Of Imitation And Flattery
This review is a relatively long time coming. I first heard of Lawbreakers when I was covering this year’s E3 conference, and I was immediately charmed by the teaser trailer. Sure, it sort of felt like an Overwatch clone, but it still looked interesting. Weeks went by and I picked up Lawbreakers during a free beta weekend before being granted a review copy a few days later.
I’ve dumped a lot of time into LB, and I’ve given it a lot of thought over the past few weeks. Through countless, breakneck paced matches, I’ve come to this conclusion:
It’s good, but it could have stood to be workshopped a bit more.
It’s very evident that Lawbreakers was built from the ground up for professional, competitive play. Each of the game’s five modes focus heavily on objectives and team goals rather than individual kill/death ratios. It’s a really refreshing style of online competitive play after over a decade of Call of Duty style competitive play.
Lawbreakers is a very solid game with tight controls, interesting maps and characters. However, it draws heavily from other, better excecuted team-based shooters and even a few MOBAs. And it is very difficult to talk about this game without directly comparing it to these games.
And Lawbreakers expects you to be intimately familiar with the games it is trying so hard to emulate. It absolutely refuses to hold your hand.
There is a very steep learning curve, not at all alleviated by the utter lack of a proper tutorial. There is a tutorial menu selection, but it only plays YouTube videos of the different basic and ultimate attacks each character can perform. During the beta weekend I played, there was no control reference, so players new to team-based shooters in general (like myself) are left floundering.
I shouldn’t have to look up a Wiki article to see which key performs which attack, or think to myself “This feels a bit like League of Legends, I wonder if the controls are the same?” And then realize that yes, yes indeed the controls are almost an exact replica of LoL.
Since launch, however, Boss Key has updated the HUD and UI to include an in-game key reference for attacks. It’s a much needed improvement to the game, but it shouldn’t have needed to be done.
It’s oversights like this that are hiding the great game that Lawbreakers is.
“Lawbreakers has the bones of a good game, and maybe even a little meat on those bones.”
And believe me, Lawbreakers is a really fun game.
As I said earlier, the game has five modes: Overcharge, Uplink, Turf War, Occupy, and Blitzball. Overcharge and Uplink are payload escort matches where teams have to capture, escort and defend either a battery or sattelite uplink. Occupy and Turf War are map control modes very much in the vein of Overwatch and even Splatoon. And Blitzball is…well, it’s American football…with death, and the ball talks to you. This is my least favorite mode simply because the ball talks to you, and it’s really annoying.
You’re trying to concentrate on not being ambushed by the enemy team and seeing where your allies are, and the ball will scream things like:
“They’re shooting at us!”
“Thanks for picking me up!”
It may seem like a small annoyance, but when the other team has an assassin equipped with a teleport ability and you’re trying to listen for the sound of a warp when suddenly, the ball starts yelling and you get gutted because you couldn’t hear the sound cue.
I’ve lost more matches than I’ve won, which doesn’t really bother me. What does bother me is that players tend to treat every game mode as deathmatch-by-default. That’s not the point of any of these modes, but oftentimes I find myself trying to get my teammates to stop upping their kill streaks in order to defend a map point or guard a payload. I wish Lawbreakers did have a dedicated deathmatch mode, though. Maybe it would attract more players.
At the time of writing, Lawbreakers has a playerbase of around 500 people, with a peak of approximately 2,500 at launch. Compared to a lot of other games out there, it’s a pitifully small audience. Having such a small base has never affected the matchmaking lobby in a negative way, surprisingly. I’ve never had trouble finding matches. And the random folks I’ve had the pleasure of playing with and against all genuinely enjoy the game.
I believe that Lawbreakers has the bones of a good game, and maybe even a little meat on those bones. It’s heartening to see the studio continue to patch, plan new maps and characters, and tweak and polish the game even though it has such a small audience.
That being said, it’s 2017, and it has been a banner year for amazing games. Even if it weren’t, consumers aren’t going to be as patient with a rough-around-the-edges game as they have been in years past. Lawbreakers, in my opinion, is a nice addition to my Steam library, and a really fun way to spend a few hours with friends. But some may want to wait for a sale or more patch releases before picking it up.