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Paladins Beta Preview (PS4)

Arise Champions! Paladins Open Beta has finally launched on consoles, letting players across the world fight it out to become the best of the best. There is a massive wealth of content on offer here, and all for free, but exactly how good is Paladins: Champions of the Realm?

Paladins Open Beta Review (PS4)

Introduction

Controversy is nothing new to the gaming industry, and controversy definitely surrounded Hi-Rez's Paladins upon release of its previous open beta on PC, and its subsequent console closed and open betas. Often being toted as a simple Overwatch clone, the game has gone on to surprise many by staying somewhat relevant, whereas previous titles surrounded by similar controversy have been lost to the annals of gaming history.

But at the core, what is Paladins? Paladins is a first-person shooter with MOBA elements, offering a selection of Champions that boast a wide variety of options and abilities. Game modes are objective-based, and involve capturing a point, pushing a cart/payload, or both. With these features in mind, it is unsurprising that the game was compared to one of the most popular first person shooters in recent memory, and as someone that has quite a lot of hours played on Overwatch, I am also guilty of writing Paladins off as a clone and cash-in of Blizzard's hit title. Its fair to say now though, that my opinions have changed.

Now with this review, I'm not coming in blind. I've got a few hours on Paladins on the PC, mainly playing as Kinessa, the main Sniper champion. With the PS4 port though, I tried to get some variety in the champions I played.

You can download Paladins for free now on the PS4, Xbox One or Steam stores.

Initial Startup

Starting up Paladins is very simple, and the game throws you straight into the tutorial playing as Viktor, the game's answer to the run-and-gun playstyle found in many other First Person Shooters. Whilst this tutorial manages to teach the basics quite well, it feels terribly forced and really not that inviting. Yes it teaches you some essential skills for that Champion, but the format in which its presented and the abundance of downtime within the tutorial feels fairly hollow, which is unfortunate.

Paladin's main menu is simple and easy to use, and identical to the PC version. UI Design is bright and colourful, and although some text on some of the sub-menus is a tad too small to read easily, the menu design is overall quite good, allowing players to access and customize champions, queue for games, browse the store and more through the one central menu.

Whilst we're here at the main menu, I should mention account linking. This feature is advertised on the main menu through the scrolling Highlight system that shows new skins, updates etc. Linking your Hi-Rez account to your PS4 or Xbox unlocks a colour-coded skin that can only be obtained through this method. Having played Paladins a bit on the PC prior to this, I was also hoping my currency and unlocked characters, of which I have one or two, would transfer over, a concept that I thought wasn't too far a stretch. Imagine my surprise when none of that actually transfers over.

When we think about the issue realistically, I doubt there are many players that will make the jump from Paladins on the PC to the console. However, for the few that do, the lack of transferability of characters, currency and presumably more is frustrating for anyone expecting that, and its not exactly far fetched to think that transferring of elements earned on the PC edition is a difficult task. Personally, I was only missing a few character unlocks and some loadout cards, but if I were in the situation where I was missing out on skins, emotes, and more characters I'd earned through hard work on the PC edition, I'd have quite the sour taste in my mouth for sure.

Paladins Beta Preview (PS4) A fast-paced, frantic Hero shooter with heaps of action

Gameplay

Initial gameplay of Paladins is well, misleading. For the first 5 levels, you'll play a PvE game mode of human players vs bots in game modes you would find in the typical PvP environment you'll find yourself in later. I understand why Hi-Rez chose to do this, as it is a low-stress way of letting players try new things, experience the maps and really get to grips with the basics before being thrown into a game where the enemy team are living, breathing humans. However, the lack of communication on this concept is astounding. You are never outright told that you'll be fighting against bots, and I ended up having to search the Paladins Reddit to find out that this was indeed the case. Whilst these early training wheels were no doubt created with good intentions, the lack of communication about them can quite easily lead a player into frustration. The bots found in this mode aren't exactly the smartest, and will often resort to just running at you guns blazing for the most part, meaning that players will easily be able to rack up kills upon kills and feel untouchable, until of course they reach level 5 and are put against humans that can actually dodge and use tactical play to their advantage, something which will undoubtedly lead to a whole wealth of frustration for said player. Again, I'm not saying this concept is a bad idea, its just that the player should be outright told about it, and then given the option to continue on with the PvE environment or jump straight into true PvP.

