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Cliff Bleszinski takes aim at free-to-play PC shooter arena with LawBreakers

Former Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski launched his own studio, Boss Key Productions, just over a year ago. At PAX Prime 2015, a select number of gamers got a first taste of the studio’s free-to-play, arena-based, sci-fi shooter, LawBreakers.

Publisher Nexon isn’t announcing a release date, let alone a beta, for the new game, but the 15-minute-long demo featured a futuristic Grand Canyon level called Grandview and four playable characters (Breacher, Kitsune, Cronos, and Maverick), two from each side of the warring factions known as the Law and the Breakers.

The Law

Breacher

As a well-rounded soldier, Breacher performs well in nearly any situation. His run-and-gun gameplay is well suited for novice and experienced FPS players alike. His assault rifle and sidearm have powerful and unique abilities, but still manage to feel comfortable and easy to use. Breacher excels at quickly subduing opponents and effectively supporting teammates.

Cronos

An absolute brute. High durability and damage output, but very low mobility. Cronos charges the front lines, soaking damage for his allies and dishing out twice as much with his rocket launcher and ricochet grenades. Most opponents will want to stay as far away from Cronos as possible. If he gets too close to you, it’s probably too late – you’re already dead. 

“Each character offers a completely new learning curve,” Bleszinski said. “They have different movement abilities and different movement speeds. Most of them have two weapons, and most of those weapons have a primary and alternate fire. For example, Breacher’s alternate weapon is known as The Badger. It’s a tazer-like weapon that’s his sidearm pistol that has aim-down sights — something that not every character’s guns has.”

The Law are known more for their heavy weaponry, while the Breakers have access to drugs that offer them superhuman capabilities. For example, Bleszinski said Kitsune has the ability to invert gravity, sending enemies flying off the map. She also has the ability to do a double jump and an omnidirectional dash that, when coupled with her grappling hook, opens up all kinds of complex combinations.

“When you see these moves chained together by players, it creates these great moments,” Bleszinski said. “This goes all the way back to what I’ve been saying for years now: there is direct correlation between how great your game is and how many YouTube videos, or animated Gifs, it can yield.”

The Breakers

Kitsune

Kitsune is a fast, highly maneuverable melee fighter with deadly precision. She excels when she can get up close and personal, preferring to catch her opponents by surprise. Although she is not well-suited to tackling opponents head-on, what she lacks in durability she more than makes up for in damage output and mobility.

Maverick

An extremely mobile and highly stylized combatant. Maverick is what you would get if you strapped armor made from an F-15 Fighter Jet onto a Spec Ops soldier. Maverick uses her jets to take to the sky and quickly move around the battlefield, raining down death with her Vulcan Gatling cannon and massively destructive Starfall ability, which allows her to take flight, then plummet, dealing massive damage to anyone caught in the blast.

While there are many characters yet to be revealed, and many weapons, Bleszinski said LawBreakers may have its standout weapon already. Fans of Gears of War loved the Lancer, which became an iconic chainsaw/gun combo that created amazing combat. In LawBreakers, that killer weapon could be Kitsune’s Romerus, which is an energy shotgun with an alt fire that charges the shots by holding it. The reload is one-handed, which is the part inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator 2 shotgun.

The game is set a century from now and features a battlefield that’s been ravaged by destruction, which has messed with gravity. While that’s bad news for the citizens of tomorrow, it opens up a really cool playing field for this five-versus-five gameplay.

“We’re giving the game a very vertical feel,” Bleszinski said. “I like to refer to this game, especially for the lighter, more aerial classes, with the mindset that the ground is lava. Even if you’re playing as the Cronos, who’s our big, slow-moving, brute character who can take a lot of damage, he can still even rocket jump.”

Cronos can also blind fire his rockets through lower gravity zones in order to protect himself. Bleszinski has designed the game to include first-person blind fire on a separate button, so when you’re going through the variety of gravity zones you can really use your weapons to protect yourself without worrying about blowing up.

The first game mode revealed is called Overcharge, which has each side battling over control of a giant battery that’s used to arm weapons. Bleszinski said it’s been designed to keep the action fast and frenetic. The level has also been laid out so there’s clear line of site for the combat, even if those lines can come from different elevations.

Since this game is being designed to play for free on PC, there’s going to be both a more hardcore gaming fan base, as well as a more mainstream audience to tap into. Bleszinski said match making is going to be everything for LawBreakers.

“We’re building a game that’s very much skill-based,” Bleszinski said. “We don’t have any sort of a system in there where if you luck into a few more kills, you get more unique strikes or anything. Call of Duty owns that, let them own that. So from our end, we need to get amazing matchmaking, that’s coming in further down the line. We have some amazing network coder unicorns. We’re working on that right now. But what it comes down to is also accessibility. We have specified these roles with different kinds of classes. We basically say in the UI, easy, medium, or hard to learn.”

Bleszinski isn’t taking all the credit for this game. He has a team of over 40 developing the title in downtown Raleigh, NC.

“For every idea in the game that’s mine, there’s one that’s another employee’s,” Bleszinski said. “When I hire people at the studio I tell them, ‘This is my baby first and foremost, and these are the pillars of what we are doing. And now the game’s evolved over the last year into the company’s teenager. Eventually, as the game gets closer to release, it will become the community’s adult. That’s the arc that I’ve seen for this product at the studio.”

This first look at the new shooter is just a tease for what’s to come. There are many more characters and weapons, as well as maps and modes. The beauty of the free-to-play games space is that once a game goes live, it’s always evolving. And so far, LawBreakers stands out as something fresh in a very crowded market. Of course, getting people to play a free game isn’t the hard part, it’s getting them to invest in it, and keep coming back for more.

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John Gaudiosi
John Gaudiosi has been covering video games for over 25 years, dating back to his work for The Washington Post while in…
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