Earlier this week, Boss Key Productions and Nexon introduced the world to LawBreakers. The title has been in development for some time now at the studio, standing as Boss Key Productions founder Cliff Bleszinski's answer to the current crop of first-person shooters. While LawBreakers features team-based arena play with classes, it offers its own spin on the formula, one that's based heavily around movement mechanics. It also plays much faster than most of the shooters on the market today.
As a fan of the classic Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 Arena style of play, I enjoy LawBreakers in its launch state. I'll probably have more on that in a future review, but once you get the hang of a few of the characters, I think the game opens up into its own. And as I just said, the speed is only matched by another classic throwback, Quake Champions.
Unfortunately, it looks like the game is off to a slow start.
It's worth noting that we lack numbers for the PlayStation 4 version, so the community mayt be healthier on that platform. According to SteamSpy, LawBreakers currently has around 27,000 owners, with most of those owners being current players. As of this writing, it's number five on the Steam Top Sellers list right now, behind Total War: Warhammer II, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, Hellblade, and West of Loathing. Looking at the Steam Game Stats page on a regular basis sees Lawbreakers having trouble staying on the Top 100 games by Concurrent Steam users.
GitHyp has been tracking the concurrent player totals since launch. The game's current maximum concurrent players looks to be around 3,019 concurrent players on launch day, which is just barely enough to even be on Top 100. Since then, the concurrent maximums for each day have been going down. Not by a ton, but enough to constitute a noticeable trend.
GitHyp has LawBreakers' all time highest peak at 7,579 during the first beta in June. In comparison, Paladins peaked at 60,0573 players and today sports a peak concurrent player count of 36,366. Rainbow Six Siege topped 65,089 at its height and currently hold onto 45,229 players at its 24-hour peak. The relatively new free-to-player shooter Black Squad saw its best at 13,589 players, but currently has around 9,651 players. Worse, Gearbox' Battleborn outperformed LawBreakers at launch, with a peak of 12,076. Battleborn currently as a peak player count of 104 players.
The LawBreakers subreddit only has around 5,757 subscribed users. Over on Twitch, it's the 27th most popular title for streaming, with only 3,401 viewers at the moment.
It's not the best picture for the game.
On OpenCritic and http://www.metacritic.com/game/pc/lawbreakers, LawBreakers has positive reviews from critics, with averages of 82 on both sites. If you look at those who have reviewed the game on Steam, the sentiment has also been mostly positive, with only 171 negative reviews out of a total of 1,367 as of this writing.
"Well, this game is completely insane. I've played it all day long since it came out. It's as fast and furious as Titanfall 1, the gameplay is an absolute blast of a jumble," wrote user Guardian_Angel. "LawBreakers is sheer fun with no serious shortcoming to be discovered. It has an AAA-quality, but is more affordable at the same time."
"Played the open beta, had a rough start. Learned the ropes and after understanding how momentum, movement and zero-G functioned started to have loads and loads of fun. Requires a bit learning, but then again every game requires learning and if you put a bit dedication into this, then you can even play the game casually. The design grew on me, loving every bit of the combat," said user Love Antenna 01.
"This is a fantastic arena shooter! Mechanically it is absolutely second-to-none. If you want a shooter that is all about your own mechanical skills first and foremost, with side of teamplay, you must buy this game," wrote user RobotEmpire.
So what's going on? Why is a game that people love when they play it not getting any traction? There has to be some disconnect that's happening here. Some negative Steam users pointed to the fact that they felt there was no reason to work together as a team, compared to a game like Overwatch that requires teamwork.
"To finally have this arena-shooter style of game with all the new bells and whistles of popular 'modern' shooters was so refreshing," began user Budlofsky. "But now, I've realised why this type of game hasn't been done sooner. Is it fun? Yes. Is it hard? Yes. Does it have longevity?.. I don't believe so."
"This game requires no heavy team work. I pretty much jumped into a game, hit play on my Spotify playlist and went ham on the enemy team. In fact, I barely cared whether my team won or lost, as long as I racked up some kills. The objective was inconsequential to me. There is no incentive to work together with your team, or win matches. There is no 'strategy' element that requires heavy communication with your comrades. There is no competitive mode."
Other players pointed to class balance as an issue, with certain roles like Vanguard, Wraith, and Battle Medic standing above the rest. Give the wide variety of movement skills and abilities, it's possible that this could be an ongoing issue for the game, like balance is over in Overwatch.
"This game is 5 of the same person on every team every game. No one plays to win, they play for kills," said user Blackhawk.
"This is supposed to be a game that is about skill but every character is on a totally different playing field. Most if not all the characters are practically useless aside from Vanguard/Battle Medic/Wraith. These three characters alone have so much mobility and damage it's beyond me how they even launched with them this way," added user Lioncash.
Some players have pointed to a steep learning curve that turns off neophyte players from even trying the game in the first place.
"I've been playing this quite a bit and it's a lot of fun. I've found that most matches have been pretty intense and while the steep learning curve is there it doesn't take long to find a role you like and become comfortable with it," wrote NeoGAF user Cmagus.
"This is an incredibly difficult game to get into when you first start playing; with an almost vertical learning curve that takes a few hours to understand and will undoubtedly take dozens more to master," said a review over at GQ Magazine.
"I think the learning curve is definitely a component of why it won't be as popular as some other games. It's far less accessible than games like Overwatch, but I wouldn't say that's a problem, it's part of the fun," added NeoGAF user Chronospherics.
Perhaps it's the game's aesthetic hook? The team at Boss Key aimed for a style that feels like an older title and alongside the in-your-face marketing, folks have pegged the overall game as very "90s". In a market full of color hero shooters, that makes LawBreakers stand out, but it might also turn off some players.
"I haven't played the game, but that's the impression I've got from footage I've seen and trailers/promos etc. The whole 'edgy' design angle is really tiresome and unappealing," said NeoGAF user Triggerhappytel.
"It's the game's attitude that rubbed me the wrong way more than anything, and I feel it may do the same to others. It's certainly consistent with itself, and I dare say that these small things likely reflect the nature of its designers. There's nothing particularly bad about a character that's in your face 100% of the time, but when all of them are this way it makes them less identifiable," said VG24/7 writer Sherif Saed in a mostly positive look at the game. "Everyone kept reminding me of Ruin, the Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 hero that only speaks to insult others. I got so tired of him in the beta, despite liking his ultimate ability, that it soured me on that whole game. Fortunately, I like LawBreakers more than I hate its grating, one-note heroes, but it ends up making an already highly-challenging, draining game less appealing than it should."
Or maybe the market is simply tapped out, with games like Overwatch, Paladins, and Rainbow Six Siege sucking up all the oxygen in the room. (It probably doesn't help that Overwatch offered its all-new Deathmathc mode today.) Regardless of the reason, LawBreakers has an uphill climb ahead of it. I hope it makes that climb, because as a fan of the old style of shooter it harkens back to, I'd like to see it succeed.