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Battleborn Thrives on Bizarre Team-Ups

LOS ANGELES — What happens when you mix military shooter meatheads, fantasy elves and dwarves, futuristic swordsmen, clockwork robots and mushroom men? In real life, you'd have some kind of copyright law nightmare. In the video game world, you get Battleborn. This multiplayer action/role-playing game takes the kitchen sink approach to character classes, and the result is pure, off-the-wall fun with more than enough depth to keep things interesting.

I went hands-on with Battleborn at E3 2015, and while it took me a little while to get the hang of the game, by time the demo was over, I didn't want to put it down. Battleborn lets five players team up to take on swarms of sci-fi enemies, all while completing mission objectives, leveling up, learning new abilities and experiencing a surprisingly creative and clever storyline.

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Battleborn deserves a lot of credit for possessing something that many games neglect: a unique premise. In the far future, a race of extra-dimensional evildoers has been accelerating the heat death of the universe. Every surviving sentient race has clustered around the one remaining star in the universe: Solus. This means that dwarves, vampires, soldiers, swordsmen, witches and robots must all live side-by-side and cooperate in order to preserve the one home they have left.

As rationales for combining wildly different character classes go, Battleborn's is about as good as they come. The character-friendly premise is not just for show: The game will launch with 25 playable characters, each one possessing a completely different skill set that can develop along two different tiers.

Detailing every character available for the demo would take too much time, but I took control of Verod Rath: a master swordsman with three energy blades. My teammates included Phoebe, a telekinetic fencer; Oscar Mike, a veteran soldier in power armor; and Orendi, a four-armed witch who shot fireballs. Seeing the bizarre genre mash-up in action was almost as much fun as actually playing the game.

Our five-man team took on a mission to activate a communications beacon and reawaken a powerful robotic ally. Without so much as a word to each other, we fell into our roles almost immediately. I launched myself headfirst at the hordes of enemies, slicing and dicing them with my twin swords or engulfing them in a whirlwind of blades. Other teammates hung back and picked them off one at a time, or helped me flank them with other melee skills.

As the demo progressed, we earned experience from defeating foes and started improving our skills. Over time, my blades to cut through enemies, healing me slightly as they went. I could also launch myself at enemies and slash anyone who got in the way. Learning new skills went hand-in-hand with figuring out how best to play my class, and the skills I picked up felt both intuitive and valuable.

When the demo ended, following two enormous boss fights, a trek across a military base and an ice floe, and destroying more enemy minions than I could shake two swords at, I was sorry to put down my controller. I usually prefer to play games solo, but I can't imagine playing Battleborn without a five-person party. The game is pure fun, and the full version will feature even more characters, a complete story arc, competitive multiplayer modes and persistent character progression, no matter whether you play solo, cooperatively or competitively.

Battleborn has no set release date or price yet, but it should be out before the end of the year. In the meantime, go round up four friends; you're going to need them.

Marshall Honorof is a senior writer for Tom's Guide. Contact him at mhonorof@tomsguide.com. Follow him @marshallhonorof. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.