The final Lawbreakers open beta launched in Australia at midnight on Saturday morning, to limited fanfare. As you may be aware, I’ve been waiting on this game for some time, and with the release due only next week, I was surprised at the announcement of the beta on both PC and PS4. Surprise aside, I did jump in and play the hell out of it, so here are my first impressions after around 10 hours in-game playtime.
If you haven’t read my previous overview, I’ll give you a quick rundown. At its heart, Lawbreakers is a team- and role-based shooter in a similar vein to Overwatch, but in practice, very different. Players choose a role and play towards an objective, but the focus for all classes (including tanks and healers) is on DPS and weapon accuracy. Further, Lawbreakers involves ultra-high mobility (even for the slower tanks), putting the game very much in league with fast-paced twitch shooters like Quake Arena and Unreal Tournament (unsurprising given Lawbreakers is the brainchild of Cliff Bleszinski, who was heavily involved in the latter). As a result, Lawbreakers is kind of in a genre of its own, sitting somewhere between Unreal Tournament and Overwatch.
The beta provides access to 8 character roles, but there will be 9 at launch. A 10th will eventually be released as free DLC. The roles range from your run-and-gun type, through big beefy tank, armed with an automatic shotgun and deployable shield to a healer who lobs grenades over distance and provides healing via drone. What’s important to note is that every role is vastly different – not just in terms of abilities, but in terms of how they play. New players will find it difficult to get to grips with all of the roles on offer – and what you might think is noob friendly at first glance may well turn out to be highly complex in practice. Some roles require a steady hand, while others require the player to anticipate movement, but none of them are easy in any way. In fact, I’d suggest it took me around 5 hours just to get to a point where I could understand which roles suited my playstyle.
Being team-based, there are objectives, of course. There are four game types in the beta (and I understand these will be the same modes on offer in the full release) – Overcharge, Turf War, Blitzball, and Uplink. These will have you either defending points on the map, scoring points by delivering a ball to your base, or defending items that require a “charge” at your base. While they may sound similar, they do play very differently, and I understand there will also be a fifth mode with the launch of the game.
These modes are far more aligned with standard FPS objective modes than other team-based games like Overwatch and Paladins. What sets Lawbreakers apart even further, though (and this is beyond even the increased mobility), is the fact that maps are built around low gravity areas. In these areas, players can essentially “fly”. Movement in these areas takes some getting used to, but the ability to move forwards and backwards, side to side, and up and down eventually becomes second nature, and really adds a new element to gameplay. Add the fact that firing a weapon then impacts your movement in this space (a rocket, for example, will send your character flying backwards), and you’ll note there is a lot to consider when moving about the game world.
As a team-based, multiplayer-only, first-person shooter, there must be loot to chase in order to provide some impetus to play, and Lawbreakers follows the very sane Loot Box model, per Overwatch. These are referred to as “Stash Drops” and are awarded as players increase in level. Within these Stash Drops, players can find character skins, weapon skins (both primary and secondary, for characters that have both), weapon stickers (cooler than you think), player emblems, and kick decals (which pop up on screen when you kick another player to eliminate them in a match). This allows for a hell of a lot of customisation, with common, rare, exotic and “boss” grade loot to find over time. Credits are occasionally awarded as well (and are also paid out for duplicates), and items can also be purchased using this credit system, so there is the capability to select what players desire, but it will take some grinding to build up the credits required for certain items. In addition, Lawbreakers has implemented its own achievement system, with achievements at the character and game mode level, so players can chase after these achievements, which pay out XP and goes towards levelling up faster (and thus accessing Stash Drops more often). It’s a pretty solid system, but I have to admit, it took me about 10 hours to discover this, as it was kind of buried within the (kind of stale) menus.
