Overwatch vs Paragon vs Battleborn vs LawBreakers
For anyone who has tired of that familiar grind, take heart: so have many game developers. There's a new crop of team-based shooters launching right about now that feels like a reaction to the homogenization of the genre, all featuring bold characters, vibrant visual approaches, and new and remixed play mechanics. More speed, more colour, more excitement. What's not to love?
Blizzard's Overwatch, Epic Games' Paragon, Gearbox Software's Battleborn, and Boss Key's LawBreakers collectively represent a creative pushback against the routine, and while they might not dethrone Call of Duty, they'll surely deliver many hours of multiplayer delight. And perhaps most importantly, something new.
But with so many options on the horizon, how do they differ – and which is best suited to keep you up 'til the wee hours blasting foes and/or toppling enemy bases? Here's our early take.
Due: 24 May
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Blizzard's legendary legacy was built primarily on strategy games and one particularly massive MMORPG, so the developer's pivot towards a first-person shooter is definitely unexpected. But it's also very much intriguing, as Overwatch looks flashy and fantastic, with an infectious energy we don't see often enough from the genre.
Overwatch is all about team play, with six-on-six multiplayer shootouts and four player classes available – but there's a lot more variety than that. With more than 20 different heroes revealed so far, you'll be able to choose from a wide array of anime-esque characters to command.
Included in the pack are a dual-shotgun-packing grim reaper, a young lady with a freeze ray, and a former pro gamer turned mech pilot (Blizzard really knows its audience, eh?). And their respective ultimate abilities can really turn the tide of battle when used effectively. Blizzard says that more heroes and maps will be added free over time, too.
Hopefully you had a chance to try out this premium game before the release, as a free open beta just concluded - but if not, the full release is right around the corner and the beta reception seemed widely positive. Take it from us: based on the beta, we're calling Overwatch Blizzard's "best game in years."
Best for: Colorful carnage, amazing hero abilities, and Team Fortress 2-like action.
Due: Later in 2016 (Full Game)
Platforms: PC, PS4
Developed by Epic Games, the studio behind shooter classics like Unreal Tournament and Gears of War, Paragon is primarily something very different: it's a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), much like world-conquering PC favourites like League of Legends and Dota 2. Only it isn't an entirely traditional MOBA.
Much like those games, you'll engage in five-on-five battles comprised of various heroes to try and take down the enemy's base, all while protecting your own – and you'll encounter loads of pesky minions along the way, all while unleashing your one-of-a-kind abilities. However, Paragon takes Epic's heritage into consideration and gives you a third-person perspective, making real-time action a larger focus than those genre contemporaries.
The result is a much less frantic feel than something like Overwatch: it's not team deathmatch, rather you're working together to accomplish gradually larger goals while attacking and defending. Even with the greater action focus, things aren't too chaotic, and there's a nicely strategic edge. Still, it can be plenty addictive, just like other top MOBA games.
Paragon is actually playable now if you buy a Founder's Pack, letting you tap into Early Access on either platform. But if you wait for the proper release later this year, it'll be free-to-play, with all heroes available without spending money.
Best for: Free-to-play fun, tactical teamwork, and an elevated MOBA experience
Due: Released (3 May)
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Battleborn is the newest original game from Borderlands maker Gearbox, which should tell you something about the tone and style: it's not exactly the same, but this fresh franchise is similarly brash and over-the-top in approach.
When it comes to gameplay, however, Battleborn is a bit more distinctive: it's a pretty even hybrid of a first-person shooter and a MOBA, delivering a load of different characters that you'll use to defend your base, slash through enemy heroes, and ultimately conquer their stronghold. Like Overwatch, Battleborn has a wide selection of heroes to choose from, with 25 available so far, and most of them have a cartoonish appeal. Still, it's all business on the battlefield.
Battleborn's biggest edge in this showdown, aside from that killer aesthetic, has to be the inclusion of a proper narrative campaign mode. Sure, it has online multiplayer modes available for your team-centric showdowns, but it also has a proper story mode that you can play alone or with up to three friends in tow.
It's also the first of these to have a full release: Battleborn just released last week on all three platforms, so you can suit up and start blasting across all modes immediately.
Best for: Co-op campaign action, delightfully diverse characters, and a sharp sense of humour.
Due: Summer 2016
Look past the laughably generic name and nauseatingly over-aggressive attitude and LawBreakers – the first game from Boss Key Productions, founded by Gears of War co-creator Cliff "CliffyB" Bleszinski – seems like it'll be a blast. Unlike the other games on this list, it doesn't really have a MOBA influence, as it's more of a class-based, first-person arena shooter. But it's definitely different from any that came before.
Most noticeable is the way the game plays with the laws of gravity. LawBreakers is set in a world that has been ravaged by some kind of catastrophe, and as a result, there are areas with anomalies – parts of the map in which gravity is totally busted. You can use that as a gameplay advantage if you know how, bobbing and weaving through the chaos to take down foes, although we found it difficult to wrangle in our pre-alpha hands-on.
Each class has its advantages and disadvantages, but they're all offensive-minded and designed to wreak havoc with sweet perks – in other words, you won't find a medic here. The Assassin, for example, wields an amazing lasso that lets her swing across the map, while the hulking Titan has a devastating ground-pound maneuver. You'll play as either the Law or the Breakers team, which… well, it's tough to even say that with a straight face.
Originally planned as a free-to-play game, LawBreakers was recently made a full premium release due this summer, and Boss Key is taking signups for a coming alpha test.
Best for: Frenzied arena blasting and flipping the bird at gravity.