Beginning April 7, a handful of lucky people who connected their Twitch account to their Riot Games account were able to obtain a key and try the “Valorant” beta. What many are calling a crossover between “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO)” and “Overwatch,” developer Riot Games’ first ever FPS shooter brings more to the genre than is expected. While true that it’s tactical gameplay and unique characters with different abilities are familiar to CS:GO and “Overwatch” players, the combination gives “Valorant” that new game feel with a whole new learning curve.
Much like “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege” and “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” “Valorant” is less of a run and gun shooter and more of a thinking game. It is up to the player to know when to walk or run through long corridors and when to hold down certain angles in hopes of an enemy to push a given area. The game consists of 5 versus 5 teams on a turn system of planting and defusing a bomb at two (sometimes three) sites. CS:GO players might have the upperhand adjusting to this along with the reticle customization, headshot damage and recoil patterns within the game. However, aiming isn’t everything as players transferring from CS:GO may have trouble utilizing their abilities. Instead of the simplistic flash and grenade, “Valorant” character’s all utilize abilities that can be used to confuse enemies and even turn firefights around. These abilities favor “Paladins” and “Overwatch” players, but they alone won’t finalize a kill. Choosing an ability over a gun in wrong situations could lead to your demise.
What really makes “Valorant” a game to look out for as it nears its release sometime in summer 2020 is its balance. Unlike “Overwatch,” the abilities in “Valorant” are not on cooldown but instead bought by points one can receive through kills, deaths, planting or defusing the bomb and orbs scattered randomly around the map. Going for an orb is risky because they are usually placed in open areas where you are vulnerable to getting shot. The abilities themselves aren’t ones you can spam either. Most characters have abilities that do simple things such as block line of sight. Some examples include Sage’s ice wall, Phoenix’s fire wall or Jett’s smoke blasts. Others provide recon for the team, such as Sova’s recon arrow and Cypher’s spycam. The power of these abilities lie in how the player uses them which is a big part of what makes it challenging and fun.
All of this freedom allows for a healthy skill gap which is arguably rare in recent FPS games. Another thing that increases the skill gap and conclusively balances the game is the heavily enforced movement penalty. Generally you move faster with your knife, but players must take into account the gun cocking animation that takes place every time they switch from their weapon to their knife before they peek those corners. Unlike “Apex Legends” and the entire “Call of Duty” franchise, strafing while shooting will not benefit you but instead increase your recoil making you much more inaccurate. You are also heavily slowed if your enemy is inflicting damage on you, making it nearly impossible to run for cover. Instead, players are forced to learn to aim and, if they choose to spray, control the recoil.
In a game where slight decisions matter, Riot game developers make sure to keep balance in mind not only through in game content but also optimization. Never before have I played a game that runs as smooth and as audio accurate as “Valorant” thanks to their 128 tick servers and footstep fidelity. Tick servers refer to how fast the information from the game is received by the client’s (in this case Riot Games) servers. This matters because if the information is not being received fast enough, your shot will not align with the person you are aiming at even if your aim looks precise. In other words, “Valorant” has the most accurate hit registration to the point where this online game, even with a decade old computer, feels like you’re playing on LAN. Like “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege” the footsteps are directional and surface distinguishable. Jumping creates loud thumps and reloading can be heard behind walls. All of this adds to their intentions of competitive integrity which technical engineering lead David Straily explains that “in every single game you play, whether you win or you lose, you are in control of the outcome. Not the fault of the other players or the game servers.”
Contrary to all the green lights this beta is showing so far, there are a few things that keep this game from being release-ready. Despite the overwhelming effort to balance the game, Riot developers added a new controversial character named Raze. Unlike the other characters, Raze’s ultimate ability is less utility based and more of a one shot, one kill. For example, many of the other character’s ultimates still have to be utilized in a more tactical manner. Omen’s ultimate that lets him teleport anywhere on the map still relies heavily on the player’s placement choice. Sage, who can revive players and Cypher who can activate a brief recon revealing everyone on the map must hover over a body that died recently. If there is an enemy in the area, activating their ultimate puts them in a vulnerable position. Raze, however, equips a rocket launcher and, if aimed at the floor of the general area where an enemy is, can kill them in one hit. If there are three enemies clustered in one area, there’s a good chance she can kill all three. All characters yell out a “war cry” phrase that indicates when their ultimate is activated but with Raze, it could possibly mean certain death. Currently, Riot developers argue that she is a balanced character but that they will re-evaluate her. It is also worthy to note that the game is still in beta which means exploits have not yet been discovered. Players are still learning the abilities and are yet to use them out of the game’s intent but assuming there will be an array of new characters to come, we can only hope that the developers buff and nerf them accordingly.
For a beta, Valorant already proves to be ahead of its current competitors and different enough from the CS: GO and “Overwatch” predecessors it is being compared to. Its optimized servers and game content leads to the most balanced FPS experience yet.