Paragon is a MOBA from Epic Games

After spending around a week with Paragon I've come to realize that it makes me feel the very same emotions Dota 1 evoked back when I first tried it, eons ago: the thrill of experiencing something completely new, the utter confusion about how anything works, the "AHA!" moment of finally figuring it out, and the eternal rage of a thousand stars at some of the more broken elements.

Much like Dota 1 at that point, Paragon is currently unfinished. This isn't one of those fancy beta tests where you are essentially playing a demo, instead its one where you are presented with a game whose core is complete, yet everything surrounding it is held up with a few sticks, some gum, and a whole lot of good will.

 

What initially drew me, and I'd imagine the majority of you, to Paragon was how beautiful the trailers made it look, and for the most part they weren't kidding. The landscape is gorgeous and showcases all of the nifty new tech that comes with Unreal Engine 4, with a special mention going towards the lighting which manages to make the whole atmosphere of Paragon oddly cheerful, despite hordes of murderous brutes beating the ever-living daylight out of each other all over the place.

The character designs, however, are a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand they, much like the environment, are beautifully rendered and really cool to look at, with each and every hero having some feature about them that made me stop at character selection to examine them further. Personally, the best thing about the character design is that all of them are presented as powerful heroes, even the female characters, which goes a long way towards making the fights in Paragon feel like a big deal.

Paragon characters are a rather diverse bunch

Rocket Raccoon V2 - now with more explosions

The problem here is that while the heroes might look great visually, their spells and effects leave a lot to be desired for. For me its not the visuals alone that make this an issue, but the disconnect between how powerful a spell is and how fancy its effects are.

Take Dota 2 for example, when Invoker unleashes his iconic Meteor, half of the damn screen gets covered by the gigantic meatball, an important effect when you consider that standing in its path is certain death. Gideon on the other hand is capable of producing an entire meteor shower that does a lot of damage in a small area, yet its barely visible when you're standing in it, and you mostly won't even be aware of the imminent danger until you realize that there's a giant space-stalactite where your heart used to be.

As I mentioned before, Paragon is still in beta so while these issues are excusable, I would like to see them fixed as soon as possible because feeling like an unstoppable god-wizard is half of the fun of playing MOBA games.

Paragon has great looking visuals

He clearly asked for this, wouldn't you?

The other half is turning your wimpy hero from the start of the match in to an unstoppable minion-clearing machine with 7 bows stuck to his arms, despite primarily using a spear as a weapon. In order to do so you will need to level up and gather currency, both of which come from killing players or enemy minions. If you've played Dota 2 you already know the basics, but for everyone else here's how it works.

Each time a minion dies they will grant you a certain amount of experience, and drop a certain amount of "gold" (its actually golden balls, but gold sounds better than balls I'd say) which you will need to pick up. However, if you instead land the killing blow on the enemy minion you will not only gain both instantly, but you will also gain more of each, so last hitting is heavily encouraged.

Unfortunately, Paragon doesn't like you last hitting enemy units and will try its very best to obfuscate enemy health by ramming 3-4 units in to the same 2 centimeters of screen space, or just by constantly shifting your target from one to another making you miss the enemy you originally aimed for, and worst of all, by having your ranged minions do incredible amounts of damage really quickly which means if you play a hero with slow moving projectiles (which is the most of them), you'll have to take shots way earlier than you might expect.

What I'd like to see in Paragon's future is enemies that are easier to target, and minion damage that is just as predictable as Dota 2's. The goal is to make last hitting not a game of chance, but rather a deeply intricate dance between two people who want to kill each other really badly, but have to do some chores first.

Paragon lane minions are rather strong early on

Respect minion damage early in the game, or you might find yourself rapidly dying

The reason you want to do all of that last hitting, besides attempting to earn the blood god's favor, is in order to acquire items, or cards as they are known in Paragon. They are pretty much the same concept as the items in League of Legends or Dota, with the main difference being that the cards are worse in every way imaginable. First of all, they are really boring, offering you such amazing benefits as +damage, +health, +mana, and sometimes even a combination of those! There is also the occasional +crit or +health regen card, but nothing close to the interesting and hero-defining items you might find in Dota or LoL.

