After revolutionising the first and third person shooter genres, Epic Games has turned its attention to the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) - and it's looking like the studio is on to another winner. Paragon is a third-person MOBA shooter –the latest in a line of games to blend the genre popularised by League Of Legends and Dota 2 with classic shooter elements in an attempt to appeal to as broad an audience as possible.
At the start of each game, players must select from a roster of characters with unique traits and abilities. Having picked a character, I awaited my first match during a recent preview event. As soon as I ventured out of the spawn area, it became clear this is definitely a full-blooded MOBA.
As is standard for the genre, your objective is to destroy the opposing team's base, but to do so you must first destroy outer towers that are placed in three lanes across the map. You and your team of four fellow players earn experience and card points (we will get to those later) by killing AI-controlled minions and opposing players. Level-up high enough by accumulating those points and you'll be able to purchase weapons and abilities that allow you to more easily complete your goals. On the surface it sounds simple but there's a great depth.
The skirmishes between the player-controlled characters are key to any MOBA. A successful fight for one team could leave multiple enemies are dead and keep them off the map for a good chunk of time, which makes destroying towers a lot easier.
This is where team composition comes in, while being able to deal as much damage as possible to the other team in a fight is the ultimate goal, having five heroes who all do a ton of damage probably won't work out too well. There's some standard class-based fare - support-type characters are able to heal teammates and disable opponents, hefty Tank types are good at soaking up damage while the squishier heroes sit on the back lines - but Paragon has a varied roster of heroes to choose from, with a great many more roles than these two.
The first hero I tried out was Twin Blast, a fairly mundane hero who focuses on dealing a lot of damage from the back lines with his two powerful guns. Like every other hero he has four abilities: three standard abilities that can be used from the outset and one ultimate ability that can be used after you hit level six.
Twin Blast's E ability (referring to the skill that activates when you press the E button on the keyboard) launches a grenade in the direction you are aiming while his other main abilities focus on boosting his damage output. However, his ultimate is what makes Twin Blast so fun to play - firing out tons of bullets to deal a lot of damage and potentially kill multiple enemies in a short space of time. Using it at the right time could turn the tide of a battle.
During the preview, I played as a number of other heroes, such as the rhino-like brute Grux, who became the tank for our team, taking the brunt of the damage to allow others to defeat our opponents more easily.
Elsewhere, Gideon established himself as perhaps my favourite character, due to his powerful spells. One of his abilities dropped a ton of rocks on to our opponents' heads, while his ultimate created a massive black hole that draws enemies in and deals damage. He has a short distance teleport as well, so you can see why he's so fun.
Paragon does shake up some elements of the MOBA genre, though, as its heroes are not locked into one role, due to a unique card system. Traditionally, MOBA players earn gold or experience that can be used to buy items - usually out of a selection of hundreds. Paragon gets rid of both gold and items in favour of a card system not too dissimilar to the one used in Respawn Entertainment's Titanfall.
Before a game starts, you must select a deck to use; this can be a pre-built starter deck or one you have crafted yourself. It will consist of a few cards that will improve multiple stats and then some upgrade cards to upgrade those stats even further. Getting the last hit on a minion, killing enemies and destroying towers will grant card points, which can then be spent to equip cards from your deck to your hero.
In my game as Grux I chose to play as a tank, which meant that the cards I equipped focused on giving me more health, armour and regen. Playing as Twin Blast, I went for a character build that focused on dealing damage and resulted in me getting cards that made my basic attacks a lot stronger. This card system means the mind games begin before the match even starts, as you have to commit to a play style once you choose your deck.
Despite technically being a MOBA, Paragon does a very good job of disguising it. If you had no clue what a MOBA was, there is a good chance you would think of this as no more than a complex multiplayer mode in a standard third-person shooter (such as Halo 5's MOBA-esque Warzone mode). This will make Paragon one of the most accessible and easy-to-understand MOBAs on the market but there is a great depth once you start to dig deeper, not only in the card system but also with tactics, strategies and ways to manipulate the map efficiently.
Paragon's shooter elements make the game accessible, keeping gameplay fun and skill based, which should mean it will be a long time until people hit the skill ceiling. Right now, there is still a lot to learn in terms of the most efficient way to play and seeing just what the initial meta game will be is sure to be fascinating.
But with no way of playing until the paid early access kicks off in spring and an open beta this summer, it could be a while before Paragon lands on PC and PS4, which is a shame, because all I want to do right now is jump back in and play.