One major feature that differentiates Paladins from other similar games is the spawn rollout system. When spawning, you will automatically jump onto your horse (yes, a horse), and you are then free to travel to whichever destination you see fit. The horse may seem a random choice at first, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Paladins is a fast paced and frantic game, where every second counts. Enabling people to spawn and be back in the fight within 20 seconds rather than having to endure the length trek all the way back to the frontlines. Due to this extremely fast rollout speed, it means that the pressure on the enemy team is constant for the most of the time, and forces attackers to keep pushing and defenders to focus on the objective rather than wandering off, or even spawn camping the opposing team's spawn room, a problem that is prevalent in some other hero-based shooters.

Paladins Beta Preview (PS4) Matchmaking is a pain sometimes

Gunplay and overall game balance is something quite hard to quantify in a game like Paladins. With so many loadout modifiers, purchaseable perks and more, its hard to say exactly what needs changing with certain characters and what doesn't. Instead, we'll focus on the basic premise of roles and their functionality on the battlefield.

Paladin's 17 champions have the same core concept. They have their own unique weapon, 3 abilities to support them, and an ultimate that can be used to turn the tide of the match, if used wisely. These 17 champions are split into four roles. Frontliners hold the line between the enemy and the rest of your team, often employing defensive abilities such as barricades and shields, and can often be defined as the Tank role, able to soak up massive amounts of damage and keep on going.

Damage Dealers are there to, as the name suggests, put out a massive amount of damage. This role is probably the most diverse in terms of champion roster, as it features a sniper, a soldier, a walking talking bomb that throws more bombs, a rocket-firing dragon with a jetpack, and a crossbow-wielding badass. The various champions available in this roster offer a diverse amount of ways to approach any given fight. Having trouble with a flanker getting behind your frontliners? Kinessa can sit back and pop heads like its going out of fashion. Enemy got a strong defensive hold? Drogoz and Bomb King can quite literally blow it to smithereens. Damage Dealers offer a lot of diversity in the team roles.

Supports offer healing and buffs to their team whilst also being able to debuff the enemy team, meaning that a good support can quite easily push their team to victory. Supports can be quite squishy, with one or two exceptions, and are generally best sitting in the middle of the team, where they are best able to support everybody around them.

Finally, Flankers. Disruption is the name of the game here, offering advanced movement and cloaking abilities to enable these champions to make important picks on enemy combatants that are troubling your team. Flankers are quite squishy in terms of health, so always have a way out in your back pocket when engaging the enemy team.

So within these parameters we already have specific roles and specialities, but the next part is where Paladins really does make itself unique. Each character has a deck of cards that can be used to modify their equipment and abilities in a variety of different ways to allow a certain playstyle to be more effective than usual. This creates an interesting uncertainty in battle, as you never know exactly what the champion you are facing is proficient in, the only way to learn is to play against them and learn how they behave, their strengths, and their weaknesses.

Paladins Beta Preview (PS4) Character and Loadout customization is deep and interesting

To improve your champion's functionality in their role, many loadout cards are available to enhance their abilities. This can include anything from ammunition regeneration, improved ability duration, faster health regen and so on and so forth. These cards are really the start of the customization options that make Paladins quite different from other Hero shooters out there, and can create a variety of sub-classes within each Champion's moveset.

To generally guide your character into a certain role, champions will choose one of three legendary cards. These traits will give the player a large bonus in one particular field of their playstyle, improving their ability to output direct damage to individual targets, or to better control crowds of enemies, or a variety of other situations. These traits cannot be upgraded in any way, and only really serve as a loose guide for your playstyle that game, and prove a good way to improve your character's functionality in their role.

To add another layer of customization, when you're in a game, you can buy perks with points earned from capturing objectives, killing enemy champions etc. These let you further specify your role on the team to truly become a niche character. Do the enemy team have a strong frontline? Take Kinessa, equip her with cards that increase the charge speed and shield damage of her sniper, then spend your in-game points on a perk that allows you to do extra damage to shields. Those tanks never stood a chance.

Things can definitely go the other way though. Playing in a way that exposes your weaknesses and choosing the wrong perks to purchase can cripple your effectiveness, and this learning curve is an extremely interesting feature not seen in many games. Its a learning curve in a learning curve in a learning curve, and mastering it is difficult but satisfying.

