Paladins: Champions of the realm is a free-to-play, team-based shooter developed by Hi-Rez Studios. It is currently in Beta on Xbox One and PS4, and early access on steam. The game is set in a fantasy world which is filled with ancient technology and unique characters. The game has come under a lot of scrutiny for seeming very similar to Blizzard’s smash hit Overwatch. However, the game definitely stands in its own light and has features that are completely alien to Overwatch. Some aspects are definitely similar, but we will get into that later in the review!
As with many team-based shooters, there isn’t much story in Paladins. Maybe there will be more upon final release, and Hi-Rez Studios are keeping any lore tidbits under wraps for now, time will tell on that front. The base story centres around the characters inhabiting the fantasy world, and although in-game there currently aren't too many details on the backstories of these characters, there is such a colourful cast that I’m sure these will be explored more.
Players are split into 2 teams before competing to complete the map's objective, whether that be a payload delivery, point capture or last-person-standing deathmatch. The game relies on strategy and team coordination, with a good mix of abilities and classes being essential to success. Teams can only contain one of each character, keeping the balance somewhat level. This balance is a little skewed though by issues with characters being vastly overpowered in comparison to other characters of the same class. ‘Bomb King’ in particular seems to need some major re-balancing, and perhaps rough 'class' categories would be useful for new players. I'm sure these changes and many more will be made before the full release.
There is a huge worry within the gaming community that Paladins is an Overwatch clone, let me just confirm that it is not. Some of the abilities and aesthetics are definitely similar, but the game doesn’t follow the same beats. There are elements of the game that are highly unique, including a mount that players ride into battle, a collectable card system which is used to modify and customise character abilities, and upgradable bonuses which are unlocked over the duration of a match. Choosing the right cards and ability modifiers can really change the course of the game and augment each player's character to fit individual playstyles.
I recommend being versed in the abilities and styles of multiple characters, as selections are made quickly, and players should be able to play as more than one character to avoid feeling less useful or having less fun as a result of not getting your first pick. Learning how to play characters across different classes will mean your team can always have a good composition and create more thoughtful strategies as a result. Although characters aren’t classed on the screen as ‘tank’ ‘healer’ etc, after playing a few games players will soon recognise the roles that different characters play, not just their own.
In addition to adapting the player's own style, it is important to get a good range of character classes in the team, as character choices can not be changed after selection. I noticed healers were rarely picked, but when they were, alongside a good team combination, this almost always resulted in a win. Each character has their own unique abilities which can be used on a cooldown system, and an ultimate ability which is built up over time with XP earned. Players will definitely be familiar with some abilities and combinations, which play very similarly to other team-based first-person shooters. Others are highly original, with a jar that when thrown creates a floor of fire, being a particular favourite of mine. I personally preferred playing characters that did have these original and stand out abilities, because it made the whole experience feel so fresh and new.
When playing on Xbox One I noticed very few technical problems, with almost zero clipping or graphical glitches. There were a couple of frame rate drops, particularly when large portions of the player base were in an enclosed area. In general, I was very happy with how the game played from a technical standpoint, and as the Beta receives more and more updates, it seems like the technology is being pushed even further.
Graphics and audio
Paladins boasts a bright and colourful aesthetic with a cartoonish flair. The technology-infused, fantasy setting dictates the character design, of which most are designed beautifully and originally. Characters range from human soldiers and knights to talking trees, flying dragons and floating genies. Each has their own characteristics and visual qualities, with bold primary colours featured throughout. The silhouettes of some characters (particularly the females) are quite similar at times, leading to occasional confusion as to who is who on the battlefield, but in general the characters are all distinct enough.
Again I feel there will be comparisons made to Overwatch here in some regards. Some characters do have similar appearances or enough that parallels can be drawn. This is particularly noticeable with the Knight holding a large rectangular shield, the character carrying 2 shotguns, and the Turret placing dwarf. I feel like Overwatch maybe has an advantage in that the female characters have more range and a variety of silhouettes, whereas Paladins falls victim of the petite frames most commonly used. The designs are also, for the moment slightly more polished than in Paladins. I think the detailing and general design of the characters in both games are superb, and although there may be comparisons, I think they all work well within their own universes. They are distinguished enough to not be much of a problem, If anything it may make the transition between games easier. In saying that, with Paladins having much more customisable characters, the aesthetics will have more range, and really create unique player characters.
The scope of character cosmetic items in Paladins is huge, with individual body parts having unlockable colours and redesigns for players to pick and choose; or go for a full outfit. Expectedly with cosmetics within a free-to-play game, there are lots of microtransaction in the form of loot boxes and in-game currency. Cosmetics can, however, be unlocked through playtime, not just microtransactions and none are game changing in any way other than appearance; so there are at least no pay-to-win aspects, and no advantages are given to those who pay.
The levels are designed well, with lots of routes and pathways leading to the objectives. Central areas are clear and stand out so it was always easy to navigate towards them. There was also plenty of variety in the map locales and designs, the bold colours worked well throughout, and really emphasised the paths and details added by the team.
Voice lines are mostly acted well, with only the occasional line missing the mark or sounding a bit goofy. The acting and writing seem to match the personalities of the characters well, which is definitely helpful in aiding the feeling of immersion. I must say, I have heard at least one line which is exactly the same as the character Zarya from, once again, Overwatch. So I hope this gets changed, as I really don’t think I should have to make these comparisons as often as I do. The ability noises are satisfying and also highly appropriate and planned well. Crossbows ping, guns sound heavy and powerful, and magic has a resonating hum that really works.
Paladins put some new twists into a time old formulae, and this combination definitely makes for a unique game in its own right. However, to finally shake off those often made Overwatch comparisons, it may need to mix and match a little more, and really push the elements that make it unique. The small technical problems I encountered will more than likely be hammered out before the release date, along with the balancing issues required on the characters abilities. I think Paladins will surprise people, it is a fun, colourful shooter than doesn’t play like any other AAA releasing at the moment. I think there is room in the world for Paladins, and it will definitely gather a large fan base in my opinion.