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The makers of 'Borderlands' are back with another crazy genre mashup


On paper, Battleborn—game development studio Gearbox Software’s big follow up to its successful Borderlands series of games—might sound like the studio is repeating itself. After all, Battleborn, like Borderlands, is a first-person shooter that freely grabs interesting ideas from other genres and repackages them into something with a distinct style and personality.

But that’s not very fair.

Games can be a lot like sandwiches—while technically, every sandwich is simply “bread with stuff in between,” there is a world of difference between a Monte Cristo and a PB&J, with plenty of room for experimentation in between. Similar to how the vast and interesting world of sandwiches can be terribly wronged by our desire to label everything, video games deserve a little bit more than a few genre descriptors. But don’t worry, the genre descriptors are coming.

Before Borderlands, Gearbox never really staked out a part of the gaming landscape that was uniquely theirs. Borderlands changed that. The game was a genre mashup with a big personality, taking the endless looting and gear from games like Diablo and wrapping it around a first-person shooter with a rude sense of humor and hand-drawn, ink-heavy art style. Looking back, Borderlands functions very much as a statement of purpose for Gearbox, boldly proclaiming what a Gearbox game would look like: bold, irreverent, and full of genre free-association. But with the studio committed to the Borderlands franchise straight through to 2012’s sequel (give or take a Duke Nukem Forever), no one knew how closely to that new-found special sauce the next Gearbox game would hew. Rest assured, Battleborn sticks very closely to the Borderlands formula—which is another way of saying it’s totally different.

The game’s story takes place in a universe where every star has gone out, save one: Solus. As a result, the star has become a hub for immigrants and refugees—and conflict. Factions form, each with their own interests and motivations, and escalating tensions would lead to full-blown war, if the Verelsi never had shown up. These are Battleborn’s Big Bads, the mysterious force that threatens to destroy the last star. To take them on, champions from every race and faction arise—the titular Battleborn. It’s very grand stuff, like space opera by way of Pixar or Dreamworks Animation—approachable enough for an all-ages feel, but versatile enough to handle all manner of serious themes as would befit a story about the possible end of all life.

This, of course, is paired with Gearbox’s self-professed love of genre-blending gameplay.

Video games, unlike most forms of entertainment, are unique in that they’re categorized by technical criteria as opposed to the narrative kind. This means that most games aren’t described based on how they’re supposed to make you feel, but rather what they’ll let you do. In this sense, games are more like vacuum cleaners than entertainment. So while you could describe Gearbox’s last big franchise, Borderlands, as a Post-Apocalyptic action-comedy, that really doesn’t tell you much about how you play the game. To describe it in game-genre speak, you’d have to call it a Loot-Based First-Person Shooter With RPG Elements. Applying the same logic, Battleborn is not a Sci-Fi/Fantasy Adventure, but a Hybrid First-Person Shooter/MOBA with RPG Elements. (It just rolls off the tongue.)

In an attempt to make Battleborn easier to describe, however, Gearbox invented a new buzzphrase, much like I just invented the word “buzzphrase”: “Hero-Shooter.” This would seem to imply that you either shoot heroes (which would be kind of bad) or shoot some type of gun that launches heroes out of it (which would be kind of awesome). Neither is the case. “Hero-Shooter” is less of a genre descriptor and more of a job description, it’s one of those phrases that really suffers from hyphens having no phonetic sound. You are a Hero-Shooter, much like our early ancestors were Hunter-Gatherers, and it is your job to heroically shoot.

The way you’ll go about this is where all the genre-blending comes into play. So if the first-person action is the ice in the Battleborn smoothie, then the MOBA bits have to be the fruit—let’s say they’re mangos. For the uninitiated, MOBA is an acronym for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, an immensely popular genre of game that lets players control one hero from an overhead perspective and form a team with other players to take on other teams and/or hordes of enemies. MOBAs are fun for a lot of reasons, but the bit that’s most relevant to Battleborn is how characters get stronger: while most modern games slowly put your character through its paces, making him/her more and more powerful the more time you sink into it, MOBAs compress that growth into a single match. Every time you play, you start from the bottom—kind of like Drake— and have the potential to reach the peak of your powers within the 20 or 30 minutes a match lasts.

