Paladins BETA First Impressions

Marcus

Ben, Matt and myself have had the pleasure of partying up and having a crack at the latest Team Shooter to come out of the woodwork, this time from the team that brought you Smite, Hi-Rez Studios. Nestling itself firmly within the genre, it is about to go head on against titles like Overwatch and Battleborn, so how does it stack up?

This game is far more complex than Overwatch, more complex than Battleborn, but still less complex than a typical MOBA. There are five game modes at first glance (Siege, Payload, Survival, PVE Challenge and something called Test Queue) and so far we have only been able to have a look at the first four.

Siege is the first game mode and to us it seems like the most fun. It’s first to four points and you score a point for capturing a central location and dropping in a giant cart. You then need to push that cart (by way of being in its proximity and it seems to just push itself) into your opponents’ base to score another point. Fail to do so in the allotted time and the other team will score a point (unless they are on match point). Once a cart has been scored or stopped the map resets and you keep going. This is a lot of fun and already we have had some really clutch games where we came back from adversity but one thing that does seem a little anticlimactic is that the game can be won or lost at the initial capture point. It seems to be won there more often than it is won in the endzone.

Payload again has you escorting a cart through a map but this time as an offensive team and a defensive team. The offensive team sits in base at the start of the game and sorts out its loadouts for the game while the defensive team has free roam of the entire map to set up an opening ambush. Once the round begins the offensive team needs to gain an upper hand in the initial team fight so that it can start moving its cart through the map. In my first game this proved nigh on impossible. It was my first game against real people (not bots) and they had set up an effective front line right outside our base and were simply picking us off with impunity. We got our cart 20% of the way to goal in the end and a late team triumph finally got us some momentum but it was easily arrested. On the flip side, once round one is over your teams switch roles and the new offensive team need only match your cart pushing distance to win. Needless to say round two was over quite quickly and that was it. This seemed a little anticlimactic as well as I would have preferred to see a cricket-like innings mechanic where the game is decided over two turns each and the results are based on the aggregate total of two pushes.

Survival is more your standard team elimination death match. 5v5, if you die you’re out. Eliminate the team to score a point and it’s first to 5. The twist with this one is that after a certain amount of time a fog of war creeps in to the arena from the outer boundary and slowly advances toward the center of the arena. Get caught in it and you will start to take damage. This forces players into fighting and not hiding so it’s not ideal for snipers. This is a more intense experience but is a lot of fun and very well thought out.

PVE Challenge, I assume, will be a different scenario each week. This week’s scenario saw us facing a fixed enemy team controlled by bots with a significant advantage. You had to capture a central location before they do and we just ended up getting messed up. We get the impression that this mode is for experienced players who want to try something a little bit different.

The in-situ character management system is quite different to other Team Shooters. When you join a game’s lobby you choose a character and how they are going to look. After that you spawn into the arena and have 60 seconds to sort out your strategy.

Step 1: Choose a legendary perk that affects you for the entire match. You are given a free one with the option of unlocking another two with in game currency (more on that later).

Step 2: You choose your loadout based on a hand of five cards. When building a loadout you choose up to five cards from a series of a couple of dozen each worth one point. You can then spend up to 12 points boosting individual cards to make them more powerful for that loadout. For example one card says “kills and eliminations gain you 6 ammo.” Boost that with a point and 6 becomes 12, then 12 becomes 18 etc.

Step 3: Buy skills. This would be the equivalent of buying items in a MOBA but not as complicated. Having said that, looking at 16 options all at once when you’re under pressure to select is a little daunting at first until you understand how it works. The skills are arranged into four sets of four based loosely around defense, attributes, health and damage. Once you select an option from a category the other three become unavailable to you. So what looks like a lot of information at once really comes down to four decision points. Once you’ve decided on what’s best for your character, situation and style of play, you’re right to head off on your mount that just magically appeared out of nowhere. This system has a steep learning curve but once you wrap your head around it, it provides you with an ideal balance between simplicity and versatility. Each character will have a couple of effective builds depending on how you wish to use them which makes the whole thing feel more tactical and will appeal to the hardcore eSporty types.

It’s through the account management part of the game that we start to feel more like a MOBA (and a lot of mobile games for that matter). Each match you play earns you experience for both your account and the character you used. Level them up to receive perks such as in game currency and chests. Open chests to get cards, customisations and more in game currency. Cards can be used to make loadouts and customisations make your characters look and sound pretty. The game has no less then three types of currency. Crystals, purchasable with real money, can go toward boosts, characters and customisations. Gold, earnt by leveling up characters and your account, are used to unlock customisations. And finally Essence is kind of like the currency in Hearthstone, lets you craft cards and  can be gained through chests, playing games and breaking down card duplicates. Like most MOBAs this game has a path to competitive play. You start off only being able to play casually at first until you have a certain number of characters sufficiently leveled. At account level 7 you can start to take on daily challenges. What is good about all this is that it’s a tried and true method of making sure that only the serious players who know what they are doing compete at any hardcore level. The thing that is not so great is that this is a game that you can buy that still wants to charge you for micro transactions. I hate that! To me it’s like having your cake and eating it too. What offsets this a little though is that if you purchase the founders pack, you get to own every hero, ever. No base pack of original heroes then later buying DLC packs to get the rest. In that sense you are really looked after for investing in the game.

