Paladins: Champions of the Realm – Early Preview

It appears that game development is all about finding new ways to blend different genres these days. We have seen many card games incorporate genre-specific mechanics from MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas), RPGs, and even Tower Defense games. The opposite is just as true, with these genres borrowing the deep strategic gameplay offered by using elements of games like Hearthstone and other popular casual card battlers.

Paladins: Champions of the Realm falls into the latter camp. It is an FPS (First Person Shooter) that uses lane styled maps of MOBAs and then injects a couple of card game mechanics to keep things interesting! Paladins: Champions of the Realm is currently in a Closed Beta phase and we got our hands on a couple of beta keys to see how this FPS/MOBA with cards from Hi-Rez Studios is shaping up!

So how does an FPS/MOBA with card mechanics compete against other FPS and MOBA giants? Read on to find out…

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This is no card game, exactly… but there are cards involved. Sort of.

Gameplay

Hi-Rez Studios are not the first developers to cross over First Person Shooters and MOBAs. In fact, Blizzard Entertainment was the first with its Overwatch game that has received much critical acclaim during its Closed Beta phase. Paladins: Champions of the Realm is quite different from Overwatch – despite appearing to be its direct competitor.

Those familiar with FPS mechanics will notice how the main objective is similar to King of the Hill. This is where you need to hold one specific location on the map for as long as you can to score points. This has been adapted into Paladins‘ gameplay, but instead of just scoring points, you will eventually summon a siege engine that will fire at your enemy’s gates. This takes the place of creeps/minions in other MOBAs.

This is where the MOBA flavor comes from. Gates protect Vaults, which are your ultimate objective. Destroy the enemy’s Vault and your team will secure the victory. Nothing is quite as simple as that, though — you can only shoot at the gates if you have a siege engine with you. If you don’t, the enemy towers will shoot at you for massive damage. This prevents the backdoor rush seen in some MOBAs.

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Fights over the siege engine capture points are extremely tense and fast-paced.

All the while you and your team are trying to hold that one point to summon your siege engine the enemy team is trying to do the same. This culminates in epic team fights that can never be avoided and the winning team will usually be able to hold the point long enough to summon their siege engine. You will then need to escort the engine while taking fire from your opponents who usually continue to try and take you down, along with your siege engine!

There are other modes besides this one that utilize either the siege engine aspect of the game or the King of the Hill mechanic where all you need to do is hold the capture point for points alone. The siege-engine-only mode is one that I particularly enjoy.

Each team has one objective, depending on which side they’re on: either push the engine along to blow up the vault or stop the opposing team from doing so. The action is fast and frantic in this mode with Champions falling very quickly as you push the engine through choke points that guarantee maximum action.

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The character design is one of the most enjoyable things about the game, with a cast of very colorful and quirky characters to select from.

Gameplay Continued…

Paladins: Champions of the Realm has very few Champions at this stage in its development. There are currently ten to choose from, but each one is completely different in terms of play style, strengths, and weaknesses.

A little disclaimer before we talk about the card aspect of the game: I have been part of the Beta for a short while, and in that time, the card system was massively overhauled. At first, you would choose cards as you leveled up and these would have their maximum effects. Now, you choose five cards at the beginning of the match and slowly level them up point-by-point as you play.

The chosen cards will have an immediate effect on your Champion’s base attack and health, in addition to the other effects the card bestows. Each card starts at level zero and can be increased to a maximum of four. As you level up in-game, you will be able to choose which cards to level. This is much more of a MOBA-style approach where the norm is to level up your skills individually.

Cards carry additional benefits and improvements for your Champions in addition to the base stat increases. These effects are devised to give you an edge in battle or to enhance a specific play style you wish to adopt for that Champion. Some may give you increased movement speed or affect health regeneration or stealth, while others will grant you the ability to slow or stun opponents. There are some effects that depend on percentages and RNG, so be aware of that also.

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The card loadout at the start of the game is important, but there does seem to be some dominant optimal builds for each character right now.

Your card collection will grow as you play the game. As it grows, you will find making your card choices at the beginning of the match much more difficult, but with the smaller card pool, this is less of an issue right now. In the old method, you could change up your strategy based upon the cards the game would give you to choose between.

Now you are locked into the five cards at the start and the best ones to level are usually those of a higher rarity. If you’re a damage dealer you’ll want to focus on increasing your damage output. Tanks will want to focus on health increases or the ability to reduce the damage taken. The new card mechanic makes the game feel much more linear than it was before.

The action is fast-paced with very little breathing room between objective spawns. You will have to be mobile at all times, and this is helped by the inclusion of a horse mount that increases your movement speed and comes with the added benefit of increasing your health regeneration as you ride.

Team composition plays a huge part in the overall strategy of the game. As the Champions and maps roster fill out, this will become even more apparent. Choosing the right skill cards at the beginning and during a match will also play a huge part in whether you win or lose.

Graphically, the game is crisp and bright. The Champion models are well designed and unique enough to tell them apart during a fierce firefight. The maps are a little on the plain side, but this should be great news for those with less than top-spec PCs. Everything has a cell-shaded, cartoon-like quality to it.

