When it comes to MOBAs, it can be very difficult to get a game in edgewise, as the genre is currently dominated by world renowned heavy hitters like League of Legends and Dota 2. However, Epic Games decided to take a risk and wedge their way into the MOBA scene by creating Paragon, a third-person free-to-play MOBA that attempts to tweak the conventional battle arena mechanics into its own unique experience.
On the surface, Paragon follows the formula enough to be a recognizable MOBA. The main battle arena consists of three lanes separated by a jungle, where players must aid their team’s minions in taking down enemy towers in order to reach and destroy the enemy core. The third-person perspective is uncommon in the genre, with Smite being the only other third-person MOBA to hold its own against the top-down giants.
One feature that particularly stands out is the fact that Paragon is designed to support crossplay between PC and PS4 players. While the idea of crossplay has been entertained for PS4 and Xbox One users, crossplay from PC to console has been a matter of contention, at least among the Paragon community.
While the desire to broaden the community is a laudable endeavor, it seems that there’s a skill gap between players on the two systems that can turn some players off to the game, simply due to team comp. Paragon developers have posited the use of mouse-and-keyboard setups for PS4 users as a way to bridge the gap between players on each platform, but this doesn’t seem like a realistic expectation considering the personalities and preferences of console gamers versus those on PC. Crossplay will likely need to be adjusted or eliminated by the time Paragon leaves open beta if they are to maintain a steady playerbase.
Smite players should find it easy to transition to Paragon, at least in terms of adjusting to the third-person perspective. Where Paragon differs, however, is in its pacing and overall feel. The arena is considerably more dynamic than the average MOBA, since it utilizes multiple levels of terrain to provide a sense of verticality. Not only do players in the jungle need to watch out for opponents at narrow junctures and intersections, but they must also be aware of opponents who can drop down from higher ledges or jump upward as well. The layered map terrain can lead to some intense team fights both inside the jungle and near the edges of lanes, encouraging players to stay vigilant.
Paragon features a number of different Heroes who each possess their own unique abilities. The design aesthetic is a quirky blend of sci-fi meets armored mech, with Heroes ranging from high-tech commandos and armored samurai, to humanoid robots and beastly goliaths. Some characters even seem like they're pulled straight from some kind of aggressive fantasy, such as Howitzer, the small mech-driving rabbit who wields an arsenal of explosives, or The Fey, a dainty fairy who looks more like she got lost in the forest and now must fight through arena to get home. New characters are currently being released every few weeks during the open beta, and it’s always fun to see what unusual Heroes they come up with next.
The game is a ‘shooter-MOBA’ of sorts, given the sheer number of gun-toting Heroes that players can choose from. Each Hero fits into a particular role and playstyle, which primarily consist of assassin, fighter, tank, ranger, caster, or support. Roles add structure to team composition, and thus are usually the first attributes considered during the team draft phase.
Heroes are also categorized by Affinity, which are colored categories similar to the color pie used in Magic: The Gathering. Affinities characterize the personalities and dispositions for each Hero, and can indicate the types of skills they possess. Each Hero has at least one Affinity, but some have two. A Hero’s Affinity also determines the types of cards they can utilize in a deck.
Speaking of which, cards are another aspect that allow Paragon to stand out amongst other MOBA’s. Cards are used to upgrade your Hero in-game by applying stat bonuses, buffs, and passive abilities to your Hero during a match. New card packs can be purchased by using the in-game currency Reputation, leveling up your Heroes to certain milestones, completing weekly quests, or participating in community events. We’ve found that the use of personalized card decks adds another layer of strategy to Paragon that can potentially lead to a much more in-depth game once more balance adjustments are made.
Cards are also categorized by Affinity and can only apply to Heroes of matching Affinity colors. Players will need to build decks that work with their preferred playstyle and chosen Hero prior to each match. During the round itself, cards from your deck can be equipped by collecting Amber throughout the match, which are the little orange orbs that fall from your opponents and enemy minions upon death. Farm as much Amber CXP as possible in order to unlock the best cards from your deck throughout each phase of the match.
Your ability to earn cards and improve your Hero throughout the match relies heavily on your ability to accumulate Amber, so you’ll want to eliminate enemy minions and players efficiently during the lane phase in order to acquire as much Amber as possible before returning to base for card purchases. Last-hitting opponents will guarantee your hard earned Amber flies directly towards you, rather than falling on the ground.
There are also some interesting devices tucked away in the jungle called Harvesters, which seem to be somewhat more functional versions of the Gold Fury in Smite. Harvesters can be built to passively farm Amber in the jungle while you’re busy in-lane. Harvesters add a nice twist to resource gathering, encouraging players to become comfortable with leaving their lane to collect Amber from an allied Harvester in order to level up faster. These machines can be destroyed by enemies, so it’s important to keep an eye on your team’s Harvester and take down the one that belongs to your opponents when you get the chance. It seems Harvesters were intended to create team fights as much as they were meant to gather resources.
The environment of the Agora is composed of stunning stone structures that are marked with runes and entwined with pale-colored flora. The PC version has crisp, clean graphics that reflect the capabilities of Unreal Engine 4, and the game doesn’t look half bad on PS4 either.
Paragon is a competent game that is a refreshing alternative to find within the rather impermeable MOBA genre. The game still could use quite a bit of fine tuning, but Epic Games has already created a solid foundation, and they have plenty of time to polish up the game before heading towards full release. It’s hard to tell whether Paragon will be able to compete with the likes of other MOBA giants in the long run. However, creating a new MOBA in the current gaming climate is a risk that takes guts, and with a decorated development team like Epic Games at the helm, I’m very optimistic about Paragon’s future.