Previews// PAX Round-Up: The Banner Saga 2, Battleborn

Posted 8 Sep 2015 16:36 by
Chris O'Regan, host of The Sausage Factory podcast (which takes a deep dive into the development process with games studios, you should listen to it), has travelled to the future to sample the games that will be interfering with your older brain. When we say the future, we mean PAX Prime. When we say 'interfering with your older brain', that is exactly what we mean. Read on for what he found...

The Banner Saga 2
Developer: Stoic Studio
Format(s): Windows PC, Linux, Mac, iOS, Android, PS4 and Xbox One

The original Banner Saga left a huge impression on me and I was especially excited to hear that its sequel would have a presence at PAX Prime 2015. Thankfully this anticipation was well deserved as the time I spent with The Banner Saga 2 during my fourth and last day at the event amply demonstrated.

The Banner Saga 2 follows on directly from the events that occurred in the original title. Knowing how impactful the story is of The Banner Saga I shall not spoil anything here for that game in this preview. I will say, however, that seeing familiar characters in this new game was somewhat heart-warming and did much to encourage me to play.

Like its predecessor, The Banner Saga 2 is split between tactical combat events that depict events happening in real time vs.and a choose-your-own-adventure-like experience with an overarching storyline that tells the tale of a rampaging enemy across a Scandinavian inspired landscape. The same mechanics of the turn-based combat and the levelling up of characters are present in The Banner Saga 2 along with the incredibly beautiful and striking visuals.

The Banner Saga 2 takes on the traditional concept of sequels by leaving alone what worked well and adding gameplay aspects that would only enhance the experience. The key change that I noticed during my hands-on play with The Banner Saga 2 was the inclusion of barriers. These are obstacles that exist within the tactical battle map, which can be destroyed. They can slow the progress of approaching units and do much to offer respite to those units that need to take a breather during engagements.

It's an interesting addition and one I wasn't expecting to see as I was unaware of its absence in the original game. This is probably why it's such an inspired inclusion as it adds a new layer of tactics to an already complex and engaging game.

The Banner Saga 2 will be arriving some time in 2016 and will appear on pretty much every format you can possibly imagine, which is no bad thing.

Developer: Gearbox
Format(s): Windows PC, PS4 and Xbox One

As a developer, Gearbox Software has the rather odd habit of spending an inordinate amount of time making very bad games. I know this is terribly negative as an opening sentence to a hands-on preview, but hear me out on this one.

Aliens: Colonial Marines is so bad it became the subject of a class action lawsuit simply because it was so excruciatingly awful. Similarly Duke Nukem Forever was justifiably vilified for being one of the worst FPS titles ever to grace anyone's screen.

E3 2015
E3 2015
But despite this Gearbox Software keeps on going, thanks in no small part when they get things ever so right. Borderlands is just such a title that essentially saved Gearbox Software from oblivion, and from what I played of Battleborn I believe the studio may have a similar game on its hands.

The premise of Battleborn is that the universe has largely been obliterated by a race called the Varelsi. The surviving races have converged onto the last remaining star system known as Solus. They have all banded together to rid the universe of the Varelsi by volunteering the best fighters each race has. These are known as the 'Battleborn' and the player takes on the role of these combatants whose sole mission is to eradicate the Varelsi.

Battleborn is unashamedly a hybrid title that borrows from FPS, tower defence and MOBA games. At its heart Battleborn is an FPS that relies on the player understanding the unique characteristics of the person they are controlling.

The demo I played had me in control of Marquis. He is a servant robot in a similar mould to Kryten from Red Dwarf, only he has no compunction in harming others thanks to being changed by a malevolent AI. With his sniper cane he is able to take out enemies from a very long range and thus is very much a support unit.

He also has a familiar in the form of a mechanical owl called Hoodini (no seriously, that's its name) that can be thrown into a clutch of enemies, only to see it explode and cause a significant amount of harm. Marquis is very much the 'high dps' of the character roster in Battleborn that doesn't take kindly to being damaged in any way! In other words 'NO TOUCHY!!! NOOOO TOUCHY!!!!' is very much the order of the day.

E3 2015
E3 2015
The mode I played during the demo was, I believe, a part of the story, which is a co-op experience that has everyone pulling together for a common goal. This is very familiar territory for Borderlands devotees, but Battleborn takes the concept of classes to extremes as each character takes on a very different set of skills that put them in clearly defined sections of the engagement.

When I played Marquis, for example, I stayed well back and let the melee based characters, such as Boldur, to literally smash their way through the waves of enemies. As I did this I found my head shots from afar did much to thin the host of enemies, much to my satisfaction.

Each character in Battleborn has a unique set of skills and abilities that can be leveled up during play. It is at this point the influence of MOBA games becomes quite obvious as the player is required to distribute skills points within a two-pronged skill tree that is mercifully simple to understand during the thick of an intense battle.

As an example, Marquis has the ability to create time distortion bubbles that, once entered, slow time down, allowing the player to land well aimed head shots at creatures within the distortion. The size and length of time this bubble exists increases every time it is chosen to be levelled up.

E3 2015
E3 2015
The presence of Battleborn at PAX Prime 2015 was almost overwhelming with a very large statue installation dominating one of the two main expo halls and with it a constantly looping demo reel of Battleborn being played over a screen the size of Belgium. The queues to play the game were extensive and deservedly so, as it is a really entertaining game that successfully borrows from a raft of genres and mashes them together and somehow does not become a Frankenstein's monster of a game, making it greater than the sum of its parts.

Battleborn is due to arrive on 9th February 2016 on Windows PC, Xbox One and PS4.

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