Paragon PC, PS4
Can Epic sell an obtuse game genre to the console crowd?
At last, some honesty. The MOBA’s march from PC to console has been an odd one, with most developers almost embarrassed by the term. The imminent Overwatch and Battleborn borrow from the MOBA style guide, but are wrapped in a familiar FPS framework to make them more appealing to a wider, console-owning audience. Paragon is, purely and unashamedly, a MOBA, its only concession to the console crowd being a shift in perspective from the top-down genre standard to an over-the-shoulder thirdperson view.
That means Paragon comes with baggage – and a crucial task on its hands. Unlike Blizzard and Gearbox, Epic Games must sell an entire genre, rather than an accessible twist on it, to an audience who may only know it for eye-poppingly large tournament prize pools and one of the most impenetrably arcane lexicons in videogames. It must do so quickly and immediately, too, since crossplatform play pits PS4 beginners against PC vets. What sort of on-ramp does Paragon give to those for whom jungle is a kind of rave music, and thinks a ward is part of a hospital?
Actually, quite a good one, even in the current, early-access build. Two short video tutorials do a fine job of explaining not only the objective, language and mechanics, but also the genre’s flow. You quickly understand that death is to be avoided at all costs, which is perhaps the most important lesson a console player has to learn. Respawn times extend as the match progresses, something that will be anathema to a Call Of Duty player, if not quite to a Battlefield one, but as soon as you see an enemy turn tail and run the second they lay eyes on you, a teammate and a band of AI creeps closing in, you understand you’re playing quite a different game.
Other gameplay systems will be more familiar. Aside from the R2 basic attack, all your abilities are governed by cooldowns – a recognisable presence in a sometimes hostile genre – and characters are effective at different ranges, which is communicated by an aiming reticle that changes colour when an attack is going to connect. Back at your base you can assign cards to spare inputs (D-pad directions; a shoulder button; thumbstick clicks). At the start, you’ll use health and mana potions, but as you level up you’ll be able to use more complex ones that offer passive buffs that extend, rather than refill, your health and mana meters, or shorten cooldown times. Cards are the game’s beating heart, its point of differentiation from the genre template and, to Epic, the primary business model. While you’ll earn packs of cards from simply playing the game, more can be purchased for real money. Since the game is free to play and all characters are given away gratis, it’s Epic’s only source of revenue.
While Paragon is commendably easy to get into, it’s hard to stick with. The sole map is enormous and matches take an age. Even onesided stompings take half an hour, and a more even match can be twice as long. Momentum comes in short bursts – a cluttered teamfight, an assault on a tower – and despite the smart introductory videos and the character-specific tutorials on Epic’s forums, beginners will spend most of a match’s lengthy runtime wondering what they should be doing, and where. Character movement is slow, too, and while Epic has sped the action up slightly since early builds, console players will find themselves pining for an even brisker pace. Epic’s honest adherence to the conventions of its genre may be commendable, but also show why the likes of Gearbox and Blizzard have chosen to evoke the spirit of the MOBA rather than follow it to the letter.
Even one-sided stompings take half an hour, and a more even match can be twice as long
Developer/ publisher Epic Games Format PC, PS4 Origin US Release 2016