Tanky man with a giant deployable shield? Small woman who freezes people and protects herself in a block of ice? When news of Hi-Rez Studios’ “Paladins: Champions of the Realm” heroes was first publicized, the internet swiftly came to the defense of Blizzard’s “Overwatch”(2016) Hi-Rez Studios’ game, “Paladins,” which has been in open beta since Sept. 16, was condemned for making characters that seemed far too similar to be mere coincidence. “Paladins” and “Overwatch” drew heavily from the same influential games that preceded them and created similar heroes, although because of this, “Paladins” prefers to call them “champions,” as a result. Since then, “Overwatch” has been a huge commercial success for Blizzard, while “Paladins” has received more modest amounts of attention throughout its tumultuous beta phase. Don’t write off “Paladins” just yet, though. There are clear parallels on paper, but in terms of gameplay and mechanics, the two titles feel very different. After several hours of playing the game, “Paladins” never seemed to be ripping off Blizzard’s popular first-person arena shooter, though both titles are clearly influenced by similar preceding titles such as “Guild Wars 2” (2012) and “Warframe” (2013).
In some ways, Hi-Rez has outdone Blizzard in terms of creativity. “Overwatch,” while having excellent quality overall, has a few uninspired heroes like McCree, a revolver-toting cowboy who deals high damage at close to medium range and shuts down flankers, among other things. “Paladins” also has a similarly squishy character with a revolver called Androxus, but his high-mobility kit allows him to dash in any direction — even into the air — multiple times. If players press the space bar in mid-air, Androxus can “drift,” making Androxus able to outmaneuver most other champions and dodge incoming attacks. In contrast, McCree can only attempt a short-range combat roll to escape, so McCree’s skill primarily focuses on his ability to land headshots and is duller to watch from a spectator standpoint. Hi-Rez would do well to distinguish “Paladins” from “Overwatch” by continuing to create heroes that have more exciting kits that do not play as one-dimensionally as Blizzard’s Soldier: 76 and McCree.
Another enjoyable aspect about “Paladins” is that it provides loadouts that use collectible cards of varying rarity that tweak how champions’ skills behave. Cards can be acquired by playing the game and leveling up one’s account, crafted with in-game currency or purchased with real money. Players cannot switch champions after locking them in at the start of the game, so players need to learn to build proper loadouts for different situations and when certain combinations of cards are appropriate. “Overwatch” allows players to switch heroes at any time, but these heroes’ skills remain static. In “Paladins,” one can also purchase minor stat changes in the spawn room (with currency earned within the round itself solely for this purpose) to adjust to the enemy team composition like incoming damage reduction, added life steal and decreased reload time. The card system may allow for more strategic depth than “Overwatch’s” hero-switching, but a few hours into “Paladins,” it is hard to say definitively which game is superior in this regard.
“Paladins,” being a free-to-play title with far fewer funds, can’t compete with “Overwatch” from a graphical fidelity, sound design, and UI standpoint. “Paladins,” like Hi-Rez’s own multiplayer Online Battle Arena “Smite” (2014), runs on the Unreal 3 engine, which has been used in games since the original “Gears of War” (2006). It should come as no surprise that “Paladins” looks dated in terms of textures, and this, along with lower-budget sound effects, may contribute to why the feedback from firing weapons felt weak. Cassie, an archer, felt especially underwhelming compared to her “Overwatch” counterpart, Hanzo. Every left-click auto-attack from her bow does a consistent 700 damage; players cannot draw back the bowstring to varying degrees to adjust for height and distance. The arrows also don’t seem to have much drop and as a result are quite easy to aim, as if Cassie was firing a rifle instead of a short bow. Auto-attacking felt inconsequential, even if the damage dealt wasn’t, and this lack of feedback distracted from the otherwise fun experience.
There are many other distinctions between the two games, but these were the memorable ones. Even if “Overwatch” is not one’s favorite game, “Paladins” is still worth a shot. “Paladins” is currently in open beta and is free to play, but, as with “Smite,” players can purchase access to all current and future champions for $19.99. Players should be aware that bugs are present in the game, but these will hopefully be ironed out before its expected release later this year. The title runs on both Mac OS and Windows machines.