Is there anyone who actually likes MOBAs? It feels like most players have an ongoing love-hate relationship with the genre, assuming they don't outright loathe it even as they hop into their next match. That seems to be the one obstacle no MOBA can overcome. It isn't necessarily a problem with competitive games either. Team objective grabs like Overwatch and team shooters like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive may generate stress, but they're still enjoyable. It is only MOBAs where players seem to despise every waking moment and yet still return again and again. Is there a solution to that? If so, Paragon hasn't found it. Paragon is the newest MOBA to try and revolutionize the genre, and while it does feel fresh next to its more established predecessors in terms of visual style and gameplay, it still made me want to punch a kitten in the face after a while.
Paragon is a third-person MOBA comparable to SMITE. The big selling point though is, unlike SMITE, Paragon's map is not a flat plane. Every other MOBA on the market you walk a straight path and your vision and movement are only blocked by the fog of war. In Paragon there are cliffs to shoot from and inclines through the Jungle and the side maps. While it may not seem like much, the more varied environment has a big impact on the flow of the match as well as the gameplay and meta.
There isn't really lore to speak of, which isn't necessarily bad. MOBAs are not well known for their storytelling after all. What is known is that all the battles take place on Agora, the main and currently only Paragon map - and what a gorgeous map it is. Every person I played with made this comment, but it bears repeating. If nothing else, the game is visually very pretty, particularly by MOBA standards. MOBAs are not inherently ugly of course, but most fall back on more cartoonish designs and graphics. Paragon takes a far more realistic approach graphically. In terms of design, they took a lot of creative liberty when designing the architecture on Agora, and it makes for far more interesting scenery than most MOBAs. Everything is done on Epic's own Unreal Engine, and it really shows off its graphical capabilities here. The characters all look fantastic as well. There are a couple archetypes in there, like the tiny girl archer with a braid who even has a skin where she has a Mockingjay on her face. The majority though are unique and interesting, in terms of design. It does open more questions about exactly what all these people with varying technological and magical capabilities are doing fighting each other, but you don't tend to think too much about that.
Mechanics feel pretty good too. Like SMITE, aiming is a free for all. You can't just lock onto a target like League of Legends or Heroes of the Storm. Unlike SMITE, the combat just feels right. It was pointed out to me that part of the reason I may think this is that I play SMITE on PC, but was playing Paragon on PS4, with a controller, thus I was able to get more feedback when hitting an enemy. But it seemed more than that - it just felt easier to aim in general, which a controller would definitely not improve compared to a keyboard and mouse.
Instead of items, players purchase cards with "Card XP" to improve their abilities in-game. You don't get access to every card right away, you instead must collect them by leveling up, getting chests, completing objectives and challenges, or by buying them from the store. There are no set cards and you cannot craft particular cards, but receive them randomly from booster packs. You can buy certain types of card (the different types determine what kind of buffs they provide and who can use them). In the future, it might be wise to have a crafting mechanic or something with more precision rather than relying on the often unforgiving RNG. For right now, there are so few cards it isn't necessary. You can compile your deck yourself or use premade ones. During the game, you collect Card XP by defeating minions, monsters, enemies, objectives, or collecting them from Harvesters, one of the newer types of objectives not found in other MOBAs.
This card system is an interesting one. At first glance, it seems uncompetitive, but there are not many cards so most who wish to go pro will want to collect them all ahead of time. At that point, it becomes about constructing a deck that serves your designated purpose while also remaining versatile. It presents more factors that teams must consider strategically, and for the most part the cards are fairly balanced (though currently, physical damage seems underwhelming).
Now, Paragon is not the first MOBA to show up on a console - that honor belong to SMITE. However, unlike SMITE, there is cross-platform support with Paragon. Players on PC and PS4 can intermingle and play together, which is a neat feature that more and more multiplayer games are attempting to support. The only downside to this is PC players often aren't paying attention and so expect communication from keyboard-less Playstation owning teammates.
All this combined makes for an awesome game. Beautiful graphics, good gameplay, nice strategic elements, and enough to make it stand out from a crowded genre. If it had a single player mode with writing that lived up to that production quality, it would probably be epic. Unfortunately, Paragon is instead a MOBA, and thus all that perfection is marred by the inevitable MOBA related issues of player disconnects, brines of salt, frustrating matchmaking, and a mastery curve that makes becoming a neurosurgeon seems like an easier task by comparison. At first, these don't seem like issues. Playing against AI there is frustration, but it is of the healthy sort you get when you are challenged, nor mind-breaking. It is when you start playing against real people and slowly indicate a desire for competitive gameplay that the game becomes punishing.
After my friends and I had played about ten games, suddenly the matchmaking system decided we were ready for the big boys. For the next three games, we were paired against fully leveled players with more than a hundred games each under their belt. Every time they destroyed us, and there was no joy. There was no sarcastic banter followed by knowing laughter. We were simply done. I am not sure if all of them will play it again, even against bots, the experience was so demoralizing.
This would be less of a problem if matches in Paragon weren't so incredibly long, even by MOBA standards. It is not irregular to be in a game for over 45 minutes, even if the match is fairly one sided. This is largely the nature of Paragon, because of the sheer size and scale of the maps. It is also partially because it currently is in a meta that favors tanks. Long games aren't necessarily a huge problem, but they become one when the game feels one sided and not very fun. Fortunately, Epic decided not to take the Blizzard route and just remove Surrendering from the game, but you can't Surrender right off the bat. No matter how obvious it is that you are going to be curb stomped into next week.
Can I blame Paragon for this? A little - the matchmaking is inexcusable. The reason for it is the matchmaking accounts for your ELO more than your actual experience, but there is only so low an ELO can go, and a bad player with a hundred games under their belt is still going to be leagues better than a newbie. It isn't like there is no one playing either since we were put in these matches after the server searched for about thirty seconds. It wasn't worth the short wait.
What about the other issues? All the ones common to MOBAs? Well, you may not be able to blame Paragon for them but you can certainly be upset they haven't done much to circumvent it. In fact, the conditions Paragon creates could agitate it. The in-game upgrade system being based on RNG doesn't bode well for newer players, nor do the strenuous match times. Even with so few characters, there is a clear balance issue. Currently, the game favors tanks, but why does a game with so few heroes to balance favor a meta that strongly already?
If there are already significant balance problems, what will it be like with many more heroes to choose from? Maybe Epic will find their groove by then, and I hope so. Because Paragon is definitely fun, and I definitely can see all the potential it has. To run this point home, one of those friends I played with did keep playing. In fact, he has a low-key addiction common in MOBA players and has been playing nothing but that since before the open beta. MOBAs rely on people who fall in love with them, even despite the frustration. Who enjoy the constant challenge and steady improvement, and since Paragon is still a good MOBA with fantastic qualities, it will attract that crowd. MOBAs are in general tapering in popularity, however, and any new one is going to have to tackle these competitive issues head on if they want to stand above the crowd. Particularly if they have any intention of entering eSports.
If you want to try it, the Open Beta is up and running for both PC and Playstation 4. It was recently free in the Playstation Store as well if you collected it and haven't opened it up yet. Most likely you will be most comfortable just playing a bot game once in a while with friends because it is fun to play. It is most definitely fun with some friends to play with. If you are a competitive type you might try the PvP, but be warned that it is definitely not perfect, and it has all the same issues any MOBA has. Keep an eye on it, though - as it nears an official release, maybe it'll start to brush up some of those issues so we can enjoy the brilliance underneath.