Battle of the Cartoon-y Shooter MOBA-y Games

Paladins

PaladinsScore2

Developer Hi-Rez studios is no stranger to online arena games. Paladins is to be the company’s third multiplayer online arena game in the last six years. So far the game’s online performance is rock solid even in this early closed Beta stage. Matchmaking is quick and easy, with wait times lasting at most a couple of minutes. Lag and disconnection issues are unheard of. There are biweekly updates, with well made live patch notes on Twitch. As well as community surveys, with the best or most requested ideas having a direct impact on the subsequent patch. Jumping right into a match is simple and intuitive. Map goals are clear, with little room for confusion. Player clashes are numerous, featuring plenty of scenery changes throughout each round; from broad wide open spaces to confined close quarters where few escape unscathed.

What sets Paladins apart is its card system, which has gone through a couple of variations already. Its current iteration, you build decks for your hero prior to entering a match. Earning gold from winning matches or leveling up as a player allows you in turn purchase cards. Cards are hero specific, and augment their abilities. Card are rated as common, rare, epic, or legendary. Suffice it to say, legendary cards offer the most dramatic alterations to your ability. The caveat is the point limit to how many cards you can carry as well as you must carry 5. Thus you will need to pick and choose wisely which card to utilize.

The card point limitation creates interesting dilemmas. Do you put all your faith in 2 legendary cards with low powered commons to fill in the deck? Do you even out boosts with mediocre cards? Do you tie together every self healing card for maximum sustain? Perhaps your team needs an ultra defensive tank to hold a point? Do you have multiple decks saved to shift your hero from tank to offense to hybrid? 

Building card decks alters hero abilities, pre-match planning required.
Building card decks alters hero abilities, pre-match planning required.

Getting the most out of the card system, means planning for a few scenarios beforehand. Each hero comes with a few standard decks, and slots for you to customize 4 additional decks. During the match, you will earn credits for any objective, from slaying an enemy to holding a capture point. These credits can then be used in the next round to purchase “burn cards”. These straightforward cards apply bonuses to your player only for that life, and while they are universal, if deployed at a key moment could turn the tide of battle. These burn cards increase damage, reduce damage taken, or improve cooldowns.

In order to be successful teams must be varied. High health players that are capable of holding a point despite being under heavy enemy fire, are a must. But these tanks are vulnerable to fire from all sides, thus need sniper support or healers. After the point is captured the team must then push a payload through varied terrain into the enemy base. Easier said than done, without mobile offensive players that can dart in and out creating havoc as the slow pushers move up.

As the payload moves, action changes from close quarters, to open terrain defense.
As the payload moves, action changes from close quarters, to open terrain defense.

I honestly preferred the random nature of the prior card system. Granted this new system is streamlined, and you know what bonuses you will play with at the start of each match. The surprise factor of what card may or may not drop next was interesting. I miss that. Regardless, I am a wholehearted supported or more options for unique play. It’s capture and payload game modes are already well balanced. Heroes can switch between offense or defending a point at times with some burn card purchases.

While Paladin’s visual style is vivid, and yes cartoon-y, it’s the least visually appealing of the four (which is odd considering Battleborn is Unreal 3 based as well, and looks considerably better). Textures are bland, effects are simple, and the focus is on the task at hand. I am sure more can be added in this department. It’s more noticeable when comparing the three games at once. Lack of visual jazz is less of a problem when there’s decent gameplay, however.

Maps are well designed, with random control points spawning in one of three areas. These control points have high and low ground, with multiple approach vectors for players. From temple ruins in a lush tropical rain forest, to a muted iced over mine and stone fortress.  Paladins is also free to play, and still in Beta so many of its features will undergo refinement and improvement in the coming months. It’s pay system is reasonable, with the Founder’s Pack bundling lots of goodies for only $20, and it is not required to enjoy the game at all. Everything else is cosmetic or card advancement. Low investment, interesting gameplay, and solid online capabilities with constant developer communication puts this game at a solid #2 spot on my list.