Paladins Early Access Impressions

Paladins is a free to play class based multiplayer shooter made by HiRez, the studio behind Tribes: Ascend and Smite, that recently entered Steam Early Access. There’s not a huge amount of content available at the moment, but I’ve found what is there very promising in the seventeen hours I’ve played.

The gameplay and features lie somewhere between Battleborn and Overwatch in terms of style. Each match is 5v5 and objective oriented. The marquee game mode at the moment is Siege, where teams must attempt to capture a point, and then the successful team must push a cart to the enemy spawn. No player on one team allowed to play as the same character as another, and you are locked into the same character for the whole game. The maps themselves are small and very linear; there is little space outside the main path to move around in. While this does limit the number of things you can do, it also essentially forces you into some kind of cooperation as you’ll never be too far from your teammates. Because team compositions are locked in from the start of play, the characters have been given a level of flexibility not found in games like Overwatch. Even though the characters are specialised, they are all also able to fill in other roles where needed. Since each team member has to pick a different character, a team made up purely of one class will still have a fighting chance against more varied opponents.

There’s a diverse array of characters available, split into four specialisations: Front Line, who tank damage and stop enemies advancing, Damage, who unsurprisingly can deal the most damage easily, Flank, who have high mobility and powerful close range attacks, and Support, who heal allies and debuff enemies. There’s also plenty of variety in each class, with each character having a different primary weapon and set of three standard abilities and ultimate ability. Even though Barrick and Ruckus are both supposed to block incoming fire, they do it very differently. Barrick can deploy sentry guns and fixed shields that absorb damage, while Ruckus is a pure fire magnet with a personal shield and a pair of powerful miniguns.

The game also has two gear systems. The first is Loadouts, which are equipped before the start of the game and consist of cards that give various buffs to each of their abilities. You must use five cards in each loadout with a combined value of twelve points. Even though cards can be increased in power, different level cards do not need to be acquired separately; once you have the card, you can use it at all four levels. This ensures a level of balance while also allowing you to tailor your characters to your preferred playstyle. Cards are acquired through loot chests, which each hold three cards and cosmetics. These are acquired through levelling up or buying them for cash. The other gear system is Items, which are bought during matches using credits, which you get for playing the game well. The more damage you deal or tank, players you kill, or objectives you capture, the more credits you get. They can then be spent on upgrading one passive buff in each of four categories: Attack, Defense, Healing, and Utility. Although skilled players can collect more credits, the amount is not hugely significant, and since only one buff can be levelled per category, the game does not become unbalanced as a result.

Now, if all that sounds appealing, you’re likely now wondering if the game is fun. In my opinion, yes it is. Almost all the abilities available to the characters feel useful and satisfying, but not overpowered. It’s not revolutionary, but it engaged me enough to keep playing for a good while. It helps that the game’s business model is very fair. You start with eight of the characters unlocked, and the remainder (currently a further ten)  can be all unlocked either by purchasing the “founders pack” for $20 or for individual payments of premium currency or in game currency. Cards and skins can also be bought individually for premium or in game currency, or in a random loot chest for a lower cost. In game currency is drip fed at a steady rate through daily login bonuses and by playing and winning games. A small amount of premium currency is also dispensed for six or seven consecutive daily logins. I’ve played for seventeen hours, and despite being a poor player have unlocked six heroes without paying a cent.

Before I conclude, I’d like to say that Paladins runs very well, bar a few expected bugs. My PC is a weedy little thing (AMD Radeon A8, and no other graphics card) and does not cooperate with most new games with 3D graphics, but Paladins runs fine if I keep the graphics settings on low, which is extremely gratifying.

If you’re in the market for a class based shooter, are sick of TF2, and for whatever reason don’t want to get Overwatch, Paladins is worth a look. I’m excited to see what Hi-Rez has planned for the game, and I hope it lives up to the quality currently on display.