Paladins, the upcoming game from Hi-Rez Studios, is rather difficult to describe succinctly. It's either a class-based team-oriented FPS with light MOBA elements, or a highly casual MOBA with FPS gameplay. Even after clocking nearly twenty hours in the beta, I'm still not sure which description is correct. The only thing I'm certain of when it comes to Paladins is that it's more than the sum of its parts.
As a shooter, Paladins felt a bit lackluster. The gun physics weren't terrible, but not particularly satisfying either. Most of the weapons are projectile, but a lot of players prefer hitscan. Weapons being all projectile is a big plus for me personally, but it's still very odd to see hitscan completely absent. This lack of hitscan weapons lowers the skill ceiling dramatically, which is a strong indication that Paladins is catering to more casual players. Time-to-kill is rather high as well, enough that even if take two opponents by surprise, you're unlikely to kill both of them even if you're a better player. This gameplay style is another appeal to casual players. Only one character has to worry about reloading, everyone has infinite ammo, and there's no advanced movement skills to learn (like rocketjumping). All of these feature reductions further lowers the skill floor of the game.
As a MOBA, Paladins is even more casual. There are no skills to learn, and you'll only acquire five items (called cards) over the course of a match, and most matches will end before anyone gets past level 5. Levels themselves don't do much as far as I can tell, particularly since any health or damage upgrades come from the cards you pick when you level, rather than the levels themselves. Characters don't easily fall into traditional MOBA rolls either (or even class-based shooter roles, for that matter). There aren't lanes to speak of, each map just has three control points. One control point will be active until a team manages to capture it, at which point it spawns a Siege Engine which will make its way to the opposing team's base to destroy their gates. With balanced teams, a siege engine can usually destroy the first of three gates (the third is called the vault, and destroying that will win you the game) before being destroyed. Once the siege engine is destroyed, another control point will activate thirty seconds later, starting the process all over again. The ebb and flow of control point fights and attack/defend keeps the action moving, never slowing down to a slog or a stalemate.
The cards themselves are really what drives Paladins. At the start of the match and the first four times you level up, you choose one of three randomly determined cards. They might add extra effects or damage to your weapon, power up one of your skills, or simply increase your movement speed. There's no way to switch out a card later, and your cards will be on cooldown for a bit after each death. Since they are "cards," naturally there will be commons, rares, ultra rares, etc. From what I saw, rares and ultra rares are always more powerful than commons, though they are balanced by having a longer post-death cooldown period. Commons have only a ten second cooldown, while the most rare of cards have a full minute. Playing enough matches will earn you more cards, and you can effortlessly craft your duplicate cards into a card of a higher rarity.
Only the game's Casual Mode is currently available in the beta, but there is also a Constructed Mode listed, where players will have more control over which of their cards might appear in the match. Due to the random nature of card selection within a match, Casual Mode is quite aptly named. Got your favorite card early? Hit level two and draw a card that pairs perfectly with your first card? Enjoy some free kills early in the match! It'll be interesting to see how much control players are given in Constructed. Until that mode opens up, I can't take Paladins seriously as a competitive game.
Breaking Paladins down like into its parts, it's honestly difficult for me to find much to praise. As I said before, the game is more than the sum of its parts. It's not a great shooter, it's MOBA elements are sparse and highly casual, but Paladins is a ton of fun. None of the characters really spoke to me stylistically, but I enjoyed learning to play as each of them. Matches are long enough to be interesting, but never so long that finishing them feels like a chore. It's not a game I could ever get serious about competitively, but one I'd enjoy playing regularly when I'm looking for something easy and casual. I look forward to seeing what Hi-Rez Studios plans to do with Paladins in the future.
Disclosure: Access to the beta was provided by Hi-Rez Studios for the purpose of this preview.