First Thoughts: Paladins Closed Beta

I’ve played about 15 matches in the Paladins closed beta, and I have some thoughts on what appears to be another Hi-Rez hit.  I had few expectations going in, little else besides “it’s a shooter” and “there’s cards and they do things.”  Those two things are correct, but there are some deeper, less-apparent things going on.

Firstly, most of the shooting appears to be hit-scan at the moment.  I’m not sure if that’s the intended goal long-term, but I like the decision overall.  Little-to-no travel time on shots means that pillar-humping or corner-hiding is less easy to do; you have to put yourself out there to deal meaningful damage.  That, along with the short range of some characters, makes combat feel immediate and strategic.

Secondly, the dual-stage process of objectives makes different characters better at different times.  Right now the only game mode involves capturing a point.  Once captured, the capturing team gets a siege cannon that then rolls towards the enemy fort.  The cannon will, if left unchecked, take down the two outer walls and then finally the enemy vault (which is the win condition).

When the objective is stationary (either capturing a point, or when protecting the siege cannon when it’s at the enemy fortifications), characters such as the engineer (who can build a turret) or the assassin (who has a time bomb) are better.  However, when the siege cannon is on the move, this flips the script and makes the more mobile characters more useful.  This can be bad at times, but overall it promises that most characters won’t dominate 100% of the time, simply by the nature of the objective changing.

Thirdly (ok, that’s a strange word), the overall feel of the game feels rather fleshed out and complete.  Movements and animations are smooth, and combat feels simple, but mostly complete.  I think the beta test is to truly test out the “twist” of game mechanics; the cards.  Cards are awarded upon leveling up; you’ll get maybe 3-5 per game.  You get a choice of three each time, and these cards augment either one of your core abilities, or can give a general buff.  The cards also give differing bonuses to your overall health and damage output; I believe this is a way to balance cards easily if some effects are found too powerful (or not quite powerful enough).

Cards seem to have rather basic effects at the moment, though that’s probably a good thing, since choosing a card in the middle of battle is a bit of a nerve-wracking moment.  Additionally, there’s a “recharge” mechanic that turns off a card’s bonus for a duration after you die.  This doesn’t appear to impact much though, since most cards appear to have a recharge rate that is less than the time it takes to get back into battle after dying.  I’d expect adjustments here, for sure.

I don’t quite understand why anyone calls this anything close to a “card game.”  The cards are merely representations of what most games call “talents” or “specializations.”  I know there’s a “preconstructed” game mode that is yet to be unlocked, but I still fail to see why anyone would equate the mechanic to anything like Magic: The Gathering or Hearthstone.  They’re just talents, presented in card form.  There some randomness to them, and unlocking new cards is presented similarly to opening a pack in Hearthstone.  It’s an aesthetic similarity, and nothing more.

Despite that, like the mechanic, especially with randomness.  I suspect that I’ll rarely play the “preconstructed” mode when it’s released, of only because the randomness of talents (pardon, “cards”) makes each game a bit different.  Small nudges to get people out of their comfort zone can be a compelling way to present replayability, and right now the card effects are not so dramatic to feel cheated by a bad “draw” or anything.

Anyways, Paladins is good and you should try it when you have the means.  The game so far shows a maturity in design that isn’t surprising when you consider that this is Hi-Rez’s third shooter game.  It’s clear they’ve learned lessons from Global Agenda and Tribes: Ascend.  Global Agenda had many moments of brilliance, but fell prey to a metagame that wasn’t variant enough and mechanics that allowed for too much stalemating.  Tribes: Ascend was a faithful re-presentation of a classic that was just a little out-of-place in time and wasn’t terribly casual-friendly (though many would consider that a plus, for good reasons).  Paladins feels like a hit, and considering the company’s pedigree I now have high expectations that have been well-earned.

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