First Impressions on Lawbreakers
Pros: Cool low-gravity mechanics, highest quality graphics seen in an MMO
Cons: Extremely high learning curve/skill level, very high system requirements, as of closed beta the maps and modes are limited, need to pay to play the game
This weekend we got the chance to try the closed beta of Lawbreakers, Boss Key Productions’ new first person shooter, an adrenaline fuelled FPS set in the future where a globe shaping cataclysm called The Shattering has screwed up gravity on Earth and now Law enforcement and criminal Breakers battle it out across the world. The lore sets the scene for some low-gravity combat shenanigans with players flying through the air and using a variety of weapons and gadgets at their disposal to create some aerial acrobatic vertical battles across a variety of maps and game modes. With the amount of hype the game has had we were excited to be part of the closed beta weekend to give the game a more involved test run.
First up to comment on is the business model, the game some time ago shifted from speculation of free to play and has said it will be a pay to play game, quite a novel approach in the FPS genre considering the number of F2P FPS titles out there. The biggest exception is no doubt Overwatch which has had near instant success and, unfortunately for LawBreakers having decided to go pay-to-play, is probably their biggest competitor. The business model won't be the last similarity or comparison made with Overwatch throughout this article, our experience playing the game reminded us of Blizzard's own FPS title in so many ways that it made it hard not to make those comparisons (as we're sure everyone who has played both titles will); so be warned.
The thing that initially caught our attention with LawBreakers, even before playing it ourselves, were the graphics; designed using the Unreal Engine 4 they have used the engine to its peak and in return the game looks amazing on Ultra graphical settings. Completely unplayable for us, but it looks amazing in between massive seconds long freezes. As someone with a decent enough PC to play the majority of game (Radeon 7800, Intel Core 3.5GHz processor, 16GB RAM) we barely met the minimum system requirements and fell way short of the recommended, the result being that to play the game at all we had to play with everything on Low settings; albeit they still look pretty good.
In game we were excited to try out some of the fourteen available characters and so looked around for a vs AI mode (doesn't exist) or a tutorial area (also doesn't exist); instead we had a long list of 5 minute long YouTube videos for the different roles and characters. Well, we wanted to play, not spend an hour watching videos, so we looked around for a list of playable characters to check out their skills and weapons to see who we'd be most interested in playing. This doesn't exist either, aside from the Customization area for choosing your different character and weapon skins, the only way we could find in game to see what the different character's could do was actually in a match at the character selection screen. This resulted in us trying to cycle awkwardly through 14 characters and read up on skills and gear during the few seconds of character selection, then sitting idle in base still making our choice (you get to change characters between deaths) whilst everyone else was playing; feeling the pressure we'd just grab any character and learn as we go.
The characters themselves are kind of lackluster and, when compared to Overwatch, they just don't have the same personality or individuality about them in our opinion and most drift into the same unmemorable character. It's something Blizzard did brilliantly with Overwatch, each character through their personality or design seems completely unique; LawBreakers has a bunch of characters, both law and criminals, that just hurl curses at each other through the game. Worse still it was hard to not see the similarities between some of the LawBreaker characters and their Overwatch counterparts, such as the gunslinger with twin pistols that uses short range blink teleports to dart around the map (definitely not Tracer), the big dude that charges electricity into a huge enraged leap smash then uses his lightning tesla rifle type weapon for short range lightning attacks (definitely not Winston) or the frustratingly annoying blade assassin that dashes in and out of battle eviscerating you and using a lasso to get around to some hard to reach locations (most definitely not the love child of Genji-Widowmaker). Perhaps we're being unfair, but the similarities are strong in other areas so it's hard not to feel that from the small roster that LawBreakers has that more than a few of the characters are similar to Overwatch and felt like they played the same as well.
There are currently two game types available; Overcharge and Turf War, that are currently bundled into the Quick Match mode (the only mode currently available) and Quick Match alternates between the two games. Turf War is a classic point capture, with three points on the map that unlock in different orders, with both teams moving around the map to try and capture them and the first team to capture thirteen points wins. Secondly is overcharge, which is a Briefcase meets Capture Flag mode with a single battery that each team can pick up and must return to their base to charge up a reactor; if you're killed with the battery it drops to the floor and the other team can pick it up (they can also get it from your own reactor so you have to defend it once you grab it). Both modes were fun and there were around half a dozen maps between them; for a closed beta this did leave us a bit concerned as in general you don't generally see that many more elements (modes or maps) added between closed beta and release unless they're going to have a really long beta process; right now there's not enough there to justify a pay–to-play product.
The maps were decent enough, but again not particularly memorable and they all kind of drift into the same style and setting with the odd exception; whether it's the realistic art style or the similar colour palette, there's something a little samey about the different maps. One of the things that is consistent is a low-gravity area in each map where our characters could leap, fly and glide through the air fighting with each other in full 360 degree combat. With the lore background of the game it's clear that this element is a big feature to the game, though at times it didn't feel like it was that impactful as a lot of the combat wouldn't necessarily happen in those low-grav bubbles and instead would spill out into corridors or other sections of the map (though the maps aren't terribly big). Working out how to use the low-gravity was extremely difficult, lack of tutorial being the biggest factor and trying to learn whilst simultaneously being shot at didn't make it any easier. The issue of moving around in low-grav was further compounded by the different movement types of the characters, such as having a power jump, or rocket leap, or lasso whip, or rocket pack, all of which made moving through that space even more complicated. However, whilst we got used to it (sort of..) after a while, the low-grav does have a serious impact on gameplay that we couldn't get used to...
The pace of the matches, the power of the weapons, the seemingly lack of hitpoints, it felt like we were playing an F2P Asian FPS where body count and quick respawns seem to be the name of the game and one shot kills are prevalent. We felt weak; it felt like every time we got into a battle, even with the tank characters, we just didn't last particularly long before we were hitting the canvas. Throw into the mix the 360 degree vertical aiming with enemies flying around you at fast speeds; you need some pretty high level of skill to compete in this game. We're not the best at FPS, our twitch skills and reactions have slowed in our aging mid-30 years compared to our spritely youth, but in general we manage to get by with most titles. LawBreakers is unforgiving, it has a high skill cap and in all honesty we think it's going to attract skillful players because of that.. which puts more casual gamers like ourselves out of the running a little or, as it did with us, relegate us to characters like the Battle Medic with their grenade launcher just so we could hope to do some AOE damage without much precision needed. It felt like a flash back to the 90s playing Unreal Tournament or Quake Online, only it looks a million times better.
Graphically and conceptually LawBreakers is fantastic, but we have our doubts about the games success simply due to the sheer number of barriers to entry. To play the game you need to have a decent gaming rig that meets the minimum spec, you then have to be willing to pay cash up front to play the game, which as of the closed beta is massively short on maps and modes, then you also have to have a pretty high skill level to play the game. Unfortunately, all of that isn’t even the biggest factor that will hinder LawBreakers, the fact is that in style, business plan and genre it's going up against Overwatch which is played by millions, has a huge eSports/competitive scene already, is constantly one of the most viewed games on Twitch and already does a lot of watch LawBreakers does far fewer barriers to entry.