Let’s get this out of the way right here, right now. Paladins is like Overwatch in some ways. There’s a simplistic, emotive and cartoon-like graphical style. There’s a girl with a sniper rifle. There’s a guy who has an anchor and chain that draws people in. It’s a squad-based FPS. If any of those similarities make you shrug dismissively, nothing I write here is going to change your mind. Your mind was already made up. You’re already typing in the comments how stupid I am for playing not-Overwatch.
That said, dismissing Paladins is a disservice to anyone who loves squad-based FPS games. My time during the Paladins open beta showed a game that has enough unique ideas to make it stand side-by-side with Blizzard’s behemoth.
Know Your Role
One of the biggest things that makes Paladins unique to me is the fact that character roles feel more defined. That’s not to say that Overwatch doesn’t have its heavy-hitting tanks or long-range specialists, but they also feel a bit homogonized when put beside the heroes of Paladins. Tanks are substantial. Flank characters are excellent harassers. Support does a bit of everything that DPS does but with extra debuffs and disruption.
By extension, forming up a group of characters that merge together seems more vital. If you go in to a match with nothing but DPS characters and you’re facing two tanks and a balanced amount of DPS and Support, you’re going to be steamrolled. Add to that the fact that you can’t change your character once you start the match, and suddenly team composition feels like an actual strategy instead of an afterthought.
Of course, the eSports teams and competitive players of Overwatch have a meta as well, but matches can be more fluid. Here, you are what you are and you’d better hope to combine strengths and cover weaknesses. Otherwise, you are in for a world of pain when you face folks who are more cohesive.
Not only does a defined role make composition important, but it also can command your style of play and tactics. Playing Fernando is unlike playing Ying. Cassie is nothing like Skye. Even among the similar classes, there’s subtle enough differences that can make an impact. Fernando is a Front Line character that can command the field with his flamethrower and shield, while Mokoa feels better at range lobbing cannonballs and plucking soft targets with his anchor. Somewhere in each of the game’s roles, you’re bound to find one character that will suit you.
When you find the character that feels right, Paladins really comes together. It’s even better when your team gels and you’re able to come together to take a win or even a hard-fought loss. There’s just as many opportunities for last-minute heroics and dominating performances here as there are in Overwatch.
Pick a Card, Any Card
Roles aren’t the only thing that Paladins does differently. You’ve also got Cards and Items that can add extra wrinkles to your character.
Cards come in a set of five to create a hand, with different Rarity levels that cost a different amount of points. When building a hand, you have a maximum of 12 points to work with, and your hand can be no less than five cards. On top of different Rarities, there are also hero-specific cards as well as cards that can be used by everyone. This system adds a whole new level of customization that Overwatch doesn’t have.
Items are another fun extra that can further modify your chosen Champion. In-battle, you earn Credits that can be used to purchase Items while in your spawn room. Items are in four different categories: Offense, Defense, Healing and Utility. In each category you have different choices that can do things like boost your defense against single-target damage or improve your mount speed. Selecting Items for your playstyle and situation is just as tactical as picking a role and a hand of Cards, since purchases can’t be refunded and you can only choose one Item from each category.
Put together, Cards and Items bring a whole new dimension to what would could be classed as an uninspired game. These extras make Paladins feel more MOBA-like and strategic. They’re meager additions to your character’s overall power, but they make you think just a little more critically about your character and can help you adapt to the ever-changing landscape of the battle. It’s one very small touch that makes a world of difference.
Tie these differences up with some pretty unique characters, limited down time thanks to smaller maps and the addition of mounts and simple but energetic game modes, and Paladins comes together as something that is both familiar and easy to play yet different enough to give it its own identity.
What’s the Catch?
With all that said, there are still some minor things that keep Paladins down for me. As enjoyable as selecting Items can be, you’re not given a lot of time to make a decision mid-match. Things can happen so fast that by the time you’ve maybe decided on what Item to purchase the objective is lost. This is easily surmountable once you get used to the system, but it can be a factor for the indecisive.
Another downer to the otherwise excellent Cards system is the fact that Cards are earned through either Radiant Chests that you earn every Account Level or through crafting using Gold. Crafting is the only way you can create character-specific Cards, and during the past weekend there was a double Gold earnings event, so it’s hard to know how much time it will take to earn thw right amount of Gold.
Essentially you have to either hope the RNG Gods are kind with free Radiant Chests, or you have to grind it out. For those just starting out the game, these are some pretty big complaints, especially if you’re only peeking in to Paladins from time to time. Mercifully, the impact of cards isn’t too severe, but it is a sticking point worth noting.
Paladins also suffers from a limited variety of maps and game modes, with only two modes available currently and about two or three different maps for each mode. Of course, the game being in a beta state could mean that more are on the way, but as feature-complete as the game feels it’s hard to really think that will be the case.
In spite of these low points, I still feel like Paladins is a solid squad-based FPS. It’s also completely free-to-play otherwise, so all that you’re missing out on is the time it takes to download and install the game. It’s hard to ignore the price of admission here, especially when the gameplay mechanics are this solid.
It’s kind of like Overwatch, but it’s also not. Paladins is another step for the squad FPS game; a title that shows craft and charisma while also doing just the right things to make it something different. Paladins is not a revolution, but it’s not a rip-off either.Related: FPS, MMOFPS, Open Beta, Paladins, Preview, Shooter