The month of May will see the release of Battleborn and Overwatch, two titles that can easily be confused for the uninitiated. Both feature team-based competitive FPS gameplay; both have zany sci-fi characters and heavily stylized visuals; both are brought to us by critically-acclaimed developers. So what, exactly, is the difference between these two titles? Are they just clones of each other, or are they fundamentally different games? While we can simply state that Battleborn is more akin to Smite and Epic’s upcoming Paragon, whereas Overwatch is more similar to Team Fortress 2 or Hi-Rez’s upcoming Paladins, let’s break things down completely.
1. Genre and Gameplay
Battleborn is a first-person shooter with MOBA elements, featuring both singleplayer and multiplayer game modes. Multiplayer focuses on five-versus-five player combat with clear MOBA elements: a roster of characters to choose from; AI “minions” for both teams, as well as neutral “mercenary camps” that can be captured; a leveling system that resets when a match begins, allowing players to unlock new skills and abilities throughout a game – complete with an “ultimate” power, of course; and items that can be purchased during a match once a player has accumulated enough currency. These items are unlocked through a form of loot pinata system, which provides players incentive to queue up for match after match in order to “farm” for better gear. Multiple multiplayer game modes will be available, in addition to a narrative campaign mode that can be enjoyed as either a singleplayer or co-op experience.
Overwatch is a multiplayer first-person shooter that pits two teams of six players against each other in a number of different competitive game modes that include escorting a payload and capturing control points. Similarly to Battleborn, characters in Overwatch have different powers and even an “ultimate” ability, but there is no character leveling system, and players are even free to change character during a match. With no AI minions or campaign mode, the focus in Overwatch is squarely on the competitive player-versus-player action. A leveling system allows cosmetic items to be unlocked, but there is otherwise no way for a player to gain a mechanical advantage over another through leveling – apart from looking stylish. This means that the only distinguishing factor between players is pure skill, both at the start and end of a match.
Battleborn‘s hyper-stylized space fantasy setting is populated by five ideological factions that must ultimately band together and send their “battleborn” champions to fight the Big Bad Evil Guy before he finishes destroying a universe already poised on the brink of annihilation.
Overwatch‘s near-future Earth sci-fi setting exists in a police-state that staved off an apocalyptic AI takeover thanks to the formation of an elite paramilitary unit known as Overwatch. With the cataclysm resolved, the UN-led Overwatch remained a peacekeeping force in the world until accusations of corruption and sedition turned the people of Earth against their saviors. Overwatch was disbanded, until… Well, we don’t really know. But some bad guys are doing some bad things, leading to the call for heroes once more as our story begins.
Battleborn will feature a roster of 25 playable characters upon release. Each of these “battleborn” is associated with one of five factions and is classified as either a Supporter, Attacker, or Defender. Beyond this base classification, each battleborn is given two additional tags, such as “stealth” and “assassin” or “mobile” and “pusher.” Character design is incredibly imaginative: we can see an elven archer fighting alongside a dapper steampunk robot, an anthropomorphic hawk battling a Lucha Libre mexican wrestler, and even an adorable little penguin in a mecha battle suit rubbing shoulders with an… anthropomorphic mushroom? Mushrooms were definitely involved in the creation of these caricatures.
Overwatch will feature 21 playable heroes upon release that can be grouped into four roles: Offense, Defense, Tank, and Support. Since it may not be immediately obvious what the distinction between Defense and Tank is, Defense characters are designed to protect and control areas of the battlefield. The heroes of Overwatch are not as over-the-top as those of Battleborn, but they are each instantly recognizable and replete with personality: the dwarven engineer, the gorilla scientist, the transforming robot, the cyber-angel… The distinction here between Overwatch and Battleborn, reflected in character design, art direction, and overall tone, is that Overwatch doesn’t take itself too seriously – whereas Battleborn doesn’t take itself seriously at all. One can even call Battleborn a comedy.
4. The Developers
Battleborn is brought to us by Gearbox Software, the developer best known for the Borderlands series. Less known is the fact that the team did a large amount of work on Counter-Strike‘s original retail release (2000) and on Counter-Strike: Condition Zero (2004). We’ll just forget that they were responsible for the release of Duke Nukem Forever. Ahem.
What does this mean? Gearbox’s greatest strength is developing first-person shooter campaigns with action-RPG elements, so we can expect some solid, fun gameplay out of Battleborn – particularly it’s co-op and single-player campaign. How will its competitive multiplayer aspect measure up? That has yet to be seen, as the only experience Gearbox has with competitive multiplayer games is its involvement in Counter-Strike well over a decade ago.
UPDATE (March 28, 2016): CEO of Gearbox Randy Pitchford reached out to us via Twitter to clarify that his team also created Halo: Custom Edition (2004) for PC, “which involved writing the net code that allowed Halo to be played on the internet” and “let us add new game scenarios to the competitive game, including weapons and maps and game play.” Pitchford further pointed out that Gearbox’s Brothers in Arms series, which has spanned 11 games dating from 2005 to 2014, has “robust competitive multiplayer modes.”
Overwatch is the newest IP developed by Blizzard Entertainment, the famous creators of the Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo series. (And really, Blizzard should need no introduction). While Blizzard has seen unexpected, great success in its collectible card game Hearthstone, it will go down in history for dominating the MMORPG genre with World of Warcraft. Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s foray into the crowded MOBA genre, has been well-executed, but has not gained the traction it needs to compete with the major players in the genre.
Implications? While this is Blizzard’s first FPS game, the company has decades of experience balancing competitive multiplayer games. In one way, Blizzard has never created anything like Overwatch before – in another, it’s simply Blizzard’s natural progression to expand into every competitive multiplayer arena. The company already has MOBAs, MMORPGs, and card games under its belt, not to mention the groundbreaking work that Blizzard did in the Real Time Strategy games’ competitive scene to help shape modern eSports into what they are today. Whether Overwatch will rise to the top of its genre like Hearthstone, StarCraft and World of Warcraft, or whether it will make a mediocre splash like Heroes of the Storm, is something only time will tell.
5. Release Dates, Beta, Platforms
Battleborn releases worldwide on May 3, 2016, on Windows, PS4, and Xbox One. Open beta begins April 8 on PS4 and April 13 on PC and Xbox One, and is slated to end April 18.
Overwatch releases worldwide on May 24, 2016, on Windows, PS4, and Xbox One. Closed beta began on October 27, 2015, and early-access open beta for pre-orders will begin May 3 – surely, it is just coincidence that this happens to be the release date of Battleborn. Full open beta begins May 5, and all beta access ends May 9.
Which game do you plan to get? Why? Sound off in the comments!