You could be forgiven for not knowing the difference between Blizzard’s Overwatch and Gearbox’s Battleborn. Given the overshadowing hype of Overwatch, you could even be forgiven for not knowing Battleborn even existed. Reviews for Overwatch have been generally favorable and slightly better than those for Battleborn, which critics scored in the low 70s on Metacritic compared to Overwatch‘s 90s on Metacritic. However, simply looking at the critic scores on Metacritic is not going to be enough to decide which of these games is better. First there are a number of things we need to look at.
How Overwatch and Battleborn are similar
The fact that these two games are getting a lot of comparison is not surprising. Both launched in May, and when Battleborn was fresh on the market, Blizzard stole its meager thunder by letting gamers try out Overwatch in an open beta. That’s similarity No. 1.
Both are first-person games that feature colorful, cartoonish characters of all shapes and sizes. And both have a staggeringly large cast of these characters. At launch, Overwatch featured 21 characters and Battbleborn had 26. Both games have plans to release more characters as times go on. This will keep players engaged and serve to break the meta of the game on a regular basis to prevent a dominant strategy from making the game repetitive and boring.
Beyond their quantity and cartoonish style, there are even a lot of similarities between the characters. Where Overwatch has the slow-shooting but hard-hitting archer Hanzo, who can climb walls, Battleborn has the slow-shooting but hard-hitting archer Thorn, who can jump extra high. Battleborn‘s Galilea can ghost underground to escape enemies in a very similar manner to Overwatch‘s Reaper. Both game have their healers. Both have characters with double jump. There are rocket launcher-wielding jetpack characters and shield-toting mech pilots in both as well. And there are plenty of characters that feel like a blend. Battleborn‘s Montana is a giant tank character much like Overwatch‘s Reinhardt character, and both have a charge attack, but Montana carries a minigun that quickly makes him feel like a slow-moving version of Overwatch‘s Bastion.
How Overwatch and Battleborn are different
This is where things get really messy. While you can compare any two things, a lot of people seem to be comparing Overwatch and Battleborn as if comparing apples to apples. Though the section on the similarities between the two games might make them seem pretty similar, they are actually incredibly different games.
Overwatch boils down to a character-based, objective-oriented first-person shoot, where each character has different play styles, moves, skills, and roles. It feels a lot like Team Fortress 2 but with more classes and no functional customization of those classes. You will not encounter a Winston in Overwatch that is faster or more powerful than another Winston. Players will choose between attack, defense, tank, and support characters. They’ll work to capture or defend a point, to escort or stop a payload, or to compete for control of a map location.
Overwatch is entirely focused on fast-paced, online multiplayer. There’s no campaign, and pretty much all of the story is contained outside of the game in the form of comics and animated shorts, with the exception of small little lines of dialogue in the game that give clues as to some of the characters’ histories with other characters and locations.
Because Battleborn is a first-person game, it’s easily confused for a first-person shooter. And sure, many of the characters in the game do shoot. But anyone confusing it for a first-person shooter is going to find what is probably a very disappointing game. That’s because it’s first and foremost a MOBA (mobile online battle arena) akin to DoTA or League of Legends. But instead of using the top-down view of DoTA and League of Legends, or the third-person dash of spice in games like Smite or Paragon, Gearbox tried to combine its experience making first-person shooters like Borderlands with the increasingly popular MOBA genre.
On top of its online multiplayer, the game features a standard campaign mode with eight story missions. It’s not just multiplayer matches with story elements shoehorned in. It’s a full campaign, with unique enemies and bosses. It also serves as a great learning ground for each character and a way to earn experience points if you’re on a losing streak in multiplayer.
The whole game, including the campaign, features the goofy tone you’d expect from the makers of the Borderlands series. The story is silly, the characters you meet will have all sorts of dumb things to say, and when your character respawns in multiplayer, they usually have something to say about it.
The differences don’t end there
On top of having a campaign and being extra goofy, Battleborn‘s status as a MOBA means it has completely different gameplay. While Overwatch has players pushing for control points or pushing a cart, Battleborn has players pushing lanes against AI-controlled enemy minions, neutral minions that can be made into allies, and of course enemy players. Along the lanes, players will encounter larger enemy turrets that function sort of like mini-bosses and then a final boss that is the goal. And that’s just the Incursion game mode. The Domination game mode has players fighting to control three control points on the map, and the Meltdown mode has each team trying to escort its AI minions to a grinder for sacrifice.
Before any match starts, players choose a character, aiming to have a well balanced team. Once the match starts, players cannot change their characters. In Overwatch, players can change whenever they are in their spawning location. As a match progresses in Battleborn, players actually will level up their character, enhancing their abilities and adding new ones. They can also spend shards collected on the map on equipment that will further enhance their abilities, or they may purchase tactical things like a turrets, tough minions, healing stations, and more. As one team gains momentum, they can become more powerful, and buy turrets and the like closer and closer to the enemies base to make it that much harder for the enemy to push back. It is a far more complex and strategical game than Overwatch in this regard.
Battleborn‘s characters themselves are also much more complex. Their leveling paths open up the possibility of playing each character very differently. You might level a healing character to be more deadly, while someone else might level them to be a more effective healer. You might level your character to be better at range, while another player could make them an up-close-and-personal combatant. There is also a lot more in the way of character buffs, debuffs, and area-of-effect attacks. All of this makes for a steeper learning curve that can be stressful at first but results in a more rewarding experience when you’ve gotten the hang of a character and have synergy with your teammates.
So then which is better?
As I said before, an apples to apples comparison isn’t really possible. For one, both games have some growing to do. Neither has finished its roster of characters or levels (and both definitely need more levels). Overwatch, for one, needs more game modes that actually feel different (capture the flag would be a smart and obvious move). It would be easy to say that Overwatch takes the cake as the better game — it has better ratings from reviewers on Metacritic after all — but that ignores the games differences. It also ignores gamers across all systems who have not reviewed Overwatch as favorably. On Xbox One, the game received a 5.7 out of 10 rating from users. PS4 owners were slightly more pleased, giving it a 6.1. PC players favored it most with a still mediocre 7.1 rating.
Battleborn had a more successful time with gamers. User ratings stayed close to critic ratings, ranging from 6.9 to 7.4. The ratings make a lot of sense. The story mode doesn’t live up to the free-roaming campaign of Borderlands, some of the humor felt forced, and six multiplayer maps is a bit insufficient. So it’s not a great game, but a little growth could make a big difference. Plus, players who put more time into the game will likely find more to like, as they get the hang of new characters and discover new ways to play each character through the various leveling trees.
Overwatch on the other hand seems like it may be a flash in the pan. While the multiplayer mode is tightly made and is a blast to play, gamers have to be ready to get used to repetition. More game modes, levels, and characters can’t come fast enough. So when it comes to giving gamers something that they can sink hundreds of hours into, the complexities of Battleborn are more likely to bring home the win.
But seriously, which is better?!
It comes down to what you want. If you want a fun, fast shooter that you can jump in, dink around a bit, and quickly learn the ropes of, Overwatch is for you. There’s no denying it’s fun, but it does get repetitive, and until Blizzard gives gamers more, anyone who bores easily will not be pleased with Overwatch.
If you want a story, really wacky characters, and a complex game that rewards you slowly (especially as you have to unlock characters by completing tasks or ranking up), you’ll probably get a kick out of Battleborn.
It doesn’t matter too much in the end. After all, aren’t we all just waiting for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild?