Epic Games ex­pands the MOBA tem­plate into a new di­men­sion



De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Epic Games

For­mat PC, PS4

Ori­gin US

Re­lease 2016

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

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