HRX 2018: Paladins Strike Hands-On Impressions
Let's get something out in the open before we go any further: I'm a big Paladins fan. In fact, it's probably my favorite competitive shooter of the last five years. Sure, it helps that I'm halfway decent at the game and don't die every three seconds, but it's also because Paladins is a damn fine shooter -- and a damn fun game to play.
So when I finally got my hands on Paladins Strike at HRX 2018, I was pleased to see that it mostly takes the tried and true Paladins desktop formula and re-imagines it for that little computer you carry around in your pocket. Does that mean it's the perfect MOBA experience for mobile devices? Of course not. There are a few things that don't necessarily suit my fancy at first blush. But none of the negatives "ruin" the experience -- or even make it uncomfortable for that matter.
The TL;DR? Paladins Strike may stumble a bit, but it ultimately forges the right balance between MOBA and shooter for a mobile audience -- something that's not necessarily easy to do.
Starting up Paladins Strike, the first thing I noticed was that it was easy to move around. Although that's programming 101, some games get mobile touch controls completely wrong. However, the controls in PS are smooth and responsive. Running behind cover and maneuvering around walls and other obstacles wasn't difficult in the slightest. Although it took a minute or two to really get comfortable with playing Paladins with touch controls after dozens of hours using a mouse and keyboard, the scheme and movement parameters felt natural.
Primary attacks, on the other hand, seemed a bit touchy and slightly counterintuitive. As much as I'll sit here at my ivory desk and praise the fluidity of the game's movement, shooting is a bit stiffer and problematic: moving your right thumb in a circular motion to shoot isn't always swift or easy. And having to press the primary attack button to fire your initial volley for characters like Viktor is fine and dandy, but then having to press it again after every reload is a bit tiresome -- especially when holding the LMB on Paladins' desktop version keeps firing even after reloading.
Sure, it's a small gripe, but it's worth pointing out all the same -- and one veteran players will notice.
Another change revolves around HP. Health pickups are strewn around the map this time around, meaning you won't auto heal while hiding or from abstaining from combat like you can in Paladins desktop. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, introducing health pickups does two things I really enjoy: it gives PS an old-school vibe and it modifies the base game's strategy, keeping you in the action longer and making engagements more interesting. Hiding has its perks, but frantically running toward a health item while an enemy's on your tail is invigorating.
And that's something magnified by the game's maps, which are (reasonably) large and full of interesting twists, turns, and barriers that funnel action down specific lanes. Sporting a fixed, isometric camera that varies in position per map, Paladins Strike keeps you on your toes by obfuscating your enemy behind clever angles and in-game assets. Sure, it can be difficult to spot enemies at a distance or see enemies charging down lanes since you don't have the same field of view you have in an FPS -- which can sometimes maybe lead to inopportune deaths -- but it acts as a good stand-in for the verticality found in the game's desktop cousin.
If you're not used to MOBAs in general (or maybe have poor eyesight), you could easily lose track of your character in some of the larger confrontations in Paladins Strike. At times, action turns into a muddy mess of characters, explosions, and special abilities that can be hard to visually sift through. It's not a large hurdle to overcome -- and considering how fast-paced Paladins is in general, isn't really surprising -- but perhaps that can be tweaked a bit before the game's official release.
During our demo, there were 20 champions readily available covering all of Paladins' classes. I didn't get to play them all, but Viktor, Pip, and Tyra felt great in the mobile environment across match types, which fall into one of three 5v5 modes. Summons sees players capturing objectives on the map; Siege sees players completing the same Paladins Siege mode we're already familiar with; and Deathmatch sees players racing toward 30 eliminations as fast as they can.
From what I can tell, you'll be able to get daily rewards, gain levels, and almost everything else you've come to do in Paladins. This mobile version of the game might be MOBA focused and play a bit more like SMITE than you'd expect, but it's still Paladins at its core -- and I'm excited to see where it goes from here.