“So, is it just like Overwatch, then?”
Playing LawBreakers on launch day, and the several beta tests before that, I’ve been bombarded with this question, in Steam messages, Discord and even the office.
Thing is, besides being an FPS that features selectable heroes, LawBreakers isn’t anything like the Broverwatch many were expecting from Cliffy B, and the game has its own compelling core. Boss Key has delivered a fast-paced, brutal shooter that couldn’t be further from Blizzard’s game.
LawBreakers has its own unique flavour. It’s lightning fast, with a much faster time-to-kill (TTK) than many other shooters, meaning that despite the outright aggression that is offered by every class — even the medic — packing serious firepower, the best option is often to play defensively.
This means the game has a lot of exciting skirmishes as people clash before running away to lick their wounds, and the gameplay feels well suited for competitive play. So could Cliffy B’s latest game be an unlikely esports hit?
If Boss Key take care of a few small problems, and keep supporting the game, there’s no reason we couldn’t see it on a stage at Dreamhack in the future, that’s for sure.
The game’s high skill cap is focused not just on using each hero's unique kit to secure kills, but also their unique method of moving around the map. Traversal can be challenging in the game, but rewarding. The Assassin has a grapple hook that she can use to tether and swing across objects, while the Gunslinger can warp through reality, giving him a reality-bending double jump or the ability to flash several metres forwards, disjointing himself from any enemy shooting at him, and giving him a few metres of a head start on chasing enemies.
The player pool is already full of some seriously skilled players, but even my amateurish attempts at gunplay sometimes yielded bloody, lethal, fruit. I once killed two players with a single shotgun blast, or saved a control point by jumping into it at the last second and unleashing the Assassin’s ultimate ability, a spinning sword frenzy that allowed me to tear apart the defenders inside their tiny corridor bunker. Achieving these moments of play isn’t just a matter of hitting Q, but of exploiting your ability to move and getting into position. Another ultimate supercharges your pistols and turns you loose, meaning if you can aim you’ll get kills, while another lets you hit enemies with a ring that distorts their sense of time, letting you get up close and kick them to death.
With the diversity in movement across the characters, and their wildly different kit, it encourages players to practice with each of the nine heroes on offer. The characters look fine and have snippets of personality in their voice lines, but largely they’re missing the character strokes seen in Overwatch and Team Fortress 2 heroes, which is bad for characterisation, but good for letting pro players inhabit their avatar. You’re not watching an Assassin, you’re watching ‘IAMAPROLOLOL6000’ carving people up at close range.
Bring to this the fact that several areas of the map have low gravity, which is great for dogfights, and peppered with tight corners and open spaces, and there’s a lot to like here as a player and a spectator.
Unfortunately, many of the problems for competitive play come from issues with the game modes.
Turf Way is a strong game mode which sees players fighting to capture and lock three areas around the map. If you capture an area it locks to your team, you score a point, and you all move on to fight in one of the remaining two areas. It’s a tense match, with stakes slowly escalating as a winning team snowballing to a victory.
The other three modes have more issues. Blitzball — no relation to Final Fantasy X’s underwater ball-em-up— has teams having to grab hold of a ball (voiced by Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland) and score it at the opposing team’s base. It’s well designed, and a shot clock that constantly ticks down before killing the ball carrier prevents grabbing the ball and hiding it deep in your own base after a several-goal lead.
This objective can only be picked up after a set amount of time, meaning the pace slows to treacle whenever a carrier is killed, which is a bad look for a shooter based around rapid movement.
Overcharge and Uplink compound this issue. The items are hard to pick up, and they also require the item to be defended in the team’s base. This means that the outfit that first picks up the battery or satellite uplink then just has to fall back to their base and defend. Once I managed to sneak in, stand near the battery for ten seconds in the middle of the base and then squirrel it away, but it only worked once. Every other time I got completely pulped, and each of these game modes led to a stomp by whichever team reached the objective first.
Other than these issues, and a few minor balance tweaks probably need to be addressed — Wraith feels particularly strong right now as a quick example — but it feels like a compelling spectacle even now, and one that’s worth watching on Twitch, or perhaps in a big arena.
LawBreakers isn’t quite ready for esports greatness, but if every journey starts with a single step, LawBreakers looks ready to take a running jump.