On the negative side, there are one or two things I don't like. Firstly, in the end-game screen, XP & Gold earned is shown in a radial wheel. However, whilst this wheel fills up with colour to show earned xp, it also fills on top of the colour with a grey fill that shows "unearned XP". This is the XP & Gold you would get if you had a booster active, which can be bought with crystals, however, the presentation of how it is named could be seen as slightly misleading. Whilst a simple Google search can answer the question of exactly what unearned XP is, it could quite easily fool some new players into thinking the XP they earned is being reduced for some reason. Secondly, the matchmaking system. Whilst finding a match itself doesn't seem to be much of a problem, getting into a game has a "ready" system, where the player matchmaking has to actively press a confirmation button to join the lobby. In my experience this actually does wonders for stopping AFK players, which is great, so many lobbies are often ended because one person doesn't press that confirmation button, and thus everybody else has to continue matchmaking. It would be nice if it simply removed the non-confirmed player from the lobby confirm screen and tried to find one other person, though I am not an expert in how matchmaking works, so I don't quite know how simple this could be.

To summarize this section, gameplay is intuitive and deep with a lot to offer and a lot to learn, and customization is stellar. There is always a champion someone will be able to play, with certain ones being designed for newer players to find success with, but still be useful for veterans of the game. There quite honestly is a champion for everyone, and the learning curve you'll go through whilst playing this game is beyond satisfying, and is one of the deepest skill curves I've seen in quite a while. Sure, there are one or two elements that can be slightly aggravating or non-descript, but in general, gameplay is honestly damn good.

Paladins Beta Preview (PS4) Graphics are bright and lively

Graphics

In general terms, Paladins looks good. Laced with bright colours  and vibrant special effects, this game does indeed look quite visually pleasing, and Hi-Rez have clearly designed the game to look as vibrant and lively as the wealth of champions available. Some maps are basked in golden sunlight, whereas others are bathed in the ethereal glow of the moon, meaning each locale has its own unique atmosphere and feeling. Many projectiles and particle effects within the game have clearly been polished to a high degree and designed with gameplay in mind, with each colour and effect almost perfectly suiting the champion that creates said effect. Again, vibrant colours really are the name of the game here, and graphics match gameplay in the vibrancy and diversity of champion options available.

Whilst we're on the subject of Graphics, I should take a moment to talk about UI design and its issues. I've said before that the UI is quite intuitive and useful, and this is true, with a few exceptions. Firstly and quite importantly, UI scaling. Over my first couple of matches, I played Kinessa, the sniping character that I spent a lot of my time on in Paladins. Of course, as a Sniper, she can aim down sights, which drops a sniper scope texture over the character and zooms in their FOV, and to my surprise, the texture isn't properly scaled to the screen.

At first I thought this was a glitch to do with my FOV. Field of View on Paladins is customizable from 90 to 120, a welcome introduction by the way, and I thought this may be causing an issue with my scope texture, seeing as I was playing at 120. Dropping it back down to 90, I was having the same issue, and I noticed also that on death, it fades to black, or at least part of the screen does. It seems some overlay textures are just not scaled properly, and whilst it is not a massive issue, it'd be nice to see this fixed.

Away from graphics now, sound design itself is also quite good. Footsteps crunch on the ground, ultimate ability phrases are clear and loud, and other effects present in the game sound as you would expect them to sound. Unfortunately, some Champion's gunfire sounds somewhat hollow. My main example of this would be Kinessa. As the Sniper of the Damage Dealer roster, you'd expect her rifle, when in sniper mode, to crack the air with its high-velocity shots. However, the sound is clearly lacking in bass and impact, and can sound quite weak, even though the weapon itself is far from that. Whilst some weapons and abilities sounding weak isn't exactly a massive issue, its undeniable that having weapons sound realistic and having weight to their shots does wonders for immersion.

Paladins Beta Preview (PS4) Sound design is great, but some elements lack impact

CONTROLS

Controls are honestly fairly typical for the most part. The Fire button is tied to the R2/RT button, with the other shoulder buttons tied to abilities. Sticks control movement, X/A to jump, so on and so forth. There are definitely some outliers here though, and for this I'm mainly looking at the current VGA quick chat system. Whilst Paladins on PC has just recently got voice chat, at the time of writing, the feature has not yet been implemented in-game for consoles. Therefore, instead of opting for absolutely no communication, Hi-Rez has implemented their VGA chat system. This system is activated from the right d-pad button and is a path-based chat system with pre-defined phrases and actions. Whilst there are very specific options here, an example being you can tell your teammates how you're going to attack, the system seems over-saturated with chat options, so much so that navigating it is a nightmare. I get the intention here, they want you to memorize button combinations to communicate with a few button presses, faster than you could speak or indeed type. However, there are so many options here that it would take ages to memorize all of the commands you would need, and one wrong button press could feed your team some seriously incorrect information.

