Battleborn vs. Overwatch: Shooters of a Different Color

It's hard to ignore the parallels between Gearbox's Battleborn and Blizzard's Overwatch. Both are team-based first-person shooters. Both have tons of colorful characters with varied abilities, and encourage players to optimize their parties. Both present polished, balanced gameplay and embrace fun and humor to an extent gamers haven't seen in years. So which one is better?

That's a trick question. Although the temptation may be to put Battleborn and Overwatch head-to-head to see which one comes out on top, the truth is, it's a bit like comparing birds and bats. They can do a lot of the same things, and they may sometimes even fill the same ecological role, but they're distinct creatures with more differences than similarities.

To that end, let's examine what each game does well, and where each one falls down. While there's no way to decide on a winner between two games that have fundamentally different aims, we can still help you pick the one best suited to your play style.

Tell me a story

When you first boot up Overwatch, you're treated to a fascinating cutscene. Winston, a talking gorilla in a suit of power armor (just roll with it) exhorts his fellow heroes to once again take up arms to save the world. The game drops you in the main menu and … that's it. There is no other story in the entire game. Why are the heroes now fighting each other? What about Winston's encroaching threat? Who cares — start shooting. While Blizzard has provided some pretty cool supplementary videos, there's nothing that you could meaningfully call a plot.

Battleborn, on the other hand, has a story — or at least two-thirds of one. When the game begins, an old man named Kleese explains that only one star remains in the universe and that various factions are vying for control of it. In the prologue, the villain drops a few tantalizing hints about his motivation and plans. After that, though, you can complete the levels in any order up until the final one, leaving the story with a beginning and an end, but no real middle.

Still, if you're interested in following a plot from start to finish, Battleborn will let you do so, whereas Overwatch will not. While I'd be very surprised if Overwatch didn't get some kind of plot-related expansion in the future, it's just not there for now.

Friends will be friends

If you're hoping to sit back, put your feet up and play a relaxing single-player game at your own pace, neither Battleborn nor Overwatch is the game for you. Technically, you can play through the campaign by yourself in Battleborn or single-handedly tackle Arcade challenges in Overwatch, but neither one is worth your time. These are multiplayer affairs, and they make no bones about it. Either gather a group of friends, accept the help of strangers or go pick up a different game. 

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A full contingent of players is necessary to get the most out of either game: a party of five for Battleborn, and two teams of six for Overwatch. Playing with friends, however, is more important for Battleborn. While Overwatch requires some team cooperation, the entire campaign of Battleborn is predicated on it. If you can't coordinate with your friends about team makeup and tactics, you're going to have a tough time. Playing with strangers sometimes exacerbates the issue, although a pickup group should work just fine for decent players on Normal difficulty. 

To be sure, there is something very satisfying about wrangling a team of your closest friends, each picking a different hero and coordinating to crush the enemy team in Overwatch. However, matches in Overwatch are generally pretty short, and it's just as easy to play a pickup game for 10 minutes as it is to dive in for hours on end. If you and your friends really want a long-lasting cooperative experience, Battleborn has the edge.

Fight, fight, fight!

If, on the other hand, competition is in your blood, Overwatch is definitely the way to go. Blizzard polished this game to a mirror shine and balanced it like a perfect set of scales (well, mostly) to ensure that more than 20 characters could cooperate with and fight against one another without any duds. While some characters are easier than others, each one suits a different play style and offers a memorable experience.

Hardened Call of Duty veterans can step right into the shoes of Soldier 76, who fires a machine gun, sprints and aims down iron sights with the best of them. But players who want to stay on the defensive side of things can pick Bastion, whose turret ability is hard to stop, or Mercy, who focuses much more on healing her teammates than on racking up kills. Every character serves a purpose, and learning your place on a team and how best to aid your teammates is one of Overwatch's true joys.

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Battleborn does have a competitive multiplayer mode, and to its credit, it's not bad at all. As in Overwatch, you'll divide into teams and try to take each other down. However, most of Battleborn's characters are much more oriented toward offense, and the ability to level up and manipulate the environment, while fun, can also be distracting. Overwatch relies purely on its character mechanics, whereas Battleborn fills the arena with lots of distractions. It's fun in small doses, but it's clear that Battleborn's focus is on cooperation, not competition.

The quest for stuff

One area where both games succeed is in how much longevity they offer. Beyond just the moment-to-moment gameplay (and the story campaign in Battleborn), there are lots of reasons to keep playing both games. You can unlock tons of cosmetic items in both games, from character costumes to enemy-shaming taunts. Unfortunately, both titles try to convince you to stock up via microtransactions — a practice that is, at the very least, in rather poor taste for games that cost $40 up front. 

Battleborn offers a wider variety of stuff to unlock than Overwatch does, as well as a more straightforward way of doing it. In addition to unlocking costumes and gestures, players can discover new characters, game-altering gear and even tidbits about each character's backstory. Just playing through the game as a given character is enough to earn most of these.

Overwatch, on the other hand, relies on randomized Loot Boxes, which drop each time you level up. (Leveling up does not make your characters any stronger; it just acts as a general marker of how long and how well you've been playing.) The boxes could contain skins, lines of dialogue or spray-painted logos for any character, regardless of which ones you play as. After about level 20 or so, they also start dropping pretty infrequently. While the items have zero impact on actual gameplay (unlike Battleborn's, which can influence a character's stats), they can go a long way toward making your preferred characters feel unique. Still, because Overwatch is likely to have a longer-lasting competitive scene than Battleborn, it's hard to deny that this is probably the more rewarding game in which to unlock special items. 

Built to last

For all of the praise I've given Battleborn in this piece, there is also a darker side to its story. Even though the game probably wasn't meant to be a direct Overwatch competitor, the two came out within a month or two of each other, and Overwatch was simply the more anticipated game. Once Overwatch launched, Battleborn's number of players plummeted, and it became something of a butt for Overwatch jokes.

If this piece has done one thing, I hope it has helped explain that the two games, while not entirely dissimilar, don't really exist for the same purpose. One is cooperative, one competitive; one is story-driven, one focused wholly on mechanics. How the games may change in the future is anyone's guess, but for now, they can coexist peacefully.

As for a solid recommendation between the two, I don't have one. I've personally played more Battleborn, but I also prefer cooperative games to competitive ones. I've thoroughly enjoyed my time with both. I also expect that Overwatch will have the longer shelf life, simply because its community seems to be growing, whereas Battleborn's, while healthy, seems to be dwindling.

So buy one, buy the other, buy neither or buy both. Depending on your tastes, you pretty much can't go wrong.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.