MOBAs? Got to love them. I play MOBAs daily, along with millions of other gamers worldwide. One MOBA that appeared on my radar over a year ago was Epic Game’s Paragon. At first glance, I thought Epic was demonstrating Unreal 4 Engine’s potential for building MOBA games; not an actual deep game. However, the alpha was far from a plain vanilla experience. It was a captivating MOBA, with hero depth and a variety of strategic options that paired with its superb graphics and futuristic art direction. Over the course of 12 months, a disheartening thing has taken place. instead of starting out slim and fattening up on depth, it’s trimming down on its chunky strategic features and becoming just another skin and bones MOBA.
Is this a good thing?
Skinny is better, right?
Maybe for swimsuits, but gamers do not necessarily flock towards the path of least resistance with their MOBAs. For confirmation, just check the top two most popular MOBAs right now: DOTA 2 and League Legends. Both are known for requiring intricate knowledge of the over 100 heroes to choose from. Add to that efficient navigation of their asymmetrical map designs, and in DOTA 2‘s case a complex and multifaceted item tree expertise is required. These top MOBAs don’t scale back their efforts to make it easier for anyone. Is it hurting their active player numbers that there are other “easy to play” MOBAs out there? No, not in the slightest. First, let’s take a look at what Paragon was upon release, during the alpha and early beta, it will be clearer what the recent updates have taken away.
It’s true that Paragon borrows ideas from other MOBAs; such as waves of minions, three lanes, and other tropes seen in the more popular MOBAs. SMITE draws the most comparisons, both in Paragon’s heroes as well as its third-person action perspective. SMITE, was already a fully released MOBA when Paragon arrived, having already decided to slim its features down (read: dumbed itself down). It only took minutes to understand that the fundamental mechanics in Paragon were far more complex while slower paced than its third-person cousin. It was a breath of fresh air to once again see an action-oriented MOBA with substantial tactical options emerge.
Eschewing traditional item building for a layered card deck was one of the key differences in Paragon. Players acquired decks of cards over time using earned reputation points. Each card represents an active ability (play active cards to deploy a sentry or boost speed for 20 seconds) or a passive enhancement. Heroes dealt damage in two ways, basic attack damage (left mouse click attacks) and ability damage (all other damage options). In turn, you could mitigate incoming damage by boosting your basic armor, or ability armor. Further still, you could enhance your max health points, mana pool, and subsequent auto-regeneration abilities of your heroes.
Paragon was limited in the number of decks you could have at the ready (deck slots could be expanded with reputation, but that required winning some matches). This meant players would need to become proficient in 2-3 heroes before venturing on to another deck. In fact, you could build 2-3 decks for one hero, because the card system was that robust. It was more than just reading what a card enhanced and adding to your deck. For example, “Boosts Cooldown Time by 10%, +10 Ability Power, +100 Mana” could be the boost given by a card, which was nice on its own, but with upgrade cards that ability can be shaped. Within each card, there were groups of upgrades available to it. Perhaps you needed more basic damage? More health regen? Or maybe just boost your overall ability powers by 40-50 points? Just add it.
Such freedom made Paragon an instant draw. I would spend more time planning and building my decks than in matches. I didn’t always strike gold with my strategies, but when I did the satisfaction was worth the effort. Taking a hero that is known for its support qualities, and turning it into an aggressive jungler — or a caster and making them a heavy defender type was fun. The highlight would be watching enemy teams having no answer for my crazy stunts. Comments like “that was the craziest Gadget play I have ever seen!” would fuel my experimentation. In turn watching some of the other builds in effect from other players tearing it up would give me more ideas.
Aside from the card building, Paragon is simply put: the best looking MOBA out there. Its visual splendor is obvious in every aspect. Further, the game incorporates something not seen in other MOBAs with its vertical pathways. Jumping over chasms, or hiding under them, with battles flowing from the air to the ground and back again in seconds. It’s a gankers paradise. Paragon’s gaming goodness is not limited to PC players either, as PS4 crossplay has been working without issue since its beta release.
Was Paragon perfect during its early Alpha stages? No, of course not. Technical issues mired matches at times. One of its principle drawbacks was its pacing while offering long progression, matches could drag into the 60 to 90-minute mark on average. That’s far too long of a time commitment for most casual MOBA players. Second, it would take a half dozen cards and upgrades before you would see more dramatic changes in your hero, and that usually took half an hour of play. There was only (and still is) one game mode and map. No e-sports or ranked matches competitive modes. Chat options were simplistic because of console players. The grind involved with unlocking more cards and mastering heroes were also daunting and disheartening at times. Still, Paragon was unique, and that sold a considerable group of players on the new MOBA.