Next year there are a couple games scheduled to come out that seem very similar in nature. These are Battleborn, Gigantic, Overwatch, and Paladins. All of these are going to be arena-style combat games, with slight differences here and there. A few of the bigger differences are that Battleborn is the only one scheduled to have a campaign mode, Gigantic is in third-person, and Overwatch lacks an in-game progression system. The premise for PvP in each game, however, overlaps in a number of ways.
Currently, each of these games is also still in various stages of testing and it should be noted that any of the judged features could change at any given time. That being said, in this issue of Versus we’re going to look at Overwatch and Paladins, which are both far enough along that no major changes to the core mechanics are really expected.
Character Design – Overwatch
This wasn’t a very difficult choice at all for me to make. The characters in Overwatch look and feel real. Each one has a very detailed back story including faction, age, occupation, and why they act in a certain way. When comparing the main assassin from both games, Widowmaker and Skye, it’s really no contest.
On one hand, we have the wife of a former Overwatch operative who was kidnapped, mind controlled, and genetically enhanced. On the other, we have Skye who simply likes fame and glory. There’s not much depth or reason to personally care about any of the champions from Paladins at this point. I’m simply playing a tank, a DPS, or an Assassin. In Overwatch, however, I’m playing Winston, Tracer, or Hanzo. A connection to the characters can play a big role in the longevity of a game.
This goes way beyond just backstory and visuals, though. It also applies to how the character plays in-game. The abilities in Paladins just don’t synergize as well, as they do in Overwatch. Let’s look at two similar characters from both games: Barik (Paladins) and Torbjörn (Overwatch).
Barik can build a turret, throw up a shield or boost in a straight line with rocket boots. The shield and turret kind of work together, but the rocket boots feel tacked on to give him an escape and he can’t even repair his turret. Torbjörn, however, feels like he was built to hold the line. He can repair and upgrade his turret while providing additional armor to himself and teammates. The same goes for Reinhardt and Fernando. By looking at their skills one would think they’re carbon copies, but Fernando looks and feels underwhelming compared with his Overwatch counterpart.
Progression – Paladins
The biggest area where Paladins thrives is on its player progression. It has incentive to level up both in-game and out. The better a player does in a match the quicker they’ll level up and have access to additional perks. Paladins uses a card system, with tiers from common to legendary, and at every level the player can choose a new card to boost their abilities. These range from standard damage output boosts to crazy things like dropping a bomb on death.
Currently, the only way to earn new cards is by winning matches or buying the founder’s pack, but it’s likely that packs can eventually be unlocked with either gold or by leveling up. Players can also craft new cards by destroying 3 duplicates of the same rarity to obtain a new, non-duplicate card, or using 5 duplicates to obtain one card of the next tier. After opening more than 100 packs, I’ve managed to accumulate 1 legendary and 13 epic cards. The only downside to this system is that legendary cards are usually just straight up better than all the other tiers, which means the players that spend the most will have a statistical advantage.
Unfortunately, as of now, Overwatch doesn’t have any progression system in place. It will eventually have player levels, but there has been no information on whether this is just for tracking player progress or if it will unlock skins or portraits.
Visuals – Overwatch
Hi-Rez has been relying on the Unreal Engine 3 for quite some time and Paladins looks like it will be making use of it as well. There’s nothing particularly wrong with UE3, but it is starting to look dated in comparison to newer engines like Unreal Engine 4, Frostbite 3, and Cryengine. This is likely why Hi-Rez has stuck to games that use a lot of angular graphics, which minimizes the abilities to pick out sub-par texture quality. While in a match, Paladins doesn’t look that bad, but I never found myself stopping to gaze at the scenery. However, it has been noted that the in-game environments should be getting an overhaul before the game officially launches.
Instead of relying on an outsourced engine, Blizzard has built Overwatch from the ground up, which is what the company tends to do. This gives them an advantage from both a coding and a visual perspective. Blizzard can simply make their games look exactly how they want without cutting corners. This allows them to add little things that make me stop and just look at my surroundings, which can be bad in the middle of a firefight. The cherry blossom trees, for example, in Hanamura are absolutely gorgeous, while I appreciate the semi-destructible environment in the arcade.
Gameplay – Overwatch
Instead of relying on complex game mechanics, Overwatch makes use of its superior character design and tight controls to deliver a simple but satisfying experience. The depth is not in the objectives, but in players outperforming each other. Currently, there are only two game modes: Payload and Point Capture. There are no crazy mechanics, simply stand on the point or prevent the enemy from taking the objective.
What makes the game dynamic is the constant shift and countering of character choices and how well each player performs their individual task. When a game can be both simple and fun, that’s a formula for success. Furthermore, not having in-game progression means that there’s no snowball effect and individual players won’t have an unfair advantage over others. This sets Overwatch up perfectly to be an eSport because every player will have access to all the Heroes immediately and can swap between them in-game.
It’s not that I didn’t find Paladins enjoyable, but in its current state it feels rather clunky. There’s no set defender vs attacker role, instead it’s just a mad scramble to capture a randomly spawning point somewhere. Once an objective is captured, a siege engine will spawn and players push with it into the enemy base. After a team destroys three enemy walls they win the game.
Things don’t always work out as intended though, and there isn’t much control over it. A team can spawn a siege engine, get instantly wiped, and then the siege engine is practically useless. As of now, respawn timers feel a bit long and the objectives are incredibly far apart. This makes death punishing, but card perks are also disabled on death to add insult to injury. With some tweaking, Hi-Rez definitely has a fun game on their hands but right now there are more than enough nuances to make the experience more frustrating than satisfying.
Overwatch vs Paladins Victor – Overwatch
As of right now, Overwatch is simply in a far superior state to Paladins. Although both games do have fun and interesting aspects to them, Overwatch is a nearly perfect shooter. This doesn’t mean that the game doesn’t have balance issues, but the foundation is incredibly solid. Paladins, on the other hand, feels very shaky at the moment and will definitely need a lot of help from testers to build it up. While Paladins and Overwatch are both technically in closed beta, it seems that Blizzard is simply using testers to find bugs while Hi-Rez started beta testing earlier in the development cycle.