Paragon Going Both Ways Will Hurt the Game
The open beta for Paragon was held this weekend and anyone was allowed in as long they had previously signed away their email address to Epic’s marketing department. The game is slated for release in June and is Epic Games’ attempt to break into the MOBA genre. The game is interesting because the developers are attempting to make a genuinely competitive game where PC and PS4 players can face off. Unfortunately for Epic, it just isn’t as viable to play and compete on PS4 with a DualShock.
There’s already so much competition in the MOBA space between franchises that have existed for years that Paragon’s attempt to cut into the market with a slightly more accessible, controller based game might have capped the skill ceiling, turning off veteran players, while making the game too complicated to have a large market appeal. The idea of being able to grow a user-base and have more people take an interest in what has traditionally been a niche genre is a good one, but from what I played last weekend, I highly doubt that Paragon is going to be the game to pull it off.
“The goal [with Paragon] is to tune the controls in such a way that you should see no discernable difference — a skilled player on a controller will be able to hold her own against a skilled player using a keyboard/mouse,” Steve Superville said to WCCFtech back when the game was just announced.
However, the assumption that it was viable to have people with controllers play those with mouse and keyboard has proved to not be completely accurate, and perhaps more damagingly, trying to work in cross-play may limit how much the game can grow.
Being developed with controllers in mind limits the complexity of any future heroes that’ll be available in Paragon. It’s highly unlikely that there will be microintensive heroes in the game (as you can’t effectively control more than one unit at a time) and there’s no more room on a controller for a hero with more abilities than what’s already currently available.
It’s a shame that the most ambitious aspect of Paragon, the fact that players on consoles are tossed in with players on PC in matchmaking, is also the thing that’s the most frustrating. Cross-play between consoles and PC is generally avoided, particularly in games where the speed and accuracy means PC players will have an advantage over their console counterparts.
I’m not saying that anyone with a mouse and keyboard will come out on top against someone with a gamepad every time, but if anyone’s going to play at an even moderately competitive level, they’re hobbling themselves by choosing to play with a controller. Given that the menus are designed to be navigated with a mouse (you have to navigate them by waving a cursor around with the left analogue stick) and you can move your reticle around infinitely faster than someone with a controller, you’d be putting yourself at a disadvantage using the latter competitively.
It’ll be interesting to see if an actual competitive scene emerges around the game when it fully launches in June. Given the disadvantage that PS4 players are at, any high-level play will presumably take place on the PC because it’s the most optimal. And when all the high-level play takes place on PC, playing the game on the PS4 will become an inherently casual way of enjoying the game, which isn’t a bad thing, but building a MOBA around a console only to have it function better on PC wouldn’t just be ironic, it would also be a pretty damning indictment of console-based MOBAs.
Chances are I’m not going to get into competitive Paragon, so I spent the weekend playing with a controller. After a while of moderate frustration, I gave my mouse and keyboard a shot and plugged them into my console. I was having a much easier time aiming and throwing out abilities even if sitting on my couch with a mouse and keyboard was beyond uncomfortable. If I was going to play that way, I might as well do it on the platform where I can actually adjust the relevant settings and sit in a way that won’t give me RSI.
In the 14 games I counted, eight of them were won by the teams with the most players on PC with another two having equal numbers of PC players and ending in my team winning (probably not because I’m a savant). This may be anecdotal evidence but I definitely felt I was having a tougher time against people on PC.
Back in 2010, a blog post by Rahul Sood (ex-head of Microsoft Ventures and founder of Voodoo PC) was widely publicized because Sool claimed that Microsoft had axed a cross-play initiative after unfavorable results. In the post which has since been removed, Sool revealed he heard from reliable sources that during the development they pitted some of the best console gamers against mediocre PC gamers at the same game. Unsurprisingly, the console players got destroyed nearly every time.
Apparently no one told Epic though, and they decided to take a crack at it themselves. Granted, console players aren’t getting destroyed in Paragon, but merging the user-base will end up hurting the game in the long run.
Cross-play between consoles and PC is by no means impossible, but despite the best efforts of its developers, it seems like Paragon still has a long way to go if it wishes to be a truly competitive game. It’s still a fun game, and who knows what Epic could do with updates after the upcoming launch. I just hope they haven’t shot themselves in the foot attempting to conquer such a lofty goal.