Ah, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games. Where should I begin? I hate them. The cramped arenas, the boring battlefields, the communities of bitter and unhelpful players, the lengthy matches where defeat has come and gone but that one asshole still won’t concede… They’re not my cup of tea. But I desperately want them to be. They’re beautiful, deeply strategic, and offer buttloads of content. Unfortunately finding the MOBA-for-me has been a long journey down a long road where people throw eggs at me and tell me to go kill myself.
My first MOBA was Heroes of Newerth. I was drawn in by the fun looking characters, the detailed environments, and the oh-so-pretty special effects. Since my friends seemed to be having a grand old time with it I eagerly downloaded the game and shortly thereafter descended into a world of hurt faster than I could say the word “gank”. I was bad. Very bad. After a few weeks of rage and no real progress I bowed out in defeat and liberated my hard drive space.
A few years later I discovered League of Legends. I decided to give the genre another go and lo-and-behold this time I performed much better! I finally began to understand the ways of the MOBA. But I was still shit and after being called many names and getting no real help from the community I left League behind too.
With my hopes and dreams of finding the MOBA-for-me shattered December 5th, 2015 rolled around and Epic Games announced a new project: Paragon. The flashy trailer descended from the heavens with the sound of angels singing and harps harping. Well not really but the trailer was fucking awesome and Epic instantly suckered me in with it. Maybe I’m a masochist? A real glutton for punishment perhaps? But against my better judgement and ignoring all the horrible voices still echoing in my head from previous MOBuse, I vowed to give the genre one last chance.
This past weekend I received my beta invite, installed the game with slightly more than an inkling of dread, and booted her up while praying to the gaming Gods that this time would be different. In spite of my fears something amazing happened: I had fun. Even though it’s a standard 5v5 affair with three lanes, towers, minions, inhibitors, and a core to take out, Paragon differentiates itself with a wonderful sense of freedom. Traditional MOBAs feel cramped because of the closely zoomed, top-down isometric camera used to preserve the arena-style feel; a relic leftover from the early days of RTS development that compensated for hardware limitations. Since Paragon is a 3rd-person game there is no such need for that claustrophobic camera. You’re not locked into a single viewing angle so the game feels spacious which gives the player welcome breathing room for surveying the state of the battlefield and planning strategic advances while at the same time capturing the feel of being in an arena. It also makes the game feel much more action packed and very Gears of War-like.
Another welcome change up to the MOBA formula is the verticality of the arenas. Mobility is important in Paragon and there’s no shortage of places to run, hide, bob and weave, and dodging attacks around corners does feel like standard MOBA business. But timing ducks and hops against your enemies attacks utilizing the arc of a hill is a unique experience. For instance, at one point during a match I noticed an enemy charging a fairly impressive looking attack that instinct (and a very bright light) told me would cause a healthy amount of hurt. By scrambling down a hill and using the curvature of the landscape, I was able to dodge the attack just in time to watch the beam whizz over my heroes head. It got my heart pumping and I charged in for the counter kill. This interaction was thrilling and opened my eyes to a wealth of strategy not present in other MOBAs.
Equipment management is slightly different from what genre faithfuls have come to expect. Instead of presenting you with a massive list of items, the game utilizes a deck building system where you add cards (gear) to a deck before a match that it will stock the store with. Equipping your gear requires Card Points, a currency which essentially works like a secondary expendable level. You earn them in conjunction with XP by collecting something called Amber which is produced by treating minions or rival players like pinatas, or by farming utilizing landmarks called Harvesters. Once you’ve earned a few Card Points you can enter the store, choose which deck you’d like to buy from, and start splurging. An option to upgrade the cards you equip becomes available further along in the match.
After swallowing the jagged pill that was figuring out gear management without a tutorial a glaring omission became apparent to me: in-game voice chat. Because of this exclusion I wasn’t easily able to communicate with my teammates as I was forced to type to them while trying to control a 3rd-person action MOBA hero, which is by no means an easy task. How the hell am I supposed to effectively play a 3rd-person action game and type out that the jungler has come to gank us simultaneously? I can only imagine how the PS4 players are feeling right now. They might as well be playing a single player game since there’s most likely no comm traffic at all. Of course there’s always party chat or Skype, but that doesn’t help when you’re paired up with randos.
I also had a lot of trouble with a small control oversight. The gameplay does feel very tight and the controls are polished and responsive; you’ve got precise mastery over your character at all times. But if I had to flee from an encounter and wanted to level up a skill to help counterattack I would need to push four buttons at once with my left hand: W to run, Shift to activate Travel Mode, CTRL to level up, then Q, E, or R to chose a skill. Go ahead and try that real quick. Talk about carpal tunnel. You can remap buttons of course but the default setup feels cramped during these types of situations. I wouldn’t bitch if this only presented itself as a hinderance once or twice but because it was a predicament I found myself in quite often, particularly during the early game, I felt it needed to be mentioned.
I like Paragon, which if you ask any of my friends is quite a statement for me to make. “Geoff likes a MOBA?! Hell has frozen over…” Yeah, yeah. I do. Paragon was a shit load of fun and finally does what I’ve been hoping for years a MOBA would do: bring me pleasure. League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth are very pretty and very deep games and I desperately wanted to like them. Unfortunately the restricted camera, limited champion control, claustrophobic playing fields, and the unfriendly community continuously drove me away. Barring the community since it’s too soon to tell, Paragon addresses most of my grievances and has left me walking away with a smile. The open camera (I can see the sky!), action-packed team fights, the direct hero control and tight gameplay coupled with the gorgeous, tiered environments has proven to me that Paragon will be a MOBA that I can finally enjoy when it releases this summer.
Oh and one more thing: hitting people in this game feels goooood. Attacks land with a thud that few games can capture. You can thank Gears of War for that bit.