2016 will be remembered as the year of the hero shooter. Battleborn came with a whimper. Overwatch came with a bang. Now LawBreakers comes to have its own say on the matter. Instead of merely riding on the coattails of the behemoth in the room, LawBreakers is bringing its own brand of hero shooting to the table. It’s faster and more focused on killing stuff than completing objectives, and parts of the maps have low gravity, which completely changes the dynamic. Aside from both clearly being hero shooters, the two games are actually starkly different.
Currently, LawBreakers is in closed alpha, and it’s not even fully online. Boss Key brings up the servers a couple times a weekend for 12 hour stretches, and then they close up shop until next time. There isn’t much there yet, but the influences are clear as day. LawBreakers has heroes; well, technically, it’s got cops and robbers (Law and Breakers, get the title?) It’s also got Cliff Bleszinski, who you might remember from games such as Unreal Tournament and Gears of War. Now just imagine what would happen in Overwatch and UT got together. What would come out would probably be similar to LawBreakers. Now just imagine if you could play with the baby months before it was born.
As a hero shooter, the game will live and die by how many heroes it has. Each faction in LawBreakers has its own array of characters, but they share roles between them. So even though there are eight characters, there are technically only four classes. Both Law and Breakers have an enforcer, an assassin, a vanguard, and a titan. The differences between factions are purely cosmetic. This isn’t a gripe; I would hate to imagine how difficult it would be to balance LawBreakers if each faction had its own entirely unique array of characters. Still, though, four roles is a bit slim. I’d like to see the game launch with at least eight separate roles, or sixteen characters split between the factions. That could be wishful thinking, though.
Since LawBreakers focuses primarily on 1v1 encounters and less about team comps, it won’t require the wide array of roles that Overwatch does. There’s no need for some of the more defined roles like tanks, or supports, or any of that jazz. The characters of LawBreakers just need to be able to kill each other, and well.
That they do – some more than others, but this is an early alpha and I never put much stock in balance at this stage of any game. Chances are if you LawBreakers, you’ll find yourself repeatedly sliced up by the assassin, who has ridiculous mobility, and swords that murder in quite the timely fashion. She’ll probably see some adjustment sooner rather than later, or other characters might be brought up to her level. That or players just need to spend some time with the game to learn how best to counter her.
Her kit is impressive to say the least. For as much damage as the assassin does in close range, she’s able to close the gap with impressive efficiency. She has a grappling hook that can hit players, and drag her straight to them. It can also be used to build some impressive momentum, especially in the low gravity zones. Her primary weapon is a pair of swords that can eviscerate the enemies with lower health (such as other assassins), and her secondary is a shotgun for when she’s fleeing for her life, or kiting. Or a combination of both. As said, she’s definitely the strongest of the roles, and she’s probably too strong, but people also need to learn how best to counter her.
One of the other classes, Enforcer, is probably the weakest of the bunch, or maybe that’s only because he’s the least interesting. He’s your generic guy with a gun. He’s even got a sprint, which is actually more of a speed boost and affects him whether he’s going backwards, forwards, or any other direction that exist. He’s got an EMP that can lock out abilities, and a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher as his ultimate. It can lock onto enemies, or be fired wherever you’re aiming (if you can aim). He’s not so weak he’s unplayable, but he doesn’t shine in the way the assassin does.
My personal favorite is the vanguard. She’s got a chain gun, and a jetpack, and next to the assassin, probably has the most mobility. The chain gun gains accuracy and fire rate the longer the trigger’s held, so it’s best to just hold the button down and go to town. Her jetpack (and the enforcer’s speed boost for that matter) consumes fuel. Run out of it, and you’re forced to contend with a cooldown, but if you stop jetting right before you’re out of fuel, it’ll regenerate much faster.
Her alternate fire, pulsar, expends half of her fuel reserves to perform a superheated blast that knocks enemies away (and deals a fair amount of damage) while also pushing the vanguard back. It’s a great way to finish off enemies, or to get an assassin off of you. She’s also got meteor shells, an ability that basically tosses a cluster of grenades at target. Land a direct hit, and then finish them off with a pulsar.