Also, a slight gripe but nothing serious is that there is no melee option in Paladins, though the typical Melee button remains unmapped. Whilst its not that simple of course, Hi-Rez would have to create animations, sound effects and the like, it feels odd and sometimes inconvenient that the only way to attack at close range is to keep shooting, rather than using a well timed punch or gun-butt.

Finally, when it comes to controls, my major complaint. Aim Acceleration is a thing. Now, there's a reason why most PC players will completely avoid mouse acceleration, and this is because it makes it near impossible to create a proper muscle memory pattern. If you play a lot of First Person Shooters on console like me, then aim acceleration will be almost foreign to you, as a lot of them don't even have an option to enable it, so the fact that Paladins has it with no option to turn it off is frankly ridiculous.

Not only does it not have an option to turn it off, but it has two modes of aim acceleration, Classic and Dynamic. What do they entail? Who knows, there is no in-game explanation of the difference. On the main menu at the time of writing, Hi-Rez are running an aim assist survey to get a feel for how things are for console players. However, there doesn't seem to be an option about Aim Acceleration and opinions on that, and I'm guessing I'm probably not the only one that doesn't like it.

Paladins Beta Preview (PS4) Controls are simple and fairly generic, though aim acceleration is frustrating

Microtransactions

Yes, Paladins has microtransactions. Its 2017, its hard to find a game that doesn't. Paladins has microtransactions in the form of Crystals, which can be used to unlock cosmetics, new champions, loot crates and more. Fortunately, there is nothing inherently pay-to-win about this system, as new champions can be unlocked with the Gold currency which is only earned through in-game progress, and in my experience, earning gold really isn't too hard. You can expect to get a couple of hundred gold a match, and if you're getting mastery ranks for champions, you can earn loot crates and gold from subsequent levels. The only disappointing element of the loot crate & microtransactions system of Paladins is the better crates being locked behind a paywall. Whilst crystals can be earned from daily rewards, it is a small amount of crystals and realistically means you may only be able to open one or two of these high-tier cases every week, which is not ideal. I'd rather see these cases awarded rarely, or at least give them an option to be bought for a wealth of gold, so that people that already own all of the champions can focus on attaining some of the best cosmetics and cards. There is also another currency in the game called Essence. These are only awarded when attaining duplicates from loot crates, and are solely used to unlock loadout and legendary cards.

Overall, Hi-Rez have, for the most part, done a good job of balancing microtransactions with earning things fairly in game through simply playing. A lot of the grind of the game can be circumvented with the Founder's Pack. Costing £15.99, this pack unlocks all current and future champions instantly and gives the following: 10 Radiant Chests, all standard champion voice packs, God of War Fernando collection, Infernal Warhorse mount and the Fernando Ares SMITE skin. Any champions previously purchased with gold or crystals will also be 100% refunded upon purchase of this pack, which is a welcome touch. However, some players have raised issues with this pack, as apart from instant champion access there isn't really much else to offer. The Infernal Warhorse mount is something seen only occasionally during deployment from spawn, the voice packs are decent yet still a fairly average reward, and the Fernando cosmetics are fine, if you play him. If you don't ever play Fernando, you're missing out on two features in this pack straight away.

Another complaint would be that, yes you gain ten Radiant chests, but you don't get any chests of a higher tier, which still can only be purchased through Crystal microtransactions. I can see why this would bother people, and I think the pack would be much more worth it if you could claim one free collection for any hero of your choosing, and if you were given ten chests of a higher tier, giving you a better chance of getting some rarer and likely better cosmetics.

Synopsis

Overall, Paladins is pretty impressive. Whilst some game elements are frustrating, either due to being not very intuitive or not very well described, developers Hi-Rez have managed to do a great job on a game that many wrote off as a simple copy of Overwatch. Paladins is very much its own game, with a wealth of champions, an extremely deep skill curve and the ability to keep you saying "just one more game" until the sun literally comes up, and then you realize you haven't slept or showered, and you're going to be late to class.

I feel like the game could possibly benefit from a Competitive mode, and some extra variety in game modes with maybe even some party/gimmick modes thrown in there, though this is indeed still a beta, and I suspect Hi-Rez already has these things in mind and are working to make it a reality in the future.

Paladins is satisfying alone, and a blast with friends, and is a title you should definitely download if you like Hero-based shooters, and especially if you've never played one before. Who knows, you may find yourself finding your new favourite game.

PROSCONS
+ Interesting and unique Champions– Can't disable Aim Acceleration
+ Deep and extensive learning curve– Can be quite complex for new players
+ Extremely addictive– Lack of explanation and clarity on some features

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