemies standing between you and your goal, picking up loot, listening to the excellent shenanigans of the vocal cast and taking down bosses on the way. However, in comparison to Borderlands, the character roster is much, much bigger (there were 25 characters in total that could be unlocked during the beta), and instead of levelling up your character as you play, characters start at level 1 at the start of a mission, and go up to a max of 10 by the end of the mission, gaining new traits along the way. Its a game that comes alive with a full team, as you chuckle over the dialogue and figure out the best ways to combine your abilities to progress.
The problem comes in that each character only has two basic attacks, 2 abilities and an ultimate ability, and then the in game ‘gear’ that you gain through missions and can activate when you’ve collected enough in game currency during a mission. Fighting the hordes of enemies and bosses can be often underwhelming as you often hold down primary attack and point at/run at what seems to be the enemy weak spot, pressing Q E or F when they are off cooldown. Once again, you could have this issue in Borderlands, considering characters only had one active ability, but at least there this was somewhat mitigated by the huge array of weapons on offer and their different types that you could switch out at any time. In Battleborn, however, if you take a character with a dull primary or secondary attack you’re stuck with them for the whole of the mission, and when that happens it can just feel like a dull slog through a mass of healthbars that need to be taken to zero.
The reason for this difference in playstyle is clearly down to the multiplayer side, an FPS MOBA that is clearly trying to bring a few interesting new ideas to the table. Ultimately it is decent enough fun to begin with, but falls flat slightly over time and replays due to a lack of complexity. You can buy minions, upgrades and turrets, but you cant buy gear or level up your abilities in any way other than the 10 level ups you get in the story missions and the equipped ‘gear’ loadout. It plays out like a FPS version of Heroes of the Storm, but with less to do on the map. What’s worse, the aforementioned activatable gear comes in different rarities, with the higher end gear giving some pretty strong buffs. These can give you a ridiculous boost during a fight and completely destroys the previously level playing field.
There’s certainly a good fistful of content here, with the characters, missions and multiplayer all providing lots to do. Its fun in a group, in both modes, while everything is fresh, but I just cant see any lasting appeal. Its not going to get a competitive audience, and casual players are going to run out of content after they’ve tried each character or played through all the story missions. DLC is scheduled, but there’ll only be so many extra chunks of content Gearbox will be willing to add. It almost feels like Gearbox wasn’t sure about making either Borderlands 3, or a brand new MOBA, so they decided to make a little bit of both. In doing so, they’ve made a game that looks like it might be fun for a time, but when the basic gameplay can feel so stale I don’t think I’ll have any desire to keep playing after I’ve sampled the characters and completed the story missions.