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A long weekend with the LawBreakers beta

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“What is with those eyestalks?”

lawbreakers Boss Key Productions/Nexon

LawBreakers had a coming out party this past weekend, inviting more than 50,000 new people to take their multiplayer shooter for a test drive. Lead developer Cliff Bleszinski told Polygon he wanted it to feel like the opening of an exclusive nightclub.

So, did Polygon staff get swept up by the hoopla? Results were mixed.

Here’s our thoughts and feelings on our first few hours with the game.

Charlie Hall, gunslinger

My very first experience with LawBreakers was just a few weeks ago at PAX East. Suffice it to say that a single, 15-minute session in a scrum on the convention floor did not leave a very firm impression in my mind.

During the closed beta last weekend, I probably spent a good three hours with the game which, while more time that I had before, still isn’t an awful lot of experience. But my objectives going in were limited: I took the first class I saw, the gunslinger, and tried to learn to play them as best I could.

LawBreakers has seven classes right now, with two more on the way. The gunslinger class itself has two characters, each with a similar silhouette and an identical weapons loadout. It’s a curious class however.

The left mouse button controls the left-hand pistol, a fast-firing automatic jobby. The right mouse button fires a kind of hand cannon that can be charged up. Duel wielding is actually baked in from the start.

I’d spent some time with the gunslinger at PAX, and my strategy at the time could best be described as hopeful flailing. Before I played the beta, I took the time to study this 5-minute intro video offered up by the game client.

It was absolutely invaluable.

I learned that the gunslinger class is best served in a one-on-one dueling role. I learned how the weapons can be reloaded independently, such that getting a good rhythm going will allow you to keep firing continuously. I learned how to use the class’ disturbingly fast warp ability, mapped to the left shift, to evade fire and how charging forward with it led to a blistering rat-a-tat volley from both guns at the same time.

By the end of the weekend, I’d gone from 0-and-13 in my first game to 8-and-10 with 20 assists.

The tutorial was able to teach me new skills, and the game itself rewarded my commitment to practicing those skills. With eight more classes to explore, there’s a lot to learn here. That’s a huge plus in my book.

So, the classes were fun. The characters themselves were far less appealing.

Jeff Ramos, juggernaut

ramos

LawBreakers feels like the most recent entry in the “hero shooter” genre that has spent more time thinking about its shooting than its heroes. To me, the characters are easily the most off-putting part of the game. Which is a shame, because beneath the bizarre cast is a surprisingly fun experience.

First impressions are everything, especially with the competitive shooter genre getting more crowded by the day. My early time spent with LawBreakers began by marveling at how uninspiring these characters felt. Their silhouettes initially seemed to blur together. The game is fast, but I just don’t think my brain was getting enough visual information to even figure out what some classes were as they went flying by. Roles like assassin and medic make sense at a glance, but it took a few matches to tell the difference between a titan and juggernaut.

The character designs in LawBreakers feel stuck between 2006’s gruff, space marine aesthetic and the more interesting designs we’re seeing in games like Overwatch. That confusion leads to character designs that are straight up baffling, like the gunslinger example above. What is with those eyestalks? I spent more time picking apart the design flaws in the game’s characters than studying up on their abilities between matches. And once I got into matches, characters spewed one-liners that instantly got old the moment I heard them. Having to hear another groan-worthy line when I respawned was all the motivation I needed to stay alive for as long as possible.

The hero shooter genre is aptly named because an emphasis should be on making your characters dynamic and attention-grabbing. LawBreakers’ character designs almost feel like a parody of what is expected of the genre. The titans look like variations on Christopher Nolan’s much-hated design for Bane, but cranked up to 11. Enforcers feel like the starting points for a generic, NPC character as opposed to a finished product of a main hero. And don’t even get me started on how the medics are both tired, Asian character archetypes.

It’s a shame that most of my experience with LawBreakers was spent wrestling with how much I actively disliked the game’s visual design instead of having genuinely exciting gameplay moments. And that’s the rub: Once you get into the groove, LawBreakers can be thrilling. So long as you can stomach hearing a character literally say, “I never get tired of kicking butt” for the hundredth time.