Assassins do battle in LawBreakers

LawBreakers clearly draws inspiration from the legions of arena shooters that came before it, all while throwing a whole bunch of new ingredients into the mix. But while many of its influences are worn proudly on its sleeve, some might not be quite as obvious. Racing games, for instance.

After getting in a couple of rounds with Boss Key Productions' first big title (it's rad as hell, by the way), I had an opportunity to sit down with Lead Designer Dan Nanni during E3 2017. Nanni said the LawBreakers crew knew they wanted to make an arena shooter -- something many members of the team have worked on and are comfortable with -- but they quickly realized that they wanted to bring the game into its own unique space. That's when they started tooling around with gravity and the game's unusual take on class-based gunplay, pulling ideas from RPGs and even racing games.

The Assassin, for instance, has a Frenzy ability where, when she triggers it, she can suddenly see all of the enemies lit up in front of her. If she kills someone, it heals her and also increases the duration of that ability. The inspiration of that was from checkpoint racing from racing games, where you're running through, you hit a checkpoint and you get a little more time to keep going. You get greedy and get a little more aggressive in your driving, which gets you closer to hitting that next checkpoint but, the next thing you know, you've overcommitted, you've crashed and wiped and suddenly you've lost. We wanted to use that same idea and try to make the player greedy.

But that's just one of the game's playable classes and, as Nanni puts it, those abilities don't define the classes the way players might expect. He said that, in games like Overwatch, you know what you're getting when you select a class-based character; everyone knows how a healer or a tank is supposed to behave, for instance. In LawBreakers, the team wanted to change things up a bit so that players maybe pick a role they are familiar with, only to learn that they can actually be used in a couple of different ways.

Dan Nanni used the Enforcer as an example, saying that most players will see the guy with the automatic rifle, grenade, and a speed boost and think he's meant to run point and push objectives.

But as you start playing, you realize that speed also moves your buddies, so you change the way you're using the guy. It's not just movement speed that's increased, but also reload speed and rate of fire. Next thing you know, you're using it as a buff and the Enforcer has suddenly turned into a mid-range support role rather than a push, attack or assault-oriented role.

Dan Nanni said this comes from a desire to make players feel comfortable with the roles in LawBreakers, but then reveal extra levels of depth that come to light intuitively. He said that type of balance is key in creating roles players can jump in and play immediately, while still creating incentives for players looking to dig down and really learn the classes.

More importantly, though, Dan Nanni explained that LawBreakers is not defined by these classes. In similar games, he said it's easy for players to rely on abilities with the shooting playing a secondary role. Boss Key wanted the exact opposite to be true in LawBreakers.

In our game, I think what really sets us apart is the fact that everybody is built for true skill gameplay. It's about shooting first and abilities second, in every role. Whether they're a healer or a defender or someone who is more oriented toward scoring objectives, they're all killers. At the end of the day it's about skill, it's about using the reticle and accuracy. On top of that you've got speed and verticality. In the end, it's about the player who plays the best; mouse in hand or controller in hand. It's a high skill game.

LawBreakers hits PlayStation 4 and PC on Aug. 8.

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