If Borderlands is a funhouse at a carnival, Battleborn is the rollercoaster set up next door. Borderlands focuses on loot and leveling in a (not quite) open world, letting you take your time as you explore varying paths winding through large landscapes. In contrast, Battleborn focuses those elements into a more linear, constructed experience. Players aren't the ones dictating the flow of action here, Gearbox is. And based on my time with the game at E3 2015, I feel safe giving over control.
A common sentiment amongst my friends is that "Borderlands is really great … when you have friends." Unfortunately, we don't always have the time to commit to Borderlands' occasionally time-consuming traversal, and slowing down for everyone to sort out their loot and equipment drags the pace of a Borderlands get-together down further. Battleborn looks to change that by addressing all aspects of the shoot-and-loot gameplay loop that keeps players from delivering bad guy beatdowns.
The first step to achieving this goal is to significantly reduce the size of the play area. You're not entering a world when you play Battleborn, you're starting a match. This means more arena-style levels and enclosed spaces, where you and your team of four additional friends push through waves of AI enemies and bosses, tackling objectives as you go. Think of a more colorful version of Destiny's Strike missions, and you'll have a good frame of reference for what I mean.
Smaller playing fields don't equal a smaller story, however. Battleborn tells a tale that spans lightyears, where 25 characters of varying races fight to save the last star of a dying galaxy from the monstrous Varelsi. Each of these characters has a unique style of fighting, as well as three abilities - two special, one "ultimate" - to augment their battle-born prowess.
Gearbox is definitely cribbing from games like League of Legends and Dota 2 with the abundance of diverse characters and abilities, but there's another similarity Battleborn shares with them that ought to keep players on their toes: the leveling system. In Battleborn, every match resets heroes to their starting level, just as a MOBA would.
As players progress through the battlefield, slaughtering their enemies and completing objectives, they'll level up. Leveling gives a player the chance to customize their damage output by selecting passive bonuses that complement playstyle. For example, I was quite fond of Thorn (an elf woman) and opted to make her bow-and-arrow attacks penetrate straight through foes, making me quite the exceptional sniper (if I do say so myself).
Smaller level design, a plethora of playable characters and experience that resets per match keeps combat fast, time between engagements low, and fun high. It's the best of the "Borderlands with friends" experience without any padding, and I look forward to a new contender for the co-op throne.