Things get even more fun when you consider that you don't start with all of the cards unlocked, you have to acquire them by buying booster packs with in-game currency. And if that wasn't bad enough, you can only bring 30 cards with you in to a match. This might not sound like a big deal, after all 30 items is plenty, but the majority of those slots will be reserved for upgrade cards, of which you will need multiples. Imagine playing a Dota 2 match where you are only able to buy items from a pool of 10 you got randomly through booster packs, its absolute madness! 

I can see potential in every aspect of Paragon, a real solid chance to transform what is currently clunky it to something unique, and special, but the card system is the most annoying, new player unfriendly, and boring hero customization system I've ever seen in a MOBA game. No one wants to rely on pure, uncaring chance in order to get the cards that make their hero work, and veteran/pro players definitely don't want the game making choices for them by restricting their item pool, so who is the card system really for?

Paragon Card System has replaced items

This is the entirety of the shop a new player will have access to

Once you get past the laning phase and stack up a few cards under your suit of armor, the match will finally begin for real. Ganks, ie. hunting down enemy players, will suddenly start mattering a lot more because each dead opponent means its that much easier to demolish their towers, and eventually the core itself. In order to do so you will have to utilize a third person movement and casting system that's very similar to the one found in SMITE, but much like Paragon itself, a fair bit clunkier.

Its hard to explain this without letting you give one of the characters a spin, but piloting them feels exactly like that, like you're piloting a fridge on wheels rather than a person with legs. The result of this is a combat system that is designed to be fast paced, and even looks fast paced, but is actually incredibly slow and finicky to control. Your hero feels like a slug, a fact that you will become intimately aware of when you're being chased around by 5 enemy heroes who don't seem to be as happy as you are that their tower went down.

I could get used to that alone, but your auto attacks are also rather lethargic, especially on some of the ranged characters where it can take ~0.5 seconds before the projectile even launches, and then ~1-2 second until it finally connects. All of this makes your auto attacks feel unsatisfying to use, and your hero difficult to maneuver, as if they're stuck in mud.

The good news here is that this isn't a difficult issue to fix. Simply speeding up some of the animations and adjusting movement speeds would result in a much more exciting game, both to possible spectators, and most importantly to the players themselves. More speed means there's also more ways to dodge spells, which all require aiming, so the potential skill ceiling of Paragon would go up, which is almost always a good thing.

Paragon - Gideon has some amazing spells

When the entire screen goes all blurry and pink, death soon follows

However, and I unfortunately have to use this phase once again, while the skills feel good to cast and require a decent amount of skill to master, almost all of them are next to worthless when it comes to either damage or crowd control. What would you prefer: a single target stun that has a wind-up time and requires you to accurately hit the enemy, or Gideon, the mage I mentioned earlier, teleporting directly in to the middle of combat and unleashing the equivalent of a supernova upon the enemy team while also sucking them towards the center of the blast to ensure that no one escapes without a tan.

You would think that overpowered ultimate abilities would make the pace of Paragon faster, but given that almost every spell besides those ones deals barely any damage, or is unwieldy to use, fights tend to completely revolve around the cooldown of your 'ulties'. There is no poking, no deception or preparation, everyone simply waits till one guy messes up and then all hell breaks loose as you now have 10 players rabidly mashing the R key, hoping to obliterate the enemy before ending up on the wrong side of a meteor themselves.

Out of all the problems I mentioned so far, this is the most excusable one as balancing a MOBA game is next to impossible, let alone when its one of the earliest versions available. Excusable or not, I would like to see the power level of standard abilities increased, while the game winning ultimates should either receive a drawback or be toned down entirely. Its not very exciting to see fights end within seconds, and it tends to demoralize teams which then reach for the surrender button the first time they get wiped.

Closing Thoughts

Paragon currently exists in limbo. It has some excellent elements that make excited to keep playing it, such as the character design and skill based casting, but also enough annoyances that after each death I take 30 seconds to reconsider whether I'm actually having fun or not.

The underlying systems and mechanics have genuine potential to create a unique and thrilling moba/brawler hybrid, but are currently so rough that its very hard to see past the imperfections. While I'm not sure I can recommend you Paragon in this early of a state I will say that its well worth keeping an eye out for as many things are bound to be changed in the coming months.

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