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There’s not much you can do with cards right now other than collect and craft them, but they are needed if you want more talent

Features

As Paladins: Champions of the Realm is in Closed Beta it is hard to determine what the full feature set will be when the game gets its final release. For now, we have an FPS that uses MOBA and card game mechanics to make it feel completely different from many of the FPS games out there. It certainly feels very different from the game it will be going head-to-head against, Overwatch.

The biggest and most unique feature of this game is its card system. Choosing a lineup of cards that are designed to help you throughout the match is relatively new. The way you level these is not. It is very similar to how leveling up skills in a MOBA functions, with you being given a choice as to which skills to level when your Champion levels up.

Cards are collected in the usual fashion – boosters. Well, in this instance, your booster is a chest and these come in two varieties. The first is the common Champion Chest which contains one card and can be earned fairly easily. The Radiant Chest is the second of the chests and contains five cards, so it’s able to add cards to your collection much more efficiently. You can even buy a Radiant Chest using one of the two in-game currencies. One is a premium currency while the other can be earned by taking part in casual and ranked matches.

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The only competitive mode, Challenge Match currently requires a full team of five to enter matchmaking, so you’ll probably be spending most of your time in the Casual mode.

Paladins features just four main play modes: Practice, Co-Op, Casual, and Ranked. Practice should be your first stop upon downloading the game. Here you can play against the A.I. in the Capture and Siege mode we discussed earlier. Co-Op is much the same, but you can take a party of players into this mode, which is once again against the A.I.

Casual and Ranked matches are where you play against other players from around the world. Their skills are much more proficient than any A.I. — so if you’re new, expect no mercy! After queueing for a short while, you are thrust into a screen where you can vote for the match type.

This gives you the map and game type information to work with and the choices will usually be Capture Only, Outpost, Capture and Siege, and Survival. Each player then votes on which mode they want to play and you won’t know which one has won out until all votes have been cast. If one player doesn’t vote, the game is dropped and you’ll have to re-queue.

This is a great design feature that reduces the number of times you’ll play with someone who has gone AFK (away from keyboard). However, there is one major flaw at this time that does need to be addressed. If one or more players drop from your team at any point in the game, you will be left with fewer players than the opposing team. There are no bots to take over the role of the lost teammates and you’ll have to hope they reconnect, or that the game ends quickly!

I’m sure that more features await us as the game develops. Players are encouraged to share their ideas with the development team via their forums. With the game’s mix of genres, there is scope for game modes that would not normally make sense in their native genre. As long as they’re as action packed as the current modes are, we’ll be in for a real treat!

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The cards are fun, but I feel they’re a bit underused and sidelined. They’re not the main focus of the game, that’s for sure.

First Impressions

Paladins: Champions of the Realm has the option to buy into the Beta immediately for $19.99 through the purchase of the Founder’s Pack. The Founder’s Pack also comes with an exclusive mount and plenty of Radiant Chests to begin your card collection. This also gives Hi-Rez Studios the funds they need to keep development going at a speedy pace. The updates stream is currently very quick, with the team addressing balance issues on a frequent basis.

This is one of the most action-packed FPS or MOBA games I have played for quite some time. The downtime when dead and in between objective spawns is short, and the MOBA-style gameplay helps to bring about huge team fights frequently. In other FPS games you usually only ever worry about yourself, but in this game you are encouraged to work as a team to secure objectives through the acquisition of points which can be seen on the scoreboard. This shows you just how much of a team player you and others in your team have been.

The scoreboard does give you information on your individual performance but is more of an indicator as to how much damage you have done and how much kill participation you’ve been involved in. Everything else about the game is entirely team-focused and it feels very refreshing to play an FPS with that mentality.

Paladins is an enjoyable experience no matter which mode you play. Win or lose, you will have a blast getting to know your Champions and thinking strategically. But don’t be fooled — there’s no card game here. The unique card mechanics simply offer you something different than the normal FPS/MOBA experience and give you the ability to change your strategy throughout the match. If you’re winning, then you’ll drop the defensive picks in favor of something more offensive!

The development of the game is still in its early days. More Champions will be added as the development continues, and this also means more cards for us to customize our Champions with. I’m hoping for the inclusion of more modes that are just as fun as the current offerings, with plenty more maps to boot. The current line-up will get very repetitive after a few hours of frantic gameplay!

I can see Paladins doing exceedingly well due to the addictive qualities it possesses from FPSs and MOBAs. It has incorporated all of its disparate mechanics seamlessly, with none of them feeling out of place or thrust upon you. I’ll definitely be playing this one regularly alongside all of the other MOBAs that I love to play.

For more information on Paladins, check out their website here.

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Zac Phoenix
Author: Zac Phoenix View all posts by
Zac Phoenix graduated with First Class Honors in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics and has been playing strategy card games since childhood. He has a keen interest in the underlying mechanics and player interactions of trading card games, as well as tabletop game design in the digital space. He also designs card games in his spare time.

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