First Impressions: The Guns and Gravity of LawBreakers

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I was fortunate enough to travel to Raleigh, North Carolina to go to Boss Key studios and see the first new game from Cliff Bleszinski since his Gears of War series. It was fantastic seeing the team busy at work, and it’s obvious they strongly believe in the idea of what Cliff wants to do with this LawBreakers game. As it was a press event, I’m obligated to disclose that it happened. But I wouldn’t have gone if I didn’t have an honest belief that the game would be good.

I wasn’t disappointed with my first impressions of Lawbreakers. You won’t be either.

A key theme to LawBreakers is the basis in our reality it has. Overwatch is more cartoony and takes place in a future Earth that faced a robot uprising. A near apocalypse averted by the Overwatch heroes such as the amazing sentient gorilla Winston.  The game has a more global focus in their maps, jumping from Japan, to London, and even Egypt. Battleborn takes place in a distant space fantasy star system where intergalactic species escaped to after a universal catastrophe forced them to band together. A sci-fi mass apocalypse.

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But how does Lawbreakers set the stage?

A post-post-apocalyptic Earth after a severely damaged Moon throws off the balance of our way of life. Focusing more on the landmarks and locations of the United States, Cliff believes that it would be interesting to explore a society scarred by armageddon, but showing what would happen when the rebuilding process is happening. What would Mount Rushmore look like? How about Santa Monica, California? That’s what LawBreakers wants to show in their world and the map design. A different type of future that changes the way that we look at the familiar.

The central feature of LawBreakers is manipulating gravity. Gears of War and other shooters focus heavily on horizontal combat. One to two floor battlegrounds that limit the vertical potential there is to work with. What we saw during our LawBreakers preview shows a dramatic breakaway from that practice. You need to look straight up above your head, and beneath your feet, as there’s the chance that someone might attack you from those angles. Each of the four character classes had their own special moves that altered the normality of the gravity. It’s a game changer because you have to adapt to a law of nature at a moments notice. It’s definitely a barrier that video games haven’t fully explored yet.

The mode we played was called Overcharge. The battery in the Overcharge game mode is in the middle of a massive gravitational distortion field, which forces you to adapt your gameplay style. Cliff could have added game types like Capture the Flag, but he wanted to make something that hadn’t been done before. In Overcharge, you have to steal a large battery from the center of the map and take it back to your base. From there, you need to defend it until it fully charges. Once it does that, a twenty second countdown starts that gives the enemy team one last chance to steal it. That small window of time allows for a lot of last minute game changing plays and potential unexpected upsets to happen.

Once your team survives that twenty second window, you score a point. The battery returns to the center of the map and you have to do that again to win. The first team to get two points is declared the winner. An Overcharge battle lasts about ten minutes, but it turns out to be one of the most intense ten minutes of your life.

We had four classes to pick from. The Enforcer, the Vanguard, the Titan, and the Assassin. But there was an extra “locked” slot on the selection screen that implies that a fifth one will probably be added in closer to launch. But both sides aren’t just a different team color, the Law faction and the gang of Breakers each have a distinct personal good or evil twist to them.  All classes have a special move they can execute. The Titan goes into a berserk mode where he shoots lightning out of his hands, like Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars. The Assassin’s special is a hyperfocused heat-vision mode called “Life Stealer” where they track their opponents through walls. Health is recovered by healing stations on the map. You’re free to sneak into the enemy’s base and use theirs. The opportunity to kill someone while they’re healing is also a possibility.  The Titan has a lot of health, but moves at really slow pace. The Assassin is on the other end of that spectrum, being able to move quickly but with little health.

Guns and Gravities are the biggest influences on the battlefield. The Titan class may be a huge tank, but in a lower gravity setting he’d be able to launch his way across the battlefield using the kickback from his rocket launcher. Someone like the Assassin can also find ways to master gravity, such as using their grappling hook to propel from ledge to ledge and slicing down opponents stuck floating around in the air. The Enforcer’s electromag charge can buy you time to escape a dangerous firefight, and the Vanguard’s meteor shells can cause widespread havoc. Every one of the four classes seemed to have a potential edge they could use against the rest of the classes. The fun in playing the game was figuring that out.

My only complaints are the same old gamer instincts of always wanting more stuff. Cliff has made an intriguing premise with what he showed at the press event. He showed an original concept for a game mode with Overcharge, and I wish we had the opportunity to see what other neat ideas Boss Key have in store. It was a risk to stick closer to realism with the characters, but that will pay off in the long run for LawBreakers. The gritty futuristic designs look solid and polished.

I wanted to see more guns, maps, and modes. But the fact that I wanted to see more of that after this LawBreakers first impression means Cliff and Boss Key are headed in the right direction with this game. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next. We can expect something out of E3 2016 for sure.