Review: Paladins is likable and addicting but has room to grow

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Much like Blizzard’s latest hit, Overwatch, Paladins is a first-person “hero shooter” — the next entry in an increasingly popular subgenre that was brought to the attention of gamers via titles like the Team Fortress series. Although the game does feature a handful of champions that share common abilities with their Overwatch counterparts, it isn’t exactly a “rip-off,” either, as some in the Overwatch community have labelled it. It’s worth noting that Hi-Rez Studios’ Paladins was in development slightly before Blizzard’s popular title, and a lot of game elements were present in similar games years before both titles hit the market.

Paladins has 26 different “champions” on its roster (three more than Overwatch), with each of them possessing unique abilities and roles. A well-rounded team will include heroes that compliment each other well, with classes such as damage, support, front-line, and flank. Some of these champions do bare a stark resemblance to Overwatch heroes, with the most noticeable comparison being between Overwatch’s Reinhardt (a “tank” hero) and Paladins’ Fernando (a “front line” champion, essentially the same thing). These two characters share nearly identical abilities: both have kits that feature large shields and a charge mechanic (though the former rocks a hammer and the latter a flamethrower). One can find similarities between Junkrat and Bomb King and Soldier 76 and Viktor as well, just to name a few.

Paladins was developed by Hi-Rez Studios and is currently in Beta. Image Courtesy of Hi-Rez Studios.

With that said, I tried every Paladins champion that was immediately available (some require a purchase with in-game currency to be made) and found quite a few that had extremely enjoyable kits and playstyles. One of my personal favorites was Evie, a champion of the “flanker” class who is essentially an ice witch — in many ways a combination of Mei and Tracer from Overwatch. An Overwatch convert will find several of these “hybrids” of their beloved heroes, and this can diminish the learning curve for those players quite a bit.

In terms of actual gameplay, Paladins offers payload escort, capture point/payload hybrid and elimination style game modes, as well as PvE and Competitive modes that become available to more experienced players. Each game commences with all 5 players on a team starting on horseback. Players can navigate the map and dismount at their own discretion, and the horses serve the purpose of speeding up gameplay and encouraging more action.

This leads to more aggressive gameplay, as opposed to the carefully crafted strategies that Overwatch players must adopt to combat the game’s aggravatingly slow respawn process. Paladins also doesn’t feature the ability to swap out characters mid game, making champion selection even more important, and further differentiating itself from Overwatch — where a key component of playing strategically is to counter the opposing team.

Perhaps the greatest difference of all between Overwatch and Paladins, however, is the levelling system. In Overwatch, heroes are static in their abilities, and players can only swap out cosmetics for each character. Paladins went a different route and implemented a card system, where players can use cards unlocked in “loot chests” (or else purchase them online) and create preset “loadouts” using five cards that can change the basic mechanics of each champion’s kit.

For example, if you are using a character with an escape ability and still find yourself out of position too often, you can use a card that lowers that abilities’ cooldown time. Each champion also has their own individual level and challenges associated with their play. Leveling up and completing hero challenges leads to further rewards and experience points. It’s an addictive and fun way to cater each champion to your own play style, and also a huge incentive to continue leveling and earning more cards (you can also unlock dozens of different items, skins, and weapons for your characters).

While Paladins wins some points for including elements of MOBAs and RPGs, it does have some issues that need to be addressed before the game is officially released. Right off the bat, I noticed that the menus and HUD could be cleaned up quite a bit. I found myself rather confused when looking at my in-game statistics and ability icons were a bit too small to differentiate reliably, and at ten hours in I’m still not entirely sure what everything means.

Androxus is one of the many Champions in Paladins. Image courtesy of Hi-Rez Studios.

Another aspect of the menu that could be improved is the in game player stat screen. Currently, it only keeps track of “standard” statistics like kills, killstreak, and deaths. Whenever I played a healer or a front line I had no method of measuring my play until the end of the match. If I could monitor my healing, for instance, I would be able to get a much quicker grasp of my support champion’s capabilities. These types of things can alienate newer players who may be coming from the significantly simpler Overwatch.

Advanced players may find themselves bothered by the lack of control customization. In my own playthrough, I was often frustrated when I needed to change my look sensitivity each time I chose a different champion. For example, I typically like my snipers to have a very high sensitivity, and in Overwatch I’m not only able to customize my regular sensitivity, but I can change my scoped sensitivity to best fit my style of play. However, if I’m playing a tank I want a much lower setting, and the current version of Paladins does not allow me any leeway in that department.

It would also be helpful to be able to swap out which buttons activate each ability, a feature that I use quite frequently in Overwatch and one that has made some characters playable for me when they may not have been previously. Fortunately, it appears that Hi-Rez is responsive to input from players who downloaded the beta version, so I do expect these things to change in the final game.

Something that may be of consolation to players of all levels is the sheer amount of dialogue options in comparison to Overwatch. In Paladins, players can use a dialogue wheel to say dozens of different phrases in team chat. You can even get as specific as pointing out directions by telling teammates to “flank left,” or “attack middle.” This system can get a little cumbersome and difficult to navigate in the midst of battle, but the depth it adds to the team aspect of the game more than makes up for having to memorize several different key combinations.

The Verdict:

Paladins is still in beta, which is why I’m actually optimistic about the eventual improvements that will likely be made to the gameplay and the system as a whole. Overwatch was going to be a hit because it was a Blizzard game, and so far it has become a phenomenon in the eyes of millions of gamers worldwide. It succeeded because it was so engaging, refreshing and damned likable, and it seems as though Paladins could be on a similar track even though it’s operating on a much smaller level.

Evie is a Flanker-class Champion. Image courtesy of Hi-Rez Studios.

It would be a lie to say that Paladins hasn’t capitalized off of their cousin’s success, because it has. But it also has an opportunity to be the Pepsi to Blizzard’s Coke as the beta shifts over to the fully released game. It’s surprisingly fresh and addicting, and has enough room to grow its own distinct style and draw its own batch of fans.

Although I cannot speak from an incredibly experienced player’s perspective, I am excited to take an occasional Overwatch break with Paladins. Since I first downloaded the game three days ago, I’ve played Overwatch just once or twice. The champions of Paladins are new and exciting, and the game consistently rewards you for coming back. I’ve become addicted to unlocking and trying new champions, gear and loadouts, and the ability to tinker with and fine tune abilities is a very new spin in a genre that needs variety going forward.

Take it from an Overwatch connoisseur: this game is worth your time. And if you do end up finding yourself itching to go back to the Blizzard side, Bastion will always be there to celebrate your return by mowing you down life after life. For some reason, the Paladins team opted to not copy everything about Overwatch, and many fans are probably very grateful that they opted out of including an OP-mass murdering turret abomination in the Paladins roster.

Score: 8.5/10


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