I really dig Paladins. No, not the plate-wearing, undead-smiting Dungeons and Dragons class. I’m talking about the newest effort from Hi-Rez Studios. Paladins: Champions of the Realm is a multiplayer online shooter. It features a roster of champions each with their own unique attacks and abilities. Two teams of five champions battle on colorful maps, where they contest points, escort siege engines, and destroy bases. The game is still very early in its beta testing and there isn’t much to the game just yet. That said, the game is already very sharp.
The build of Paladins I played was the second closed beta build. In this build, the game features eight champions to choose from. Each champion boasts three abilities. The champions are all very unique. They follow traditional tropes. There’s an adroit archer, a sneaky assassin, a tanky knight, and a shamanistic healer just to name a few. Similar to other upcoming shooter-ish titles, Paladins borrows lightly from the MOBA genre. Each hero has several abilities restricted by cooldown. Although the champs didn’t have an ultimate ability in the build I played, I did notice a keybinding entry for ultimate abilities in the game settings.
Paladins adds a unique twist on the typical ability-based brawler. Your champion gains experience via combat and when you level up, you select one of three cards. These cards augment your champion’s attack, stats, and abilities. The cards effectively fill the same role that talents fill in other games. What makes these different is that the cards that are presented to the player upon leveling up are not deterministic. They are drawn from a deck. In the current build, only the casual game mode was available and in this mode, the cards presented to the player are randomly chosen from all cards the player has unlocked for that champion. In ranked play, the player will be able to finely tune their deck, thus controlling which cards are presented to them during the course of a game.
Each player does not initially have access to all of the cards for each champion. Instead, they unlock them through an item drop and crafting system not dissimilar to Team Fortress 2’s item system. In a way, this acts as a progression system. The player begins the game with the weakest cards and by playing more and more, they can unlock and craft the more powerful cards. These cards even have rarities, offering a collect-em-all meta experience.
There are currently two maps in Paladins. Each map features three capture points. Only one of these capture points is active at any given time. When a point becomes active, the two teams must contest them and whichever successfully captures the point summons a siege engine. The areas surrounding these points vary map-to-map and even point-to-point. The geometry and architecture that surround them allow for strategic champion placement. If the point has ledges that overlook it, sticking Pip, a furry alchemist that fires grenade-like concoctions, up top to provide zone control is an effective strategy.
Once a team has summoned a siege engine, it lurches towards the enemy base. The opposing team can immediately begin damaging the engine in order to prevent it from assaulting their base. It will continue its march towards the enemy base, firing mortar at the gates as it approaches. Each base has three sets of gates. When one team has demolished each of these gates with the help of their siege engine, the game is over. It’s very MOBA-esque, in a good way.
The formula will feel familiar, but the fast past fps action is a fresh change of pace from the right-click movement of a traditional MOBA. The game still has a lot of iteration to undergo. I’m most curious to see how they extend the roster and how they will handle the card system. It’s already a thrill to unlock new cards, but the system risks becoming a way to create an unequal footing between veterans and new players. A system like that may end up scaring new players off. Done right, however, and it creates a compelling reason for players to keep coming back. Personally, I’m still having a lot of fun after already putting in close to 8 hours of matches. I’ll definitely be dropping back into Paladins soon.