But there’s another bit of MOBA goodness that Battleborn borrows from—let’s say these are the pineapples in our genre smoothie. It’s a huge cast of characters.

“Every character in the game is the main character in a game that hasn’t come out yet,” says Battleborn creative director Randy Varnell. The team is striving for a wide variety of playstyles with regards to how players move through the game. This is one area in which the team is pushing past Borderlands, which included every kind of gun players could possibly imagine, but outside of a few special abilities tied to each playable character, the way they moved was more or less the same. In Battleborn, however, characters will be significantly more distinct—fleet-footed players who like jumping around can play elf-archer Thorne, crafty snipers can play dapper steampunk robot Marquis, shooter purists will prefer soldier pastiche Oscar Mike.

The Battleborn team has shown off nine characters so far—including anthropomorphic mushroom shaman Miko and Victorian-style swordswoman Phoebe—but the finished game will include a much larger roster for players to unlock and experience. At the official unveiling of the game’s five-player cooperative story mode in New York last week, each character really did seem distinct in meaningful ways. When playing through the game with others (friends or otherwise—serendipitous matchmaking is encouraged), players will be able to specialize in skills that suit how they want to play based on their character, and the MOBA-like skill progression means that you don’t have to spend hours investing in a character that doesn’t suit you—once you’ve played one match with a character, you more or less know what they have to offer, and the various ways you can customize them.

Battleborn marks a conscious effort on Gearbox’s behalf to make the kind of game that anyone can play, and it stems from more than just the variety of player characters. There’s nary a swear word in Battleborn—a huge departure from the crude and loud comedy of Borderlands. According to writer Aaron Linde, this stems from a desire to make a more inclusive kind of game—if foul-mouthed characters are going to keep players from giving Battleborn a shot, then why not remove that barrier?

Also gone is the over-the-top violence—blood and gore is replaced with broad physical comedy. Characters gyrate like cartoons when boosters fling them through the air, robots comically fall to scraps when players shoot them, and special attacks often come with a visual joke tied to the character’s personality. It’s less lewd, but still fun.

All told, Battleborn is still early in its development. Everything that’s been shown comes from a pre-Alpha build of the game, and there’s no release date yet. There is a wealth of questions that remain to be asked and answered. (Like the game’s single-player mode—Gearbox said it’s something the company is thinking about, but isn’t ready to talk about yet.) Plus, there’s still quite some time before anyone gets to spend any meaningful time with the game.

But from what was shown, Battleborn might be onto the very same thing that made Borderlands a huge success: combining very old, very familiar tropes into something that feels very new.

See The Rembrandts perform the 'Friends' theme live at 'Central Perk'

Thought Manhattan’s Central Perk pop-up coffeeshop couldn’t get any cooler? Think again. (I should note right up top that I’m using the word “cool” relatively.)

Last night, a preview of the temporary space—which officially opened Wednesday—featured a very special musical guest. Nope, it wasn’t Lisa Kudrow as Central Perk mainstay Phoebe Buffay, or David Schwimmer’s Ross showing off his “sound”: It was the pop-rock duo of Phil Solem and Danny Wilde, better known as The Rembrandts. Really, though, they’re best known as the guys who sing Friends‘ clap-happy earworm of a theme song.

After strumming through three of their original compositions, The ‘Brandts gave the people what they wanted: a tuneful, energetic rendition of “I’ll Be There For You.” Click below to find EW‘s admittedly amateur video of the performance, guest-starring a professional cameraman who blocks our view of Wilde for much of the song and some very enthusiastic audience singing.

(If you’re listening closely during the second verse, you’ll also hear one of those superfans ask an immortal question: Who takes time to make breakfast when they’re already two hours late for work?)


'7th Heaven' cast, minus Ruthie, reunites


The Camden clan reunited Tuesday night and posted a photo, confirming that it’s still seventh heaven when you see their happy faces smilin’ back at you.

