Early Impressions: PALADINS
If there’s one word I’d use to describe PALADINS, the new hero-shooter/MOBA hybrid from Hi-Rez Studios (developers of SMITE), it would be its current state of development: beta. With choppy framerate, narrow map layouts, and bland character designs, it’s clear Hi-Rez wants (read: needs) feedback on where to take the game, hopefully away from the comparisons to OVERWATCH. But is OVERWATCH really the game it needs to differentiate itself from? The connections are certainly there, but it’s even harder to ignore the MOBA-like qualities it shares with other games in the genre, like BATTLEBORN or PARAGON.
When you join a team, you’ll choose a champion from four categories: front line, damage, support, or flank. You’ll need to play often to gain the gold required to unlock anyone else outside of the starting eight, unless you want to buy crystals with real world cash to unlock the champions faster, similar to SMITE and BATTLEBORN. You also get to change the cosmetics of the champion you choose, which can be purchased with gold or crystals as well, but do not have any tangible effects outside of making you look like a badass.
Like any MOBA, PALADINS only allows one of each champion per team, and you can’t switch champions midgame either. At the very least, it helps players get better acquainted with the champions they choose, and sets it apart from the likes of OVERWATCH’s casual play, while avoiding the same pitfalls that were seen in earlier iterations of that game’s competitive mode.
Torbjorn, is that you?
In terms of aesthetics, the champions themselves are nothing to write home about. Many are almost identical to the stars of competing titles, such as Viktor, channeling Heavy-ly from TEAM FORTRESS 2, or Fernando, who is literally Reinhardt from OVERWATCH. Not much originality is present in the, well, original character designs either, considering many are just simple archetypes like Medieval Archer, Mech, and Plant Man. Don’t expect too much diversity with the environments, either. The maps are just as bland as the character designs, sporting the most generic themes imaginable. While there is a certain charm to the art style, I wish Hi-Rez could have gone a little out of their way to make more interesting designs, like they did with the deities found in SMITE.
Outside of looks, the maps feel quite narrow and claustrophobic. If you’re playing a Payload or Siege mission, the passages become even smaller once the cart needs to be escorted or stopped. While the tight spaces make the matches go by somewhat quicker, it can be quite a pain to get a kill or two in with everyone bouncing back and forth between each other, not immediately realizing who’s an enemy or a fellow teammate.
Shoot first, ask questions later.
The core of PALADINS is in its modes of play: Siege, Payload, and Survival. Siege and Payload are similar in that you need to escort a cart into the enemy base, or stop it if you’re on the other side. The difference between the two is that in Payload, the teams switch roles after every round, whereas Siege is strictly a one-sided affair. Survival is an interesting take on team deathmatch, as it pits all ten players against each other in the middle of the map. You can’t step outside the center, or a fog will gradually drain your health.
The actual gameplay, however, is an entirely different story in and of itself. Immediately starting the match, waiting to leave your spawn base, the framerate drops drastically. Going into the field, it gets worse, usually leveling out just below 30 FPS. It stays consistent, but with the framerate as it is and a chaotic battlefield of ten players attacking each other, PALADINS fails to shine as the fast-paced shooter it tries to be. As a primarily damage-focused player, the frame drops proved an unacceptable handicap to my accuracy, leading to me missing key shots or getting killed because a few stutters froze my champion in place, making me an easy target. This is an all-too important issue that needs to be addressed before the game’s full launch.
It’s time to d-d-duel?
PALADINS makes use of a deck system and items, standard mechanics that appear in most MOBAs today. The cards provide special bonuses to each individual champion that can boost stats for the entire game. You collect these cards from loot boxes (received after reaching certain achievements, leveling up, or purchasing with crystals) or craft them using the gold you’ve acquired through normal play in order to build your decks. Items are also cards, but they are only temporary and are bought with points (awarded for completing objectives or kills) at your own team’s spawn base. The cards are fairly standard, offering perks such as a speed boost when on your mount or extra damage when you have a high killstreak. To get you started, PALADINS gives each new player a set of preloaded decks for each champion to experiment with and try out.
With some identical game modes and character designs, it’s hard not to compare PALADINS to OVERWATCH. But Hi-Rez is best known for SMITE, and it’s MOBA-like mechanics are much more apparent in PALADINS than even its striking visual similarities to Blizzard’s shooter. But even then, it’s quite generic, even for a genre hybrid, and it’s riddled with a technical problems to boot. I want to like the game, and I want to see where it goes moving forward. But with similar MOBA shooter BATTLEBORN dead on arrival, and competitor PARAGON currently dominating the emergent genre, it’s hard to envision a future where PALADINS holds any inkling of significance. In a market where it’s important to stand out, PALADINS seems content to sink into the crowd.
Reviewed on PC