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

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