Let’s get this out the way from the beginning: Valorant definitely isn’t for everyone.
Riot Game’s newest venture, Valorant, is a game with competition at its core, and it’s not ashamed to show it. Does that mean it’s bad? No. But this inescapable fact does make Valorant a tough pill to swallow for some, including myself.
Valorant is Riot Games newest Free to Play venture, a 5v5 tactical shooter, and much like other shooters in recent years, such as Crucible, it continues the trend of blending and fusing gameplay elements from different genres and games. In this case, it takes the skill-based gameplay of CS:GO and the hero abilities of Overwatch and puts them together in an attempt to create something new, all while being one of the more visually appealing in its genre — despite its minimalism — and for the most part, succeeded in this. But it’s this combination of elements that made this shooter mash-up go from incredibly rewarding to rage-inducing all at the same time.
To say that Valorant has depth would definitely be an understatement. What’s clear from the outset is that this game won’t hold your hand; Once you’ve done the basic tutorial, all bets are off, get out there and play and good luck.
In normal matches, players will be tasked with either defending the objectives or planting the “Spike” and protecting it until it detonates across a possibly 25 rounds, with some matches lasting up to 40 minutes in my experience. But before you dive in you have the option to pick one of a possible five Agents, each with different abilities that cater to a different playstyle, with a further six Agents that can be unlocked as you play. Though it should be noted that you are locked into that Agent for the duration of the match and two players can’t play the same Agent on a team, so if you have a preference you better be quick to nab them before another team member.
Now in any shooter the most important aspect is the gunplay, and where gunplay is concerned, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t some of the best I’ve experienced in a shooter. It has some of the tightest and most precise gameplay I’ve experienced in recent years, with accuracy and player skill determining the outcome of intense gunfights that can really get your heart going in those tense final moments of a match.
For those who may not be as adept at the gunplay, the agent abilities thankfully let those players still contribute to the team effort in a meaningful way, with the ability to create smoke screens to blind enemies or using projectiles — like the fireball — to damage players in an area, making for some interesting tactics and strategies with your teammates. Although even this has been tweaked for the competitive tone of Valorant, as most ability use’s need to be purchased like the weapons and armour during the buy phase — a brief moment before the round begins where players use credits they earn in the previous rounds to equip their agent with whatever weapons they wish and how many times they can use an ability for that round, with the number of uses and prices differing upon agents.
Its blend of skilled based gunplay and abilities is a balancing act that for a majority of the time works in relative harmony, and thanks to its selection of Agents and a nice amount of guns and weapons to use, it does make for some dynamic gameplay options that made matches feel intense and exciting as you’ll use different combinations of the two to change up and vary the gameplay experience. Not to mention that features like the ping system and requesting your team buy you a weapon when you are short on cash encourages teamwork and cooperation.
But this is also wherein lies a problem with Valorant.
With such a heavy focus on the skill of players and the game’s naturally competitive spirit, it’s inevitable that some players will simply be left behind while other more intense and skilled players will dominate the majority of the game in a similar way to CS:GO and League of Legends.
While on one hand, this can be a way to encourage players to keep playing and improve their skills, it can also do quite the opposite and alienate players who feel like they aren’t improving and are simply target practice, especially new players. This for me was made crystal clear after only a few matches where I was completely destroyed by enemy players who had clearly either played far more than me or had experience in similar types of shooters, and quite frankly it got old really quickly. Thankfully, the developers have included a mode called Spike Rush which is a more arcade-style mode that gives players randomised load-outs and powerup that can increase speed and or give you stronger weapons, as well as having far shorter match times than the normal 30-40 minutes you’ll see in the other game mode.
But what worries me is something that’s almost commonplace amongst these more competitive games: The community.
As communities grow and the gap between casual and hardcore players inevitably expands, its almost guaranteed that you’ll come across a certain kind of player who is quite simply, an asshat. I’m a very thick-skinned person and during my roughly eight to ten hours playing I had multiple instances of players hurling insults and expletives my way from anything from minor missteps or getting killed first. While these kinds of players don’t bother me, the same cant be said for other players. It’s this kind of player that has often put me and many others off playing certain games, and it completely ruins the experience for some people. In my case, it led to me basically only wanting to play with friends to avoid this kind of behaviour so I can just try and enjoy the game for a few hours without being yelled at because I’m not playing to someone else’s impossible standards.
Does that mean the whole community is or will be like this? Not at all, but it’s often these kinds of players who are the most vocal, often throwing insults and berating other players due to inexperience or simple mistakes that ultimately ruins the fun and enjoyment of the game. Riot Games has said that they take the issue of toxicity in Valorant very seriously, but it’s almost always going to be an uphill battle, and I worry that this vocal group of players will ruin what could be a great community.
It’s hard for me to say it’s a “fun” shooter. Perhaps it’s just my personality but, for a majority of my time playing, I didn’t necessarily enjoy it the same way I would a game like Overwatch. I was more focussed on playing well so as to not die or get berated by other players that I didn’t really get a chance to relax and have fun while I played, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun for others.
That being said, Valorant does offer a tough and visceral tactical shooter. With its excellent gunplay, variety of abilities, and focus on player’s skill, anyone looking for a new competitive shooter or an alternative to games like CS:GO would be doing themselves a disservice if they don’t check it out. It’s clear that the developers have their sights set on making this the next big eSport, and it has all the ingredients to do it.
It may not be for everyone, but it’s safe to say it won’t be going away anytime soon.