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Gears of MOBA.
During my private session with Paragon, an upcoming, surprisingly well-produced third-person MOBA by Epic Games, our guide probed our group of journalists the following question: “So how many of you are extremely familiar with MOBAs?” Most of us shuffled our feet, tilted our heads slightly down, leaving our arms to our sides.
Though MOBAs are a central part of eSports coverage, and more than 12% of developers say they're working on an eSports title, the MOBA has become a niche genre despite its popularity when it comes to general game coverage. And while it was slightly embarrassing that we weren't MOBA experts by any means, we were exactly the audience that Paragon is attempting to sway—core gamers who can be convinced that MOBA deserve as much as attention as mainstay action franchises. Epic Games believes that we were ready to take the MOBA to the next level by giving it the triple-A treatment. And so far, it's a contender to watch out for.
First off, Paragon doesn't mess around with the tried-and-true MOBA formula: two teams of five, spawning minions, three lanes, defense towers, and a core that must be protected at all costs. If you've dabbled with SMITE or other MOBAs in general, you'll be very familiar with Paragon's arena-based combat system. The third-person camera doesn't change too much of the traditional MOBA gameplay, but the undulating environment of the stony jungle map can mask your character's position at times. As you defeat minions and enemy players, your character will earn experience points and skill points which you can use to unlock and level your character's cooldown abilities on the fly.
The thirteen-character roster in the alpha build we played had a fairly strong mix of DPS, tank, and casting characters. The ranger Twinblast was among the easiest to handle, dealing straightforward damage with his blasters and conjuring a giant cannon as his ultimate, along with the hulking rhino-beast Grux who can smash, stun, and obliterate most characters in single-handed combat with his high durability and decent mobility. The same went for Rampage, a tank character with squid-like tentacles around his neck, who has an elevated health regeneration rate and can increase his size and attack power depending on how much health he has lost.
Some of the tech-savvy fighters are trickier to handle, relying more on their abilities than their standard attack to support the DPS and tanks of the group. Dekker can unleash bombs and status bubbles that slow enemies down and her ultimate ability traps foes in a circular containment field so that they can't escape from being killed. Gadget uses her robots instead, with a tracker bot that can give enhanced vision of the map to allies as well as sticky bots and tesla bots to deal delayed but powerful AoE attacks. In shades of Rocket Raccoon, Howitzer is a mouse-like grenadier who blasts rockets and all manner of explosives from range. The metallic caster, Muriel, on the other hand provides defensive support by providing nearby allies with a shield and higher health regeneration.
On my part, I settled upon Gideon, a magical caster who deals strict AoE damage and was fairly difficult to understand at first. Being fairly squishy, he usually loses in one-on-one fights and needs to be paired with allies for protection, since he only has a small teleport to get him out of tight situations. Over the course of three battles, though, I realized that he was mainly a pusher, defeating minions extremely quickly compared to other characters, allowing for more lane control for the team.
That said, I felt that the tanks and DPS characters of the game tended to win out a bit too often, and it's nearly impossible to win a fight against a team of five tanks, especially if they suddenly decide to go for a hail-mary by marching down a single lane and defeating every minion and tower in sight before reaching the core for the victory. Ranged characters didn't actually have that much range and can't escape as easily since many of the tanks can charge or launch themselves quite far if they decide to chase them down. We'll see if Paragon will be able to balance this out as the game continues to develop, especially as the game continues to add more neutral minions that drop buffs when defeated.
Either way, Paragon will come packaged with a robust replay system that will allow you to view replays from plenty of angles and with almost ridiculous amounts of information. As a spectator, you can also watch matches live about thirty seconds behind the action. Replays are constructed using gameplay data, and any replay footage can be quickly edited using the in-game toolset for easy uploading to a tied YouTube account. Epic Games isn't sure for how long your replays will be available, but they hope to have your replays at least be backwards compatible no matter the current version of the game's build.
Where Paragon separates itself from the pack most notably is in its card deck, which essentially functions as a character's stat progression throughout a match. As your character levels up, he or she will earn card points that can be used to purchase drawn artifacts at your base that will bolster your attributes. For Gideon, that meant staffs that, with every upgrade, granted him more energy and energy damage (which I min-maxed to death). Which artifacts and potions (for health and energy) that are drawn depends on how you build your deck outside of battle.
Earning additional card packs isn't terribly difficult, as leveling your character's profile or your own player profile can net some of them, along with the completion of daily rewards. Or you can simply use any banked reputation points earned after every match toward card packs as well. Microtransactions boil down to an acceleration of XP and reputation, so it's mainly about expedience than anything else. Epic Games is making sure that Paragon won't be pay-to-win.
The starter deck for each character will get you through most battles just fine, but you'll begin to collect high-rarity cards that may cost more card points to activate, but give your character fantastic boons in return. It's important to note that certain cards can only be equipped on characters of the same affinity (Intellect, Corruption, Fury, Order, Growth), but otherwise, the customization for your deck will have incredible range. The developers aren't sure yet whether they will allow the selling or trading of cards, or whether there will be different kinds of card packs on offer, like more expensive packs with rarer cards or specific card packs for particular items or a particular affinity.
Paragon doesn't have set release date yet apart from 2016 at this time, but it will release for PC and PS4.