If I had to sum up Paladins Champions of the Realm in the form of a well known saying or catchphrase, it would be this : Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Somewhere, deep in the bowels of Hi-Rez Studios, I think there must be a very special photocopier. And one day, someone brought in a copy of Overwatch, ran it through it, and named the resulting copy Paladins Champions of the Realm. There’s no other possible explanation for the number of similarities between this and Blizzard’s title. A big guy with a chain, a girl with a bow and arrow, play of the match at the end of each game… There are many more as well.

However, if you are going to create a homage to a game, choosing one as excellent as Overwatch is a very good place to start.

Paladins is a game that can only be played online with teams of five on each side, and there is no single player content. Interestingly, there is a good tutorial available to play through, which teaches you the ins and outs of Viktor, one of the starter characters. The tutorial teaches you the basics of moving around the game space, shooting and also using the various abilities that the characters have.

One of each of the regular abilities are mapped to separate buttons, with each character’s “super” attack mapped to the Y button. So in Viktor’s case, RT shoots, LT uses his Iron sights, LB throws a grenade dealing AoE damage and RB is a move called Hustle, that lets you have increased movement speed for a short time. A jumps, X reloads and as I said earlier, Y uses a super attack that allows you to drop large bombs on the enemies heads.

Obviously, each character has different abilities, and they come in three flavours, namely Damage, Support and Flank. Each therefore has a role that enables them to be useful, whether that be standing in the middle of the action as a Damage character, healing and helping your teammates as a Support character, or sneaking around, picking people off from the sidelines with the Flankers.

In a move that makes easing your way into the swing of things as painless as possible, until you are Level 5, you’ll be matched with other players for your team, but then have to face AI enemies. Obviously this makes getting used to the game a lot easier than being stomped by people who are experienced and have unlocked the extra characters. After you hit Level 5 all bets are off however, and I’ve been involved in more than a few matches where the teams were so unbalanced it was either embarrassing, or pad chewingly frustrating – getting picked off from all angles by invisible ninja women, to name but one.

To make the game more accessible, it’s possible to craft and apply cards to your characters, and create different loadouts for different situations. These cards can completely change the way your chosen Champion plays, and each comes with a basic loadout already setup by the developers. The idea behind the system is very simple, but so flexible that I hear Cirque de Soleil is trying to hire it.

Basically, you can equip five cards. Each card has a point value applied to it, and your loadout cost must equal twelve points. With me so far? So if you have five cards with a one point value each, you can apply each one twice, and two of them three times, with the abilities on the cards stacking. So if you have a cooldown reduction, for instance, and choose to apply it three times, the cooldown is reduced by the total of the cards combined. The same goes for health boosts and damage increases; they stack to make you very healthy, or very hard hitting, but not usually both at the same time.  

As you fight, you gain gold coins, which can be used to purchase other Champions, and as you advance through the levels, more Champions become available to buy. They usually cost around 5000 gold coins to buy, or you can activate a shortcut by buying crystals via one of the many forms of micro-transaction in this game. Of course, I say micro-transaction, but according to the game the most commonly purchased pack of crystals goes for a not inconsiderable £27.99. Yes, the price of many full size games. Add to this opportunities to buy chests of many different flavours, each containing cards, emotes, sprays (Overwatch again), and weapons, and the costs can soon add up. It is possible to buy this stuff with in-game currency, but it takes around 10 matches for me (and bear in mind that I am rubbish) to get enough for a new character. There are 25 to unlock, so the maths here means that you’d have to play… er… some matches to unlock everyone!

The game modes in place are somewhat sparse. There’s either the one where you have to capture a point to spawn a payload, then escort it to the enemy base (I’ve seen this somewhere before, can’t put my finger on it), a straight up death match where you get one life and the team has to survive, or just an ‘escort the payload’ match type, where battles range around the cart. And that’s it.

They are good fun, don’t get me wrong, and the first match type can turn into a real battle royale, as first one team and then the other takes over the point and tries to spawn their cart, before pushing the cart forward or back. It can be genuinely tense as they are rolling up in your base and you’ve still got five seconds left before you can respawn.

Speaking of which, the respawn delay is one of the most irritating features of the game, as sometimes you seem to pop straight back into the fight, but at others you are watching the screen for ten seconds or more before you are allowed to spawn back in. And when you do spawn back in, it’s back at the base where you started, so then you have to ride a horse to get to where the action is. I’m not sure where the horses idea came from, but it’s entertaining cantering through the level.

There are teething troubles, but as this is a beta it’s easy to overlook them. The sound isn’t brilliant, sometimes dropping out completely, and the weapons all sound the same. The emotes are a little bit weird too, as they are all voiced by the game’s announcer. Playing as a girl and hearing the game say “Push left flank”, in a very deep, male voice is somewhat disconcerting, to say the least. The other thing that I’ve noticed is that every now and then the game won’t tell you you are being attacked – no vibration, no sound, no red markers on the screen, just dead and watching the kill cam as the person who took you out isn’t able to believe their luck.

All in all though, there’s a lot to like here. The Champions are balanced (except the troll in the mech suit, he can get lost) and I haven’t found any problems with countering the other players and bringing the pain. Seeing your character in the Top Play screen at the end is genuinely an amazing feeling, and a good reward for your hard work single-handedly wiping out the enemy team (yeah, thanks guys, I’ve got this!). If the glitches can be ironed out, which I guess is the purpose of the beta, then this has a good chance of becoming a very good game. Maybe not as good as the source material, but then a copy is never as good as the original, is it? Add to this the Esports potential – there are invites to Paladins Tournaments on the title page already, even at this early stage – and the future does indeed look bright.

Paladins Champions of the Realm is definitely a game to keep a close eye on.

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