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Paragon

Paragon Hands-On

The studio behind Unreal Tournament and Gears of War has emerged stealthily from the jungle to focus its mind-blowing new MOBA-like masterpiece on PC and console gamers alike.

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A quick glance at the gaming landscape right now sees a sure divide between console gamers and those that prefer the PC. Generally speaking, on console the popular titles are first-person shooters or action-adventures, the notion of sport understood as FIFA, NBA 2K and Madden NFL (more or less). While there is crossover with the PC crowd, the latter has in recent years become wowed by Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBA), strategy-intensive team-based affairs dominating esports coverage.

Paragon, from Epic Games, is a bold attempt to engage console gamers typically entranced by pure action via a handy controller, and the PC crowd proud of their MOBA mouse and keyboard shortcuts. And all within a world with its beauty owed to Epic's Unreal Engine 4, alluring to just about anyone.

Pushing new lanes

Whichever side of the console/PC gaming fence you tend to reside, Paragon has a tough job on its hands to convince either/or both of its credibility. However, since it's Epic Games as 'team leader' there's every reason to trust their third-person viewed, 5v5 team-oriented heavily objective-based hybrid.

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Before getting deeper into this, it's best you know that yours truly is approaching Paragon from the console perspective, in which Gears of War, Halo and lately Destiny and Tom Clancy's: The Division have shaped my gaming universe. While it was the 'Epic' visuals that initially caught my attention, it didn't take long for me to recall why I love Epic Games' sense of fun and assured design philosophy.

What's instantly so gratifying about Paragon is how it satisfies the desire for third-person immersion while making all the MOBA-minded skills feel so organic to learn. Every action is mapped neatly onto the buttons of a DualShock 4 with no sense of compromise. Even with only one map available to trial in the Beta until now, discovering how best to manage my Assassin, Ranger, Caster, Fighter, Tank or Support character archetypes is a revelatory experience.

You're no good to me dead!

Before Destiny and The Division took hold, the majority of console gamers had less interest in team-based strategies. Paragon is arriving at just the right time to scoop up all those people that have really started to appreciate how carefully chosen, skilfully handled character classes can benefit the group.

One 'eureka!' moment while playing Paragon has been the realisation that one person cannot carry the team, in the same way that the FPS/TPS player with a 3.0 K/D can make up for negative performances lower down the scoreboard. Equally, one person who is not doing their basic job of pushing their own lane can cause a disastrous ripple effect across the entire map. Pursuing the basic goal of destroying the opposing team's 'Core' (the power sources positioned at opposite ends of the map), needs to be a coordinated effort in which you strategically direct action as opposed to puppeteering a bullet hose.

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Instead of dashing around maps on a preferred circuit or picking your most productive sniper spot, as is typically the case in a console FPS or TPS, character movement and capability in Paragon is designed to support the team effort, whether casting healing spells and performance buffs or taking the front line and raining down fire. Every second counts in games that often exceed 30 minutes to reach their conclusion. Player death greatly detracts from the team's combined potential as a force.

Eeny, meeny, miny... Muriel

There are currently 15 'heroes' to choose from, with newcomers added every two-three weeks. The latest arrival 'Iggy & Scorch' is a Casting duo, while previous entry 'Sevarog' was a "soul devouring tank". When the game is officially released, the promise is that it will be free-to-play, and this roster will keep on growing. As F2P goes, Paragon is honourable in that monetary investment only serves to save time on EXP advancement if your real life prevents you from keeping up with the hardcore.

Generally, in Paragon, everybody's investment of time is valid and rewarded with in-game currency used to purchase support cards that assist on the battlefield. While these cards do colour the way players approach the game, they don't bend it out of shape. Everybody starts each new game with basic capabilities that are gradually unlocked according to battle prowess and the time spent alive.

Every character has a straightforward attack-type move that has a rapid cool-down of roughly one second. It's what you learn to do with the class-oriented and character specific moves that unlock over the course of a half-hour (or thereabouts) that will speak to your Paragon prowess. Great credit to Epic Games' design team for putting forward such a varied roster that caters for so many tastes and skill levels. For example, Iggy & Scorch with their aggressive fire-belching turrets feel very different to Muriel, the angelic support character, even though both are Casters. The Ranger named Sparrow is a great character for beginners with bow and arrow-based attacks, while Assassin Kallari is extremely tricky to handle and likely to get you killed while you figure out even the basics.

Make up your own mind...

In addition to the Beta currently taking place, Epic Games is running free 'Stress Test' weekends on Paragon, the first of which is this Thursday April 28, running through Sunday May 1. 500,000 registered players are being invited. A second free weekend has been lined up for May 5-8, open to everyone that registered before May 1. Early Access players are being lured to take part with the offer of Double XP, so you can expect to have your teeth handed to you by the ruthless, or your hand held by the kind and generous. Either way, Paragon is rolling into the hands of the masses, and it'll be great to hear what you think of it in the comments below. It's certainly been a pleasant surprise.

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