Overall, game play is fun, exciting and challenging and seems at this stage to be quite well balanced. For a Beta there aren’t too many bugs, although I did identify one for Victor where in certain circumstances he continually fires his weapon without you pulling the trigger. No doubt that will be ironed out in time for release. One thing though that will have us Aussie gamers chomping at the bit is that we will have our own servers!

Is this a good game? Yes, I think so, but don’t just take my word for it. This is what my partners in crime had to say:

Ben J

I have been playing FPS games for most of my life and recently I have begun trying my hand at MOBAs and I’ve been enjoying them. So when I got the chance to get an early look at Paladins I was very excited. I played for a few days and tried all the modes available, I also played by myself and with a group.

Things I enjoyed:

  • There are tonnes of incentives to log in and play games everyday, getting just a few wins a day gives you a decent amount of gold which can be used to buy heroes or chests.
  • The load out system is a great idea, it really appealed to me and made me feel like I could make my heroes unique and different from everyone else’s. It also let me change how the character worked. I was playing a support hero that wasn’t healing enough for my tastes, so I changed the load out and tripled my healing. This felt great.
  • I also loved the art style of the game, it was very smooth and clean. The level design was also incredibly well thought out, each map worked great for their corresponding game modes.

Things I didn’t enjoy:

  • The game has three different currencies (crystals, gold and essence), I found this a bit confusing at first as each currency was used for different parts of the game. This could easily just be 2 currencies (one tied to real money and one provided by in game actions).
  • As much as I loved the load out system, I did feel like it was a little bit pay to compete. To unlock the best cards for the load out you had to use a fair amount of essence, this is difficult to do when you begin the game unless you spend some amount of money.
  • I also found that due to the buying abilities during gameplay some games quickly steam rolled out of control and there was no chance of a comeback. While this is also true of some MOBAs, those games can go significantly longer which allows the other team to catch up. But due to the fast paced nature of the FPS genre teams don’t have the chance to catch up.

Overall I found Paladins to be a decent game. It tried to find the balance between MOBAs and FPS but it doesn’t seem to capture the best parts of both worlds. I can see the appeal but I don’t think I would continue playing it, the game just made me want to play more genre specific games like Overwatch or Heroes of the Storm.

Matt

The Good

Loadouts

This is it. This is the thing which sets this game apart from all the other FPS games out there, and it’s cool as hell.

There are several cards for each character which modify the character’s abilities, and you play with a loadout of five cards. Each card can be “leveled up” by up to four points (I, II, III, IV), which increases the modification the card grants. You are given a point allowance of twelve to work with. On top of this, when you enter a game you are given the choice of one of three legendary cards which also modifies your character’s ability. This creates some interesting games because these different builds can really shake things up. I’m reminded of the ways in which you can train your Pokémon in the later generations. The “oh no” feeling you get when you hit a character with something you’ve designed to hit hard and you realise that you’re up against a completely differently built character is sweet. This is an extra layer of metagaming which I really enjoyed. Playing with Ben and Marcus, we each took some time to tweak our loadouts between games to support our play style for our characters and it made a massive difference.

Maps and Character Balance

There’s not really much to say about this except that the maps are really cool. There are a lot of great hiding spots where flanking characters and snipers can hide out or ambush you from, and you never feel like there’s only one way into or out of a skirmish. There were plenty of times where we were pushing through a really narrow section of a map only to suddenly be surrounded by flanking characters and being picked off by a sniper.

I’d suggest playing with a team of friends, and link up with headsets. Flanking is massive in this game, and being able to warn your team mates properly is important. Myself, Marcus, and Ben got to play together after we’d unlocked all the characters which meant that we could really play around with the balance of the game by talking about our character picks, picking our perks based on the opposing side’s character composition, and being extra eyes for each other. That was the most fun I had playing this game, and it simply doesn’t exist when you try to solo queue.

Characters

Yes, some of these characters are similar in certain ways to characters in other team-based FPSs. But there are also some really cool character designs here, and some awesome effects. There’s a nice mix of fantasy design and modern sci-fi elements, with machines, gadgets, and magic. The characters are also quite diverse in that they aren’t all completely humanoid. There’s a dwarf, a tortoise, an orc, a fox, a living totem, robots, a stone golem, and a walking dragon mixed in there.

My only problem with the characters so far is that there’s no backstory to any of them, and without that, a lot of the design and ability choices seem arbitrary.

The Bad

Multiple Currency Systems

There are a few ways to buy things in the game. There are also three currency systems you can use to make purchases: Essence, Gold, and Diamonds. Essence and Gold are kind of used interchangeably as the free-to-play currency, while Diamonds are the premium currency and can be purchased with real life money.