Her ultimate, Starfall, launches the vanguard into the air, and then brings her crashing back down in a targeted area. A direct hit will clear out most enemies and leave behind a low gravity field to help you clean up the rest. Be warned, though, you’re still vulnerable once you cast the ultimate, and if you’re killed before you complete it, you lose out on the ultimate all together and have to wait for it to charge back up. Overwatch does this nifty thing where if you’re killed right as your ultimate starts, you can cast it again once you respawn. The vanguard, and LawBreakers in general, would benefit from such a system.
The last role, Titan, has the most health, and probably comes closest to being a tank if LawBreakers in fact had tanks. He (or she) is an electrically charged behemoth with a rocket launcher, or a secondary lightning rifle for electrocuting close ranged foes. The Titan’s only form of mobility, other than stomping menacingly toward their prey, is a leap that deals a fair amount of damage to anything in the zone of impact. There’s also a neutron mine that slows enemies in its area of effect and allows for them to be more easily blown to bits by the Titan’s rocket launcher.
The ultimate, Berserk, basically turns the titan into a brawny Emperor Palpatine. They gain increased health and now shoot lighting from their fingertips for the duration. It gives the titan a great deal of sustainability in battle, and allows them to drop enemies with ease. The titan is probably the strongest role next to the assassin.
As a hero shooter, LawBreaker currently has a limited class of characters, but there’s still plenty of time to add more, and the in-game UI implies more will be coming. How long and how many? We’ll see – sooner or later. But heroes are only half of what make shooter like LawBreakers work. It’s not like you’re fighting each other in a square cube. For the moment, the game has but one game mode and two maps.
The game mode, Overcharge, plays much like a riff on capture the flag. Each team of six has to capture a battery, bring it back to their base, and then charge it to 100%. The enemy team can waltz in, steal the battery, and bring it back to their base to continue charging it under their control. Once the battery reaches 100% capacity, a twenty-second countdown will begin. The enemy has until the timer expires to steal back the battery and bring it to their base, where the timer will again start. Your team will score a point if the battery is under your control when the timer expires. Two points and you win.
In essence, it’s capture the flag. Only instead of simply bringing the flag to your base to score a point, you must bring it to your base, defend it while it’s charging up to 100% and then hope that the enemy doesn’t steal it at the last second and get a point instead. It’s an interesting riff of the game mode, but I don’t really like how one team can win even if the other team has control of it for almost the entire duration. The battery should have a separate charge for each team (and maybe reduce the time it takes to reach 100%). That way it’ll definitely favor the team with the better defense, but either team can come back.
The two maps are both laid out similarly for Overcharge. The battery spawns in the center, surrounded by a large low-gravity zone. LawBreaker’s blind fire mechanic (firing over your shoulder) can be used to give yourself a noticeable boost while airborne in these zones. In fact, it seems to serve more as a mobility move than a way to consistently get kills. It’s just a nifty bonus when there’s someone behind you.
On either side of the low gravity zone are the bases, and each has a heal station placed conveniently nearby. Don’t expect to find health packs in LawBreakers; these stations are the only way in which to heal. So it’s pretty common during battle for players to retreat and head straight for the healing station. You stand in it for a few seconds, gradually return to full life, and then return to the fray. If there’s every a role added to LawBreakers that comes with claymores or other types of mines, then those areas are the perfect spot to lay them. There are other heal stations, too, but they’re a little more out of the way.
There’s been no word on other game modes, but if they’re anything like Overcharge, I would expect them to be remixes of preexisting modes in other shooters. Domination would fit well into LawBreakers, and of course there’s the ever popular death match, but I’m not quite sure that would work super well in the game, depending on the types of roles they eventually add. If one – such as the assassin – is significantly better at killing, then that would completely upset the balance. Either way, LawBreakers will need a great deal of maps and modes before it even considers releasing.
Still though – in a world where Overwatch has all but buried its competition, LawBreakers does a great job building its own identity, even in closed alpha. As someone who’s sunk well over two hundred hours into the former, LawBreakers is a great alternative to Overwatch. They’re similar in a few key areas but play completely differently, and are both focused on entirely different types of gameplay. In one, you have to rely on your group, and working toward a goal as an actual team. In the other, whether you succeed comes down more to how good you are as an individual player. Overwatch will likely still be the game I play with friends, but as for a solo experience, LawBreakers is significantly more rewarding. It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves in the coming months until it’s finally out.