Pioneered by Team Fortress 2 and popularized in the mainstream by Overwatch, the hero shooter is gaining momentum as a force in the gaming space. Unlike modern fare such as Call of Duty or Battlefield, these games place a heavy emphasis on teamwork, as specialized characters with pre-baked looks and personality are designed with distinct strengths and weaknesses. If you work as a team, you’re able to bring out the best in each member while hiding each other’s deficiencies. On top of that, games like Team Fortress and Overwatch have succeeded in making characters that people care about, even if they do little more than kill for sport within the context of their respective games.
Paladins is the latest game in the genre, available now on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and the Nintendo Switch. Using Overwatch in particular as its foundation, it adds a MOBA-inspired upgrading mechanic that allows players to improve their character to their liking over the course of the match. On top of that, this one is free-to-play. Does this squad of medieval heroes have what it takes to give the futuristic frontrunners of Overwatch a run for their money?
This is a 5v5 hero shooter with three game modes: Siege (equivalent of Escort), Onslaught (equivalent of Control), and Team Deathmatch. You can choose to any combination of the three to be a part of your rotation. I like all three and the variety that they offer, so I normally keep them all on.
At the start of the game, you will choose between one of 30-something heroes available as of writing. Each one has its own unique attributes, attacks, and fits into one of four archetypes: Front Line, Damage, Support, and Flank. While you can run a team with any combination of characters, the game strongly advises teams to have at least one of each class accounted for. In particular, going into a battle without a healer is a quick path to ruin.
Hi-Rez Studios definitely took a few pages out of the Overwatch playbook while designing these characters. While the game has a medieval theme, the general approach to the design of each character is at least similar in tone. In more dramatic cases, you can draw direct lines between the characters from these games. For example, Ruckus is clearly the Paladins equivalent of D.Va in terms of how he looks and plays. And that’s okay! People have been aping Ryu in ever fighting game since the original Street Fighter.
What really matters is how they perform in the game. From the few hours I played thus far, I had a blast. It’s a joy to work as a team, playing your specific role. Whether I was holding up Fernando’s massive energy shield to give my teammates protection, or using Cassie’s role to get behind an opponent before shooting them in the back, I greatly enjoyed contributing to the team and expressing myself through the tools of each character.
As icing on the cake, the game features a MOBA-style progression system. Each kill or assist gives you a currency that can be spent at the shop between lives. These can give you all sorts of benefits, such as being to see an opponent’s outline through walls or ride your horse faster among many others. So far, I have played most of my matches with auto-buy on, but I think seasoned players will really dig the customization element this adds to the gameplay. Regardless of where you stand in ranking these two games, Paladins is a worthwhile alternative that’s certainly worth a look, particularly on the Switch where it’s the only game of its type on the platform.
I think what will ultimately make or break the experience for you is in its pricing. Because this is free-to-play, everything beyond the base will cost you as part of a premium microtransaction. If you’re going to do it at all, it seems like the one-time purchase of all current and future characters for 1,800 gems is a no-brainer. Once you go down the rabbit hole of buying emotes, costumes, battle passes, and/or loot boxes, the free game that first hooked you in can be a very expensive proposition. Or, enjoy the free experience, which is pretty solid in its own right.