In all honesty, the multiple currency system confused me a little bit, so I did the research. Essence and Legendary cards were added in a recent patch. Many fans weren’t happy with it, claiming that it made the game pay-to-win. Considering that Legendary cards couldn’t be purchased with Gold (making Gold almost obsolete for players wanting to be competitive), and Essence was brand new, I can understand where the uproar has come from. Hi-Rez responded to this by giving established players 36000 Essence. The problem I had with this system seemed to be founded, because I saw a lot of hate online. Essence and Gold seemed kind of interchangeable, but you needed Essence to unlock characters and progress, whilst Gold could buff up the skins and voice lines etc that your character used. This really does leave new characters in a bind, since Essence unlocks characters and cards for loadouts now, when in the past Gold did it. And you earn Gold MUCH faster than Essence.

I mean, you can spend Diamonds to unlock things, but since that is the premium currency, it kind of defeats the purpose of the game being free-to-play.

Leveling and Playable Characters

When you start out, you can’t enter competitive matches until you’ve reached gold mastery (level 4) with at least 12 characters. Until then, you’re stuck playing the tutorial or casual games. Which can be fine, but there is no such thing as player balance on casual play. I can’t stress this enough – buy the founder’s pack. You start off with only a handful of unlocked playable characters and you will get bored trying to grind to unlock the others. I get that this is meant to be free-to-play, but seriously, balance doesn’t really exist in casual play. Not having access to all the characters means that you start even further behind than some of the other players. If you’re trying to level a character to get the Essence you need to finally unlock another player, and someone else takes that character, too bad. If you’re in a game with four other players all trying to do the same thing, you’re even worse off.

Having access to all the characters off the bat relieves a lot of the tension of trying to level up, and actually allows you to make decent character choices in your matches which is really important in games like this. Also, like I mentioned, you need to have level 4 mastery with 12 different characters before you unlock competitive matches. You can do that in a day with all the characters already unlocked, but if you have to unlock the characters as you go as well as unlock their cards, you’ll be at it for weeks.

Bugs

There are a few bugs which can be a little annoying. Thankfully, I haven’t encountered any that are game breaking, but the one that I did encounter was match losing, so I feel like I have to report on it. With Victor, if you die while in Iron-Sights (and let’s be honest, this is going to happen a bunch), when you re-spawn you are still in Iron-Sights and firing. This persists until you pull the trigger to fire. This is mildly annoying when it’s flicking in between games, and you’re in your base emptying your magazine into a wall. However, mid-game, you spawn back on your mount while your character is still trying to fire in Iron-Sights, which means that your mount moves slower than walking pace and it honestly looks like you’re lagging. The whole point of the mount is to get you back into the action faster, and when you’re trying to push and you have to get off the mount and run across the entirety of the map because the horse is glitching, it can really ruin a game.

Final Thoughts

Don’t get me wrong, this game has its perks and I can absolutely see the appeal. Loadouts are a great mechanic, characters look cool and interesting, and I can see this game being incredibly strong if they remove the need to unlock everything. When you can make your money from chests, skins, sprays, and voice lines etc, you really don’t need to (and shouldn’t) be trying to make money off the fundamental mechanics of the game. Let people play it. Work on having a solid competitive queue, and you could absolutely build a nice competitive e-sport scene around this game.

At the end of the day, though, this game isn’t really for me. There are too many little problems for me to stick around. I’ll probably drop back in periodically to see how things are going, because I enjoyed playing with my friends, and there are some great unique elements. But in the meantime I’ll be putting the controller down. I’m really hopeful about this game being good, but it needs some work. I spent a couple of hours trawling through forums, and I learnt some things. Most of the complains are quite fair. Please, Hi-Rez, listen to your players. They don’t want to play Overwatch or Battleborn. They want to play Paladins. Help them to do so.

Ben R

Playing on the PS4, there were few things I could find faults with technically. Visually there were no issues, no slowdown that I noticed, effects didn’t stutter and everything ran silky smooth. The audio was functional, load times were short and most importantly, the controls were responsive. That said, I do have a few niggling issues that my brain can’t avoid seeing. I had trouble finding information on what heroes did and how the game actually worked – there wasn’t a way (that I could see) to check out a hero’s abilities during the selection screen and the tutorial stage didn’t explain the card buff system or mission types at all… I just fumbled my way through until I got the gist. The maps were also a little too straightforward for my liking. Those that I played were essentially “S” shaped hallways with an open area in the centre where most of the fighting took place. The inclusion of starting mounts I’m not yet set on (don’t get me started on the horse gallop sound effect not changing speed with the speed of the horse!) as it seems like pointless inclusion: if the map is so large that an initial speed boost is needed, why not make the map smaller? At the moment, for me the game is just OK. Everything works and it is fun to shoot things for a while, but as yet there isn’t a hook to get me to come back for more.

 

 

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