Epic Games expands the MOBA template into a new dimension
Developer/publisher Epic Games
Format PC, PS4
Epic is keen to stress that Paragon is a MOBA. This is a contested, storied term, one that describes some of the world’s biggest games and a few of its bigger failures, too. MOB As were the new MMOGs, and the demise of projects such as EA’s Dawng-ate and Warner’s Infinite Crisis reflect the difficulty that a succession of large studios have faced in trying to climb onto the bandwagon.
Epic emphasises that Paragon is a MOBA not to associate it with that rough spot in the industry’s recent history but to differentiate it from a modern trend towards characterbased first- and thirdperson team shooters – a charge led by Blizzard’s Overwatch and reinforced by Gearbox’s Battleborn and Hi-Rez Studios’ Paladins. With its over-the-shoulder camera, Unreal Engine-powered sci-fi look and gun-toting heroes, Paragon very much appears to be this latter type of game. Insisting that it isn’t comes across, at first, as a marketing ploy, as if Epic is trying to position itself outside of the rat race. Playing
Paragon for the first time, however, something becomes immediately very clear: Paragon actually is a MOBA. Peel back the guns and the gloss and you reveal a love letter to League Of Legends and Dota 2. Paragon will be available for both PC and PS4, and – perhaps surprisingly – will offer crossplatform play between the two. “We constrained ourselves from the beginning to work on a controller, and to hero and world design that render at 60fps on a console,”
Steve Superville, Paragon’s creative director, tells us. Rather than see this as a case of porting a PC game to new territory, Superville argues that MOBAs are inherently suited to consoles. “We believed that the pacing and positioning of MOBAs works better on a console than needing everything to be twitch-based,” he says. “On PC, mouse and keyboard is dominant because you need to swing your crosshair onto a pixel as fast as you can. But the ‘time to live’ of MOBAs just naturally aligns with play on a controller.”
This notion that MOBAs have been waiting to work on console, rather than assuming that they must be forced to fit, is appealing. It’s backed up by the feeling that, when you get used to the controller-appropriate control scheme and action-game aesthetic, moment-to-moment play in
Paragon is very close to the genre’s roots. Two teams of five players face off on a map with three lanes, along which armies of computer-controlled robots vie for advantage. As you get closer to either team’s base you encounter defensive towers that have to be destroyed. Between each lane is a neutral zone that offers powerups and resource benefits
for the team that’s able to lay claim to it, and victory is a matter of coordinating a multi-pronged, asymmetrical campaign across three fronts that translates into a territorial advantage and, in turn, the ability to lay siege to the enemy base and win the game.
Paragon includes all of these familiar ideas, but each of them has been recalibrated to work in three dimensions. The setting is a futuristic but ruined temple complex, covered with vegetation and set into a mountainside. Unlike any other game of this type, the lanes are on an incline. In Dota or LOL you might talk about ‘top’, ‘middle’, or ‘bottom’ lane due to their position on the isometric map: here the same terminology is appropriate due to their physical position relative to one another. Top lane, off to one side, is the highest point on the map. The mountainside curves down from there towards mid, and then there’s a sharp drop-off towards bottom lane.
This is a major point of difference between Paragon and Hi-Rez’s Smite, the game it’s closest to: the latter is played in thirdperson but for the most part takes place on a 2D plane. Paragon’s topological variety allows it to do away with RTS-style fog of war, necessary in Smite, because lines of sight are naturally obscured by the environment. You can see clearly from top lane down to mid and bottom, if you look, but you’re just as likely to miss the assassin sneaking up on you because of a rocky outcrop or a ridgeline.
Paragon’s jungle takes the form of a pair of sunken valleys between raised lines, separated physically by staircases and visibly by a tree canopy – you can’t see what’s happening down there at all unless you place wards, and shaking an enemy pursuit in this winding, disorienting area feels surprisingly like it does in more traditional games of this type.
Each lane’s ‘towers’ take the form of a paired crystal and an arcane cannon set into a nearby part of the environment. The crystal is the thing you destroy, but you’re always aware of fire coming from above you. Raised areas around key chokepoints offer the opportunity for a defending team to (literally) get the drop on their opponents, and failing to keep track of who is where for a moment can be fatal: a little like failing to keep an eye on the mini-map in a traditional MOBA, but rooted in environmental design rather than the UI.
Within this new context, Paragon’s current character roster is relatively traditional. Gunslinger Twin-blast offers an easy way in for shooter players, fulfilling the carry role with high damage output that scales as the match progresses. Gideon represents Paragon’s take on the MOBA mid-laner: a high-DPS mage with built-in teleport and a high-impact Ultimate. The experience he gains in a solo lane translates into teamfight-turning power around the map. His detailed character model and the flashy visual effects that surround his moveset rest on top of a design that has a lot of Dota in its DNA – even his Ultimate, Black Hole, shares its name and theme with one of that game’s most famous abilities.
Paragon’s characters come into their own when their abilities interact with the environment. Support caster Dekker has a stun in the form of a projectile ball of energy that can be bounced off walls to catch targets unaware, and frontliner Steel can shove enemies with a charge attack: towards his team, away from his team, or even off a cliff and into the jungle as the situation (or accident) dictates.
As characters level up they earn Card Points, which are spent on unlocking upgrades from a deck of cards that players assemble on a per-character basis before each game. In minute-to-minute play, this doesn’t feel much different to an item store in a traditional MOBA, but being able to unlock and tweak new bonuses outside of a match is new. The implementation of the card system is the roughest part of the current alpha, and the most difficult to assess in a limited play session. It suggests the kind of longterm depth that will sustain interest, but it also presents the biggest barrier to entry in terms of learning. How deftly Paragon walks that line will be crucial, but the game certainly sets a promising precedent elsewhere.
These are familiar ideas, but they have been recalibrated to work in three dimensions
There’s a touch of Katniss Everdeen to the visual design of Sparrow
Steve Superville, creative director of Paragon
Grux is a powerful roamer, specialising in emerging suddenly from the jungle to lay waste to isolated opponents. Visually, he comes from the same school of design as GearsOfWar’s Locust