Overwatch, Paladins: Champions of the Realm, and Battleborn all want to be the king of the hill in 2016’s hottest new gaming genre, the arena-based multiplayer shooter. Overwatch looks the most promising but the competition will be stiff.
Upon finishing my first session of Overwatch, I logged off and thought, “That was really fun.” I had picked up a game, put it down 20 minutes later, and was genuinely happy with the experience right away. The most recent Overwatch beta was very polished for a game still six months away. The combat felt great. Every character has unique qualities.
Don’t get me wrong. Paladins isn’t a bad game by any means. In fact, after a few weeks with it, I appreciate what it offers more and more. But Overwatch got my interest right away. It took some time to warm up to Paladins.
And Battleborn, well, that beta has proven to be more exclusive. So unfortunately there aren’t any hands-on comparisons I can make at this time.
Characters, Characters, and More Characters
Overwatch is from Blizzard Entertainment. Blizzard consistently creates interesting characters and worlds. And this shows in Overwatch as well. Every character looks and plays differently. You can take control of a shuriken-throwing, katana-slicing ninja. Or try playing an anime-inspired woman inside a self-destructing mech. You can play as a robot that turns into a mini-gun turret. Or you can play as a black-robed, dual-shotgun-wielding mercenary. If you like playing offense, defense, or support, there is a character for you in Overwatch.
My favorites leaned toward the offensive side of the spectrum. I enjoyed playing Soldier: 76 and Reaper for the kills. But the beauty of Overwatch is that you aren’t defined by the traditional hero roles. I often used one of my favorite defense characters as a purely offensive character. That’s because you can set him up as a turret and cause a ruckus for the other team. Each character has its own special abilities. And each has an Ultimate Ability that can turn the tide of battle.
Paladins: Champions of the Realm is being developed by Hi-Rez Studios. Paladin’s character designs don’t seem as inspired as the developer’s other fantastic game Smite. Smite puts players in control of various gods and mythological figures from different cultures. Paladin’s selection of nine characters pales in comparison to the 24 available in Overwatch. In addition the Paladin characters are all pretty similar.
Each character acquires abilities and power-ups through collectible cards. But the game’s core shooting mechanic doesn’t allow the characters to have enough individuality. Every character uses a ranged attack as its primary weapon. The only deviations are the tank-like characters. One can throw up a wall to impede enemy progress. The other uses a shield to absorb damage. Because tanks are more likely to be in close-range combat, they may end up doing more damage than traditional ranged characters. That doesn’t translate to winning, though. The goal is to escort a siege engine and knock down the gates at the enemy’s base to access their vault.
Style and Substance
In the Overwatch beta, the only mission type involved escorting an object through the arena, while the other team tried to stop you. I would imagine there will be more game modes at launch. Lone wolves need not apply because everyone has to work together in order to win. You can still rack up a lot of kills if that’s your thing, but Overwatch is great because you aren’t limited to one specific play style. Say I actually play a healer (yes, I tried a couple of times) and my team isn’t doing well. We’re getting overwhelmed. We’re not making progress pushing the target toward the goal. I can switch up mid-game to a more offensive-minded character and that can be enough to put us on the path to victory. Overwatch gets good marks for in-game variety but until more modes are introduced, it feels bare.
Paladins also features one mode of play. But rather than forcing one team to be an aggressor, it lets both teams be actively aggressive. As mentioned earlier, one team wins after it knocks down enemy gates and eventually breaks into the enemy vault. In Overwatch a game can end with time running out because the team on defense did its job. In Paladins, someone’s gate is getting crashed and there could be a tug-of-war to see who wins out. I like the back and forth elements of the Siege Mode. Some games start out great and end in a humiliating defeat. Others start out rough but end up in victory after your team pulls itself together.
Previously, I mentioned power-up cards. That’s Paladins’ hook. In Overwatch, you have the specific character’s abilities and that’s it. In Paladins, players level up during each game, similar to Smite. Players can choose cards that offer power-ups. It’s a merging of the collectible card game genre with the objective-based shooter. Each character has unique cards that range from common to legendary. They’re rewards for gaining experience, unlocking chests, or crafting. Most of the cards offer temporary upgrades, such as extra damage or extra healing over time. The cards add a layer of gameplay to Paladins that Overwatch doesn’t have. It should be noted that Overwatch’s progression system has not been decided on yet.
It’s in the Details
I’ve already mentioned that Overwatch has fantastic character design. It should come as no surprise that Blizzard just knows how to make a cool-looking game. The detail in Overwatch’s maps is incredible. One featured a Japanese-style arcade, with games paying homage to classic Blizzard games. It was also fully destructible, but why would you do that to an arcade? Again, it has a level of polish that should see further improvement by game launch in June 2016.
I recall jumping into the Paladins beta and not being impressed with the game’s aesthetic. The characters and maps lacked the pop Overwatch has. But as time has passed and the game is updated, it seems like Paladins has gotten graphic upgrades over time. While Overwatch’s overall design has Paladins beat, the gap is far less than what I remembered at the start of either of the games’ betas.
In fact, one of Hi-Rez’s 10 game development principles is to focus on gameplay and fun first, and worry about art quality and polish later. It makes sense that Paladins’ visual quality has incrementally increased, while more content and tweaks to characters and cards take precedence.
It is worth mentioning developer Gearbox Software is taking an interesting Borderlands-esque approach to its multiplayer shooter, Battleborn. During the PlayStation Experience keynote address, Gearbox Software revealed some features, setting it apart from Overwatch and Paladins. There are 25 playable Heroes and an exclusive 26th for PlayStation 4. Battleborn will have a “huge campaign,” according to the announcement, and features solo and co-op, including split-screen play. As of right now, it’s the only game of the trio putting effort into a full-fledged campaign. That will certainly appeal to gamers preferring solo play. Don’t forget Battleborn is coming to consoles as well, but we know little about its multiplayer as opposed to Overwatch and Paladins.
Winner Takes All
One of these games will reign supreme in the multiplayer arena. Battleborn has the support of the Borderlands development team. Gearbox puts together fun, humorous multiplayer shooting games in a story mode, but they have the least amount of experience in creating multiplayer arena games. Hi-Rez Studios brings a lot of experience to the multiplayer arena table. Smite is one of the best MOBAs adapted to consoles and is a fantastic alternative to the traditional overhead-view MOBAs like League of Legends and DOTA 2.
In a year Overwatch didn’t exist, Paladins would be the favorite to lead the multiplayer arena charge. Its gameplay concept is solid and the additional cards give it a unique spin. But the more I think about the Overwatch beta, the more I miss it because of how simple and fun it was. Paladins was fun, but Overwatch left me with a yearning for something I didn’t know I wanted. Come 2016, unless something drastic happens, Overwatch seems destined to sit atop the multiplayer arena hill.