Last week I attended a preview event for Paragon, Epic's new action-MOBA, and I must say I had an absolutely great time playing the game. Indeed, it was one of the most entertaining preview events I've been to in quite some time.
But before I get to the ins and outs of why playing it was such an enjoyable experience, let me first explain a little about what makes Paragon different to most other MOBAs. It's fundamentally a MOBA – a five versus five PvP game in which both teams accompany minions across a three-lane playfield, attempting to destroy towers and ultimately take out the enemy base – but the action is viewed from a close-in third person POV, which essentially puts you right in the thick of the action. Indeed, to all intents and purposes, it plays like a first-person shooter.
The playfield – there is but one at this point – feels open and expansive. It's indented in the middle, giving the arena a bowl shape, and the lanes are tiered, which means you can see right across it. This gives a view of the action that's unlike most traditional MOBAs – you can see pretty much everything that's going on and can plan your moves accordingly, making the proceedings feel dynamic and immediate.
As you might expect, there's a broad selection of characters to choose from, each of which has his or her own playstyle and special abilities. There are melee and ranged characters, tanks, casters, and, of course, support classes. I decided to play a support role, and to that end chose Muriel, an angelic character with fairly weak offensive powers, but who has a good selection of support skills, including an AoE healing shield, a healing/knockback move, and a moderately powerful damage/slowing effect.
The rest of my team chose more offensive-oriented characters, and when everyone had made their selection, we started to play. The first order of business was to equip our characters with items. This is where Paragon is different from most MOBAs. Rather than having a shop with upgrades to buy, you use a deck of cards that represent items and passive effects. Decks are constructed from a pool of cards of different rarities that you win by playing the game, and you can save these to give you different kinds of tactical decks, one of which you choose before you start playing a game.
Each card's item or upgrade has a specific cost, and, obviously, the more powerful the effect it delivers, the more expensive it is. This means you need to build a deck that has a progressive cost curve, so that you can use your cheaper upgrades first, and then as the game progresses and your points begin to accumulate, you can switch them out for better, more costly items. Some cards feature upgradable items. For example, I chose a staff that had three sockets, into which I was able to place additional cards to boost its overall effect. By the time I'd finished fully upgrading the item, it gave me two health boosts, and a mana pool increase that let me cast more spells – on top of the cooldown boost and additional health effects that were innate to the staff.
The deck concept is a neat idea. It adds a tactical element to the game, enabling you to essentially plan your upgrades depending on how you want to play. Perhaps you might want to go all-out on offensive upgrades to boost your damage and lower your cooldowns, or you could decide to make a deck filled with defensive items, increasing your health and armor to make it more difficult for the enemy to take you down. Or you could make a more rounded deck that allows for situational choices depending on what kind of team you're playing, or how the game happens to be progressing.
Once the team had finished choosing its initial items and upgrades – I selected some cheap health and mana pots to start with – we left the base and started to move forward, accompanying a group of minions. The game basically plays just like a MOBA, with the minions advancing automatically, attacking whatever enemies they encounter. I joined our tank character on the lower right lane and started to shield and heal him as he began to hack through the enemy minions we met at the mid-point. Since there were no human players present, we attacked the first tower we encountered, but soon had to retreat when our minions were destroyed and we came under direct fire from the tower. However, more minions turned up in fairly short order, and we were able to push forward and take out the tower and continue our advance.
At this point, we attracted the attention of the opposing team, and they began to defend the lane we were attacking. Three of them turned up, and we got into a firefight where we managed to take out one player, but ended up getting killed by the other two – and the group of minions that were accompanying them.
As I waited to respawn back at our base, I noticed I had garnered some more points, so I used my deck to upgrade Muriel with more powerful items. I'd also earned enough experience to level up a couple of my spells, so I chose to boost my healing shield and slow effect. These improvements made my character a little stronger, and as I rejoined my teammates, I noticed my healing definitely had more of an effect than it did before, which helped us continue to push forward and destroy more towers. Although the enemy put up a good fight, we eventually took out enough towers to upgrade our minions, and that enabled us to make a final push to our opponent's base and destroy it, winning us the round.
While I savored our first victory, I had a chance to reflect on playing the game. One of the things that makes Paragon so enjoyable to play is that it really feels like you're a part of the action. The game has all the trappings of a MOBA, but looks and feels like a first-person shooter. Aiming and timing of spells is critical, and this helps deliver deep satisfaction to the proceedings when you get things right – especially when you pull off a tricky skillshot in a crowd, or turn around a challenging situation to your favor. Also, most characters have fairly limited range in terms of their abilities, so you really have to think about positional play – when to run into the thick of things, and when to stand off. As a consequence, the action feels really immersive, and more dynamic than playing from a remote perspective. Whether you're circle-strafing a line of enemies, or running down other human players, it just feels like you have more control over your character, which makes the gameplay more intricate and involved.
We played a couple more rounds, and ended up 2-1 on the day. All games were really enjoyable to play – even the loss. I think a large part of the fun that I experienced came from the satisfaction of playing a support character that felt really effective. I can't personally attest to how rewarding the other characters are to play, but judging by the reaction of my fellow teammates, they seemed to be having just as good a time playing the game as I. It seems that all characters have entertaining abilities that are powerful, but well balanced, and there's synergy between certain characters that I only just began to understand during our session – boding well for gameplay depth and potential teamwork.
I came away from the event very enthused about Paragon, which was quite a surprise. When I first discovered what it was, I wasn't particularly blown away by the concept: It sounded similar in many respects to Smite. However, my experience playing the game really turned my head: It's intuitive, tight, polished, and very well designed. It's also involving and engaging, and feels really action-packed. Ultimately, it's a great MOBA, and one whose perspective really changes up the way it plays. Something as simple as a different point of view might sound fairly inconsequential, but it really works well for Paragon. I know I'm laying on the superlatives thick here, but I'm just articulating how much I enjoyed playing it.
Paragon is scheduled for release on PS4 and PC, and it'll be a cross-platform game, meaning PC players will be able to challenge PS4 players and vice-versa. I played the game on both systems during the event, and didn't notice much of a difference between the two, especially as I ended up using a PlayStation controller while playing the PC version. While I'm sure detailed tests will sort out exactly how the versions differ from one another, to my untrained eye, both looked absolutely beautiful, with extremely detailed characters, impressive spell and ability effects, and a very nicely rendered environment to run around.
If you're interested in checking Paragon out for yourself, the game will be hitting paid early access this spring, and will go into open beta this summer. If you're into shooters and enjoy playing MOBAs, I'd definitely recommend giving it a go.