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As more multiplayer games try to stay relevant for months after release, developers are doing whatever they can to make their online experiences stand out over the competition. It’s difficult to do that completely from scratch, so it’s not unusual to take inspiration from games who are already having success. That’s exactly what Amazon’s Breakaway is doing.
Breakaway is a MOBA-like sports brawler where the primary goal is getting a ball past enemy defenses and into a goal, it’s a simple concept that’s made more complicated by a variety of heroes, buildable defensive items, and power ups that can be earned through collecting gold. The game is divided into rounds, with each team being reset between them. The first team to score three times is crowned the victor.
The game pits teams of four against each other in small symmetrical arenas with the relic, the ball you play with, placed in the center. You can choose to play defensively by focusing on your buildables—think defensive items like turrets—and creating a line that will be difficult to cross, or you can go directly for the goal and do your damndest to pass, dodge, and fight your way into enemy territory.
In order to win you have to get the relic all the way into the other team’s base, a small circular area on each side of the map, perform a team kill, or keep the relic in enemy territory after time runs out. No matter which outcome you end up with, the action is almost always intense.
I had a great time sitting down with the game, but I couldn’t help but see the influences from Overwatch and Rocket League all over the place. Like Overwatch, the cast of heroes is a diverse mix of types and backgrounds and like Rocket League the game is centered around a ball that is constantly moving across the map.
There is nothing wrong with either of those observations, I probably enjoyed the game more because of those similarities. I tried several characters over the seven or eight matches I played, and I grew attached to some of them just like I did with Overwatch’s Torbjörn and Reaper.
Breakaway’s characters include various tank, healer, and ranged units that all have unique abilities, buildable defenses, and stats. I spent most of my time with Thorgrim, a very powerful Viking, and Rawlins, an efficient ranged character.
Before starting each match we had enough gold to upgrade our characters attributes, buffing stats and abilities like additional damage to enemy buildables or increased armor or health. They were basic categories, but as you collect more gold in the match by destroying buildables or killing enemies you can continue to upgrade up to four different categories. Once you’ve made those upgrades the difference is palpable.
After making Thorgrim a menace to enemy buildables, I could easily rampage through enemy territory taking out a lot of the opposition’s defensive placements, making a clearer path between the relic and the goal.
As soon as the round gets underway most players will opt to set up some of their buildables, things like turrets, walls, and spikes that make it significantly harder to get the relic into your goal. These items play a big role, especially as the match goes on. They don’t go away between rounds so teams are able to build upon existing defensive, making rounds last even longer as the match goes on.
Each round can either last a few minutes, with each team pushing back and forth until one finally scores or the timers ends. Occasionally a team’s effort to rush at the very beginning will pay off, I was able to score a few clutch points in the first 30 seconds by going straight for the relic and then the goal.
One of Breakaway’s biggest strengths is the variety of team variations, strategies, and playstyles that it caters to. It emulates the features that inspired it, making it a blast to play.
My main concern is with the game’s current polish, or lack thereof. Blizzard and Psyonix have established themselves as the kings of polish in the gaming industry, which is part of how they’ve been so successful in the space. They have continued to make their games better by adding new content long after release. And even before that, the released product was finely tuned so that casual enthusiasts and hardcore gamers could both get complete satisfaction.
I think a great community can form around Breakaway if the developers can somehow prove that they can be like the companies they are emulating. Overwatch and Rocket League weren’t made in a vacuum either, they took inspiration from games that came before them as well. But those developers took the time to build upon and even perfect some of those features that will give their games long and meaningful lives. I’m hopeful that Amazon can do the same as Breakaway wraps up Alpha and heads into Beta and eventually release.