So how did all of this play? While it is by far the most difficult shooter I’ve played (and I’ve played quite a lot, although admittedly I’m pretty average in terms of skill), it’s also one of the most enjoyable. Probably the most important thing to note about Lawbreakers is that this is a high-skill environment – there are no character roles with low skill floors; virtually all roles have their own pros and cons, and require a level of skill, patience, and strategy in order to perform well. I discovered that my accuracy is well below average, so my focus was to defend the objective, and I found this contributed well towards overall team performance. However, if you’re looking for a fun, somewhat casual FPS experience, you might not enjoy Lawbreakers. For my first 10 matches (at least), I found myself at the bottom of the leaderboards, with an overall K/D of around 0.25… Twenty or thirty matches later, I’ve brought that up to around 0.5, and – given my skill and accuracy – I’m happy with that for now (although I’m working towards 1.0) as I can see some improvement. But I also know that it will be a while before I try to play a role that requires high accuracy (I need to develop my gamesense and positioning before I can be effective in one of those roles). That said, there are others likely with more multiplayer FPS experience that are really performing well – highly positive K/Ds and 20+ eliminations per match with far less playtime than me. That’s life – realistically, I only discovered my love for multiplayer shooters last year, so I’m behind the 8-ball here, but I’m playing towards my own skill. Personally, I’m OK with that, but it’s certainly not for everyone.
And I guess that leads me to the negatives… On one hand, being a high-skill twitch shooter is a wonderful thing, but on the other hand, it really only appeals to a subset of FPS players. This is a concern, because Lawbreakers is a really well-realised game, and it plays extremely well. It’s also priced extremely well (releases Aug 8 for $45 on the PSN store). However, playing against high skill players almost feels unfair – I often felt outmatched in 1v1 situations simply because my aim wasn’t as good as others. In Destiny, for example, the game is a little more forgiving – if you get the jump on the other player, you’ll generally win the shootout. Here, you really need to hit every shot, and the hitboxes are TIGHT. Getting trounced is not a great feeling, and I think some people will play the game and give it up after a few matches of feeling crappy. Perhaps the matchmaking system will be more balanced on full release, but I found myself continually being outmatched game after game. This might have something to do with the player population in the beta, but I guess we’ll see. With this kind of difficulty, the population may fall off quickly even if it initially sells well. Again, I can only hope the matchmaking is more balanced in the final release – playing against players of equal skill level is far more enjoyable, and winning a few matches feels good (being MVP feels even better – and if you watch my gameplay video (at the end of this article), you’ll notice I managed to be MVP with very few eliminations, simply by playing the objective).
Another issue I have is with longevity. I’m unsure how much more the full game will have, but I get the feeling the beta was almost the full game. I know there is a training mode, as well as one additional character, a new mode (or perhaps the training mode is all that’s coming?), and one new map coming in the full release, but I kind of expect that will be all. As much as I enjoyed the beta, I almost feel like I experienced everything the game had to offer. What it really needs is a Competitive mode, a la Overwatch, as this is the real reason most players keep going back to that game day after day… In addition, there need to be regular events, and constant DLC – new skins, new characters, game modes, and so on and so forth – they really need to provide a reason to not just keep playing, but to come back if you decide to give it a rest. Especially given the release of Destiny 2 only one month later…
Lastly, in terms of negatives, the game seems to be lacking some polish in regards to the menu presentation. In game, everything is really well laid out and presented (for the most part) – in menus, though, everything looks a little… dull. Perhaps Boss Key is going with the “keep it simple” perspective, or perhaps this menu was whipped up simply for the beta, I guess time will tell. And if I’m going to complain about menus and the like, I should mention the lack of customisation when it comes to controls – it would be nice to be able to completely remap buttons instead of relying on presets – and more importantly, I’d LOVE the ability to customise my crosshairs. I found the crosshairs a little too hard to see in the craziness of a match… If Lawbreakers is going to take any more pages out of Overwatch’s playbook, they should really look at the level of customisation available in the menus there…
I encountered a number of issues in the beta, and given this is only a beta, I expect most will be sorted by the time the game is released, but I’ll list them below for posterity:
Overall, I really enjoyed the beta, and I’m looking forward to the full release next week. Part of me will be sad to see my progression disappear (I finally unlocked a Boss-grade character skin, per my video above), but on the other hand, it will be nice to restart my stats, as they are currently TERRIBLE. My biggest concern is that not enough people will pick the game up – I think that if enough people give the game a chance, then the community will build. If the community doesn’t get the chance to thrive, then the game will die a slow, painful death – painful especially because it deserves to be successful. Time will tell.