Hands-On with Lawbreakers at E3 2016

Cliff Bleszinski and Boss Key Want to Bring Back the Classic Arena Shooter with a Twist

July 1, 2016 by

At E3 this year, we sat down with Cliff Bleszinski and the developers of his latest multiplayer shooter project, Lawbreakers. Since leaving the Gears of War franchise, the controversial creative director has formed Boss Key Productions with an impressive team of all star developers all of whom have prior triple-A game experience. Boss Key has been hard at work over the past couple years trying to bring the arena shooter back to its former late ’90s/early ’00s glory… and despite other new games like Overwatch, Battleborn, Doom, and Quake having the same idea, Lawbreakers seems unique enough to survive in its soon-to-be crowded genre.

Just like fashion, Bleszinski and Boss Key believe Lawbreakers will help introduce a new generation of gamers to the old arena concept. Although Lawbreakers runs on Unreal Engine 4, Bleszinski spoke passionately about how he at times felt slightly hamstringed in charge of Epic’s premier title when his development team needed to focus their efforts on showing off cool new effects that could be used to help market and sell the Unreal Engine rather than focusing on fine-tuning the actual gameplay.

Now, the team at Boss Key are putting aside singleplayer and giving less attention to superficial features such as facial animations and water reflections to instead focus on framerate over graphics — which is always good to hear from a developer with so many other modern games still launching at 30fps.

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Multiplayer maps on the Unreal Engine have always been beautiful and Lawbreakers looks to be no exception even with the developer’s new emphasis on gameplay over graphics. Each of the maps we saw teased featured colorful scenery that was surprising considering most of the developers have come from a rusty post-apocalyptic “destroyed beauty” background. Apparently Boss Key’s team is  tired of making things look so drab and are trying to make locations on maps feel more alive and be more memorable so that teams can communicate and easily find each other on the multilayered maps.

The most unique part of the one map we played on was the zero gravity zone in the middle where players could “break” the “laws” of physics and jump into wild flying combat at any time. With Lawbreakers‘ primary mode being all about map-control, it’s going to be interesting to see how other maps use the anti-gravity mechanic to create chaotic central points for players to fight over. The more we played, the less the zero-g felt like the a gimmick as it became more natural to traverse maps in different ways such as it did in Titanfall a couple years ago.

At E3 the developers were showing off the multiplayer mode “Turf” that plays like a traditional Domination mode but slightly altered with some new concepts to give it a fresh and unique feel. In Turf, gameplay consisted of three locked points on the map that once captured by one of two teams ended the round. Capturing all three points would send the game into a brief “resting” period where we could continue to kill players on the enemy team in an effort to delay their respawn timer once the half-time ended and the next round started.

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The combat we experiences in the hour we played was certainly fast and pitted our team of five Law members against another team of five Breakers. Each character had a unique set of skills similar to Overwatch and other skilled-based MOBA. The most interesting skills we got to use was the grappling hook and the ability to shoot behind you while still running forward to not only kill enemies in hot pursuit, but also as a booster to fly faster in zero-g environments.

In our demo of Lawbreakers, both teams had four different classes that could be chosen from. But unlike other class-based games, Lawbreakers‘ classes among the two teams were completely symmetrical… which made things feel somewhat limiting compared to the much larger character pools available in similar new games. Boss Key said this was done to ensure that the gameplay remained the same no matter which side the player is put on and so that they could allow a little bit of backstory to be told with characters remaining on the side that fits their character’s personality and history. While there is balance among the characters, Bleszinski made it clear that it’s not a game of rock, paper, scissors and certain counters won’t always work against more skilled players.

There’s still no official release date, but Nexon’s PC-exclusive is shooting for the end of 2016. As of right now, Alpha signups have opened on the official Lawbreakers website with more weekend tests coming soon.