I am not sure what I expected. After putting my hands on the new MOBA Paragon for the first, I am still confused.
I knew Paragon is one of the newest in a recent flood of MOBAs. I knew, like other competitive multiplayer games on the verge of being released (Battleborn, Overwatch, etc.), it blends science fiction and fantasy elements. I knew it controls like a third person shooter and involves aiming a reticule. Even with that in mind, I had no idea that Paragon would be this … normal.
Paragon comes to us from Epic Games. You may know them better for the Unreal Engine or games like Unreal Tournament and Gears of War. The developers at Epic Games are handling Paragon all by themselves. They had the rare opportunity to make any kind of game they wanted and they chose to make a MOBA all their own because several members of their team were passionate about playing MOBAs. And it shows.
Five minutes into my first match (a forgettable loss with a matchmade team against AI opponents), I recognized Paragon immediately. Yes, the game “feels” different from older MOBAs since it controls like a shooter, but it is not that different. This is a MOBA designed by fans of the genre for fans of the genre. Paragon is not so much about being different as it is about being just different enough that you will want to play it instead of something else. That, or it is for people who want League of Legends or DOTA 2, but with a different control scheme.
Not only is it familiar, Paragon almost feels out-of-date. Just like others, the map is divided into three lanes, features a jungle between those lanes, and a steady supply of minions marching out from either team’s base. There are enemies hidden in the jungle that provide unique buffs. There’s even ‘last hitting’ which rewards players who can get the last hit in on a minion. And, just like almost every other MOBA you have already played, Paragon is a game about slowly escorting your minions past enemy towers, their base’s inhibitors, and into the opposing team’s core to secure the victory.
Paragon is more than just a third person shooter version of DOTA
Unsurprisingly, Paragon uses the Unreal Engine to great effect. The game looks great and runs smooth, even while in beta. More importantly, the added graphical fidelity and third person view give Paragon’s map a topographical presence. There’s both a high ground and a low ground. I remember terrain height being somewhat important in DOTA for ward placements, but here you can look down into an actual jungle or watch a battle unfold near a tower from on high. The terrain height never came into play during my matches, but it still made the map feel different than its predecessors.
The controls are different from most MOBAs as well. Rather than sharing a lineage with the RTS genre, Paragon is less point-and-click and more WASD and aim. The game moves like a shooter and has more in common with Smite than anything else. Aiming matters as everything is a skillshot, but the game doesn’t feel especially twitch-based. Paragon plays slower than you expect and feels closer League of Legends than it does Gears of War.
Paragon’s approach to items is unique. Rather than buy smaller items and assemble them into larger, more powerful ones, you buy cards and improve them directly by purchasing passive stat boosts. The cards available to buy are determined by what is available in your deck of cards, which can be customized with cards you unlock from playing outside of the match. In a way, it reminds me of the intent behind League of Legend’s talent trees (provide a progression element as well as customization) but in a more fun, more accessible package.
The best thing about the way Paragon does items is how much easier it is to follow the system. In other MOBAs, I always felt like memorizing item builds and item paths was a step too far. The game is complicated enough when you have dozens, if not hundreds, of heroes to memorize. At the same time, I want something to do other than just picking ability talents like in Heroes of the Storm. Paragon seems to occupy a nice middle ground between the two design approaches.
I was especially happy to unlock customizable decks because none of the starter sets include teleport consumables. Instead, you start with health and mana potions (both of which are rechargeable and have up to three charges). When I say Paragon feels like a traditional MOBA, that includes the game’s speed as well. It may control like a third person shooter, but this game is just as slow as League of Legends. Neither your health or mana regenerate quickly, so harassing enemy laners and maximizing your abilities is key. Furthermore, there are no mounts, only an out-of-combat sprint, so running back to lane takes a lot of time unless you use a teleport consumable.
Beyond unlocking decks and cards, there is a full suite of progression elements to keep most everyone busy. Your account levels up which unlocks the game’s full functionality. With a little bit of gating, this helps make sure new players are not too overwhelmed, but you can skip straight to unlocking the PvP mode if you want to. Individual heroes can be leveled up as well, similar to Heroes of the Storm. There’s also something called ‘Master Challenge’ which, when unlocked for an individual hero, rewards you for leveling up that hero, including a special skin.
There are already a ton of characters to learn about
In the current beta, there were 15 characters to choose from. Each one seemed pretty distinct and varied too. While I am sure there is lore underpinning each one of Paragon’s combatants, it is fun to see a new property come up with so many oddities. There was a tiny rat man smoking a cigar, a hybrid of Swamp Thing and Killer Croc, a ringwraith from Lord of the Rings, and a black guy (which, if we judge by League of Legends standards, is shamefully rare). Plus, all of the female characters were dressed for combat, not modeling. All in all, it is a solid start for a game this new.
That said, none of the characters I tried seemed particularly complicated. They each had different strengths and excel at different roles, just like any other MOBA, but were all basic enough to pick up instantly. I was partial to ranged, if only because of the third person view, but melee characters worked well enough as well. Point-blank melee attacks did splash damage, so all I needed to do was aim in the right direction.
Basic attacks have a cooldown, so the game is far less spammy than you might imagine. My last hitting was terrible at first, but I got okay at it as time went on. I still needed more practice though. Every character can unlock four abilities, each tied to Q, E, R, and the Right Mouse Button. I played primarily on PC and did not get a chance try the game on a controller, though I imagine it would work well. As your hero levels, you rank up each ability as well as your basic attack.
Everything is a skillshot and basic attacks also need to be aimed, so positioning matters even more in Paragon than other MOBAs. Tanks need to stand between allies and enemies. You need to be close enough for your abilities to hit still (so not infinite range, even for characters with guns). Activating an ability typically brought up an indicator for its area of effect. It worked pretty well. I rarely had any questions of how the ability would work after a couple uses. You can also view each of the abilities at character select, as well as a short, informative tutorial video.
I cannot make up my mind about Paragon just yet
All in all, I began my time with Paragon lost and confused. I expected a third person shooter cashing in on the MOBA trend to make a quick buck. Paragon is not that. Over of the course of a few games, I began to like that it felt more like the better established MOBAs than something completely new. Maximizing item builds and practicing last hitting are both welcome throwbacks. I would have preferred a little more speed and action in the combat system, especially considering the third person view. Epic Games seems to be erring on the side of caution and do not want to create a super fast MOBA. At times though, Paragon felt like an exercise for my patience rather than a nonstop thrill ride.
I cannot say for certain that I will be downloading Paragon the day it comes out. I can say for certain that I will continue paying attention to the game. Like so many other MOBAs, I think it will be fun, at least in small doses. There’s a lot to like and a lot that Epic Games can continue to build on well into the future. If a proper community pitches up its tent around Paragon, then Epic Games may just have something special on their hands.Related: First Impressions, Hands On, MOBA, Paragon