Do you play MOBAs? In my experience this question produces one of two answers: “Yes, I lost my first marriage to a six month Smite marathon”, or a spine chilling shudder followed by a look of scorn.
27 million players log into League of Legends every single day, making it the most popular game in the world by a terrifying margin, but the genre still divides opinion. For many, the top-down isometric perspective of most MOBAs is unappealing, as is the prospect of learning about dozens, or even hundreds, of heroes.
Gears of War creator Epic Games wants to do things differently. The former home of controversial game designer Cliff Bleszinski and maker of bombastic bro-games doesn’t seem the most obvious choice to carry the MOBA mantle, but Paragon is soon to join the cohort of battle arenas on PC and PS4.
Paragon is a MOBA
Epic is keen to stress that despite the third-person perspective and graphical prowess, Paragon is first and foremost a MOBA. In practice, this means the core tenets of the genre are preserved in their entirety.
“What are said tenets?” I hear you cry. They’re simple – sort of…
MOBAs are all about characters with special powers. Each player takes charge of a hero that possesses three basic abilities and a fourth, more powerful one known as an ultimate.
The rules of the genre are becoming increasingly flexible, but generally speaking, two teams of five players face off against one another in a battle to destroy the opposing side’s base. Battles are fought down three ‘lanes’ which connect the two bases.
Each lane is peppered with defensive towers, which protect the path to the allied base. Small creatures known as minions spawn on both sides of the map and force their way down the lanes to attack opposition towers and eventually the base. Players must constantly eradicate these pests in order to protect their own fortifications.
Slow and steady
Paragon keeps close to these basics, as well as other genre-defining features. Killing minions and other players grants experience, which players can use to upgrade their hero’s abilities. More kills equals more power, so as in League of Legends and DOTA 2, always beware the MVP.
To a casual onlooker it might be easy to mistake Epic’s creation for a game like Blizzard’s upcoming shooter Overwatch, which is a Team FPS at its core, but the two couldn’t be more different: Paragon is rendered in three-dimensional glory, but it plays and handles like a MOBA. Heroes move relatively slowly and although landing abilities requires players to aim carefully, the pace of battle is more reserved than the panic-stricken twitching of a dedicated shooter.
This more relaxed tempo is all to Paragon’s credit. In my four hours of skirmishing, it was striking how natural and familiar the whole experience felt. Third-person action wedded to MOBA mechanics could have easily resulted in a chaotic mess, but Epic has gone to great lengths to keep the action readable. The generous distance between camera and player, coupled with more glacial handling, ensures that fights are, for the most part, visually comprehensible.
The MOBA format works here thanks to something that could easily go overlooked: the shape of the map.
As most MOBAs are isometric, vision of the map rarely proves a problem, but third-perspective doesn’t generally allow broad vantage points for sprawling vistas. In response, Paragon’s arena has been constructed as a bowl. Both bases are on the highest points on the map, which then dips in the middle, forming a gargantuan valley.
This configuration ensures that players can spot opponents, weak towers, or even large minion waves from a long way off, and also makes the deployment of long range abilities possible in most situations.
Welcome to the jungle
The area between lanes, known as the jungle, is usually populated by neutral monster camps that can be killed for experience, and Paragon is no different. Ambushes on lone players (otherwise known as ‘ganks’) can be pulled off as they move between lanes hoping to outmaneuver their foes.
Paragon doesn’t have a fog of war, so in order to keep this dangerous area of the map occluded, the jungle has been lowered beneath the height of the lanes and is obscured by foliage that keeps any movement within a secret. It’s a simple, but highly effective solution that retains the area’s high-risk mechanics without disturbing the map’s carefully constructed shape.