A buddy of mine hooked me up with a founder’s pack for the new hero shooter/MOBA hybrid Paladins: Champions of the Realm, which is currently running a closed beta on PS4 and Xbox One. Made by the folks at Hi-Rez, who are responsible for the MOBA Smite, Paladins is very much a free-to-play version of Overwatch, albeit less polished.
That’s not to say it isn’t unique or worth playing.
Like Overwatch, Paladins is a team-based competitive first-person shooter where players choose from a roster of heroes and battle it out while completing objectives (typically defending points on the map or guarding a “payload” vehicle moving from one area to the next).
Each hero has their own abilities and unique play style, with a few of them drawing immediate visual comparison to Blizzard’s game as well. Androxus looks an awful lot like Reaper, and Barik could easily be mistaken for Torbjorn’s distant cousin. Giving credit where it’s due, there are plenty of fresh character designs to admire on the battlefield, but it was hard to shake the feeling of familiarity at first.
Inara, a tank-type hero who looks like a mage made of stone, is unlike anything in Overwatch. The same could be said of Drogoz (a rocket launching, bipedal dragon), Bomb King (a straight-out-of-Kirby’s-Adventure robot), and Grohk (a lightning staff-wielding Orc). I’m enjoying the designs so far, and if Smite is any indication, I’m sure we’ll see a steady flow of new heroes once the game releases to the general public.
With Paladins being a free-to-play game, only a few of its heroes are available upon diving in for the first time. Players will have to raise their account rank to make others available for purchase, or spend $19.99 on a founder’s pack, which unlocks all current and future heroes.
From now until March 28th, founder’s packs are 35% off across all platforms (dropping the cost down to $12.99). Granted I was given mine, but I can’t argue the value of the founder’s pack versus what it unlocks. It’s well worth the investment if you’re enjoying yourself already and don’t want to spend the time grinding out currency to buy the others in-game.
While similarities are easy to make at the surface level, where Paladins differs from Overwatch is in its MOBA approach to mid-match progression and player card loadouts.
Throughout a match, players earn currency for killing other players and completing objectives. This can then be spent back at your spawn point (like in Smite) to upgrade your character in a variety of ways (increased movement speed, improved healing received by other players, higher damage output to deployables, etc.). There are four different skill trees to invest in, focusing on damage, defense, utility, and healing, but the catch is that you can only choose one buff from each of the four trees. That chosen passive skill can then be upgraded further during the match by investing more currency.
In a game where dying is likely to occur and matches have multiple rounds, this works quite nicely. Not only does it make you feel more powerful as the round goes on, but it allows for slightly different play styles for each of the game’s heroes.
For instance, I like to play as Pip, a Rocket Raccoon-looking support character that can assist his team by hurling healing grenades (yes, grenades that heal), turning enemies into harmless chickens (yes, chickens), reducing the movement speed of large groups, and dealing decent area-of-effect damage with his grenade launcher. To maximize his effectiveness, I like to invest my currency into his utility tree to reduce cooldown times by up to 30%, and then start dumping money in the healing tree’s Kill to Heal, which refunds 300 HP per kill.
You can also customize these heroes further by unlocking and equipping up to five battle cards, which are found within Overwatch-style lockboxes (these are earned in a similar fashion, as well). Each hero has their own specific cards and cards have three ranks, though I’ve surprisingly been getting a fair amount of duplicates (which, like Overwatch, awards in-game money used to buy skins, etc.).
Using Pip as an example again, I could continue to focus on his ability cooldowns by equipping the Shrewd Moves card. This one immediately reduces the cooldown of his abilities by 5/10/15% each time I kill a player. Definitely a nice one to have in the deck. Another handy card is Reload, which immediately reduces the cooldown of Pip’s healing grenade by 0.5/1.0/1.5 seconds for every target it hits.
I don’t think I’ve played enough to really talk about the intricacies of Paladins’ map design, but they’re a general mix of medium-sized open areas and corridors that keep the battles interesting.
On the gameplay front, again, it feels very similar to Overwatch. Heroes have a few abilities that trigger a cooldown upon use, a standard R2/RT spammable attack, and fill an ultimate meter that varies by hero. Going back to Pip, his ultimate turns nearby enemies into chickens, which is an amazing crowd control ability. Fernando (who plays like Overwatch’s Reinhardt if he used a flamethrower) has another helpful one, which makes nearby teammates invulnerable to damage for 4 seconds.
Aiming does feel a bit loose, which makes precision characters a bit of a nuisance to play in hectic situations. I think that’s why I’ve been enjoying Pip so much since his primary attacks focus on damaging groups of players.
You can clearly see where Paladins‘ inspiration came from, but there’s enough interesting stuff going on to make it a worthy investment. The MOBA-style mid-match progression system feels rewarding, and unlocking new cards allows for more customization if you’re into that sort of thing.
If you’ve been playing Overwatch since launch (unlike me, who is still relatively new) and you’re interested in something a little deeper, give Paladins a try. It’s free, after all. Just don’t expect Blizzard’s level of polish. At least, not right away. This is a beta, not a finished product. The folks at Hi-Rez have been steadily improving Smite over the years with a series of updates, and I’m sure Paladins will be no different.
Have you been playing Paladins’ closed beta on PS4 or Xbox One? If so, what do you think? If not, why not? Will you be sticking with it? What do or don’t you like about it thus far? Sound off down in the comments!