DPS Report 12/5/2015
As of the time of this writing Paladins is in Beta. Which is to say that all comments about art, design, are likely to be rendered obsolete by Hi-Rez over the course of the next few months/years.
Paladins is a first person shooter multiplayer combat arena game. It's like if you took Team Fortress 2, Smite, King of the Hill, and Payload and smashed them all together. If that sounds appealing to you then great! If not, then ignore what you just read and know that Paladins is a surprisingly good multiplayer shooter and one I contest is more related to the moba genre than the fps.
What makes it different?
A lot of people are going to look at this game and say “What? A colorful class based shooter where the classes are actually different? It's just a TF2 ripoff! Look, they even have the turret guy, payload, the grenade guy, and a really big guy!” Yeah well the similarities end there and I anticipate there being a lot more games of this nature rising up to take a slice of this new e-sport pie (edit: Literally a day after writing this I see the trailer for Epic's new team based arena shooter: Paragon). There is one element of Paladins that I believe set it apart from the rest and will likely be the make-or-break point of this game ...
What is it: The Paladins card system is a bit of a mix between trading card game and moba equipment mechanics. Upon level up three cards are displayed at random. These cards are selected from your pool of cards that you received upon opening treasure boxes outside of the matches. Each card gives an HP buff, a damage buff, and a unique effect. These effects can range from extra hp or damage upon meeting certain conditions, to adding a completely new attribute to one of your abilities.
What works: There is a lot of potential for meta here. The cards allow you to slightly change how your character plays during a match and after your first five levels you get the option to switch out a card upon level up. Ideally these cards can allow you to customize your play on the fly and force you to think creatively with how your class is played. There are hundreds of cards offering millions of possibilities for each game. As a result, each game will be different (especially once the cast is expanded!). This does wonders for the Paladins' monetization because their entire model hinges on the player wanting more cards. If you party up then you and your party share your collective card pool. Meaning that your buddy has access to your cards and you have access to his, even if you don't have a copy of those cards yourself. This is great because it encourages getting your friends to play with you which organically leads to teams which will naturally push this game along into the esports field. Nice meta design.
What doesn't: There are hundreds of cards and not all of them useful. It may be some time before you get enough cards to feel like you can really contribute to the game and even then the chances of you getting cards that compliment your build or play style is random. My first few matches I was convinced that nearly every class was just bad because I just couldn't keep up with the enemy team. Then suddenly, I had good cards. I still only have a few good cards for one or two classes, so I feel discouraged from playing the others. I get that Paladins' monetization method revolves around the player's need for cards and the card sharing system provides additional incentive to get your friends to play, but maybe some of these cards should just be a static part of abilities out of the box. For example: Grohk has a card that gives him a 5% chance to silence the enemy. How about we drop that to 3% and just have that effect right off the bat and let the cards boost that effect? Or replace it? The possibilities are endless. But for now, any new player will need a disclaimer that says “Hey, just play a few hours until you get some cards.” Last thing: Upon level up, you press “U” to pull up the three cards, which take up your entire screen. If you're in combat, go ahead and hang up the idea of getting your level buff. It would be much more viable to press ctrl (because your hand is already there) and have a little list show up. Like in Blizzard's Heroes of the Storm. Then have the option to press a hot key or mouse and click for the appropriate buff. This will give player's the ability to, with less skill, get their level up buff while playing
Extra thoughts: The cards have so much potential it's hard for me to not just go crazy with ideas. For now, however, I offer this idea: deck building. Allowing the players to build a 20-30 card deck using the cards they've obtained would do two things:
1.) Mitigate the randomness. I've mentioned before that the random factor in the cards can make the player feel like they have to revolve their play around a factor of luck. This isn't inherently bad, but it can get to the point where the player loses agency in play. The cards they obtain is random, then the cards offered to them are random, and if things don't play out right the player will feel like they won/lost due to luck. It doesn't matter if that isn't really the case, it's a subjective element. However, if the player is offered random cards from a deck they built that feeling of agency is restored and “bad draws” are interpreted as bad deck building.
2.) Improve the meta. This is especially true if players are able to build decks as a team. This way a team of players can get together, build their decks as they discuss their strategies and team composition, and their card pool is improved for playing together. Community is strengthened by giving an incentive for players to communicate and cooperate and Paladins becomes a much more viable candidate for the esport scene. It's something fresh and new that Overwatch doesn't offer.