Beverley Mitchell, a.k.a. Lucy, shared a photo of her and her former co-stars gathered around a dinner table on WhoSay with the caption, “Something truly amazing happened last night and my heart is overflowing!”

It wasn’t that amazing, though, because the most important Camden was missing: Ruthie (Mackenzie Rosman) was absent. What’s a Camden gathering without Ruthie (before she became a horrifying teenager) singing “The Star-Spangled Banner“? READ FULL STORY

'Destiny' makes over $300 million in its first week


Over $500 million worth of copies of Destiny were shipped to stores in anticipation of the game’s release last week. And with today’s newly announced sales figures, it looks like Bungie’s latest franchise is off to an impressive start.


Spanish-language 'Breaking Bad' to air series finale Thursday


Well, that was fast. After only four months on air, Metástasis, the spanish-language remake of Breaking Bad will be airing its series finale.


We texted Groot some of our burning pop-culture questions

You can now text Groot, and, as you could probably guess, the Guardians of the Galaxy tree does not have a very wide vocabulary. Still, we at EW decided to see if Groot could weigh in on some of our burning pop-culture questions.

Just how are we texting Groot? Well, anyone can reach him at (866) 740-4531. As TechCrunch reported, credit goes to developer Ricky Robinett, who created the chatbot. Groot is apparently quite popular: As Robinett tweeted this morning: “Groot had a busy night last night, he has now sent over 60,000 messages!”

But what does Groot have to say about Taylor Swift’s new album? Can he confirm who is playing Doctor Strange? Here’s our (somewhat one-sided) conversation. READ FULL STORY

Revisit 'The Addams Family' on its 50th anniversary with behind-the-scenes peek

The Addams Family has appeared in just about every possible form, from cartoons and movies to a recent musical stage show and even a couple of video games. But it’s the 1960s live-action TV series that made the family a household name. On the show’s 50th anniversary, Life takes a look back at its creepy, kooky beginnings.


Bryan Cranston turns Major League Baseball into a play in TBS promo


Thanks to Breaking Bad, we all know Bryan Cranston can be a serious actor—but it’s nice to see his lighter Malcolm in the Middle comedic chops again from time to time.

Avid baseball fan Cranston stars in a commercial for TBS, touting his fictional one-man show that dramatizes the entire MLB postseason. Cranston makes fun of himself, the serious actor, as he smashes a pie in his own face as an ode to the Baltimore Orioles postgame tradition, and delivers a poignant rendition of ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game.’ The commercial also has an appearance by ballerina Misty Copeland, who tries to teach Cranston some light-footed ballet moves, only to have Pedro Martinez look on in disgust. READ FULL STORY

Julianna Margulies sings high-school morning announcements on 'Fallon'

While singing won’t help Alicia Florrick win in the courtroom any time soon, Emmy winner Julianna Margulies proved she could at least boldly attempt to carry a tune on last night’s The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.


Watch Emma Thompson sling human meat pies in 'Sweeney Todd'

Emma Thompson wants to murder you and cook you into a pie.

Libelous overgeneralizations aside, Thompson would likely be the first to gush about her brief stint as questionably amoral piemaker Mrs. Lovett in the New York Philharmonic’s critically beloved production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street last March.

EW raved about the production—particularly Thompson’s triple-threat performance opposite the likes of Audra McDonald (as the beggar woman) and Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel as the titular barber—and now viewers can experience the joy of seeing Thompson sling (pies) and sing (Sondheim) when the production airs on PBS’ Live From Lincoln Center series.

In anticipation of the Sept. 26 broadcast, check out a clip of Thompson and company singing “God, That’s Good!”—otherwise known as the moment when one half of the town decides how much they love eating the other half.

Broadway fans have plenty of reasons to tune into PBS on Friday nights this fall, particularly thanks to a luminous 2014 Arts Fall Festival line-up including a broadcast of Nathan Lane in The Nance (Oct. 10), San Francisco Opera’s production of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (Oct. 17), an encore presentation of Cats! (Nov. 21) and Kristin Chenoweth: Coming Home (Nov. 28).

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