It’s hard to believe that in the short span of 12 months, Riot Games have gone from having one free to play experience, to three; Teamfight Tactics, Legends of Runeterra, and the most recent release, Valorant. Each game has had a crack at a popular multiplayer genre, and Valorant is seeking to top the likes of Counter-Strike with a blend of tense tactical shooting and character specific abilities in the vein of Overwatch. It sounds like a combination set for success, and that’s because it is, providing a unique experience that neither Counter-Strike or Overwatch can replicate.
Being an online title, Valorant is very light on its story and characters. There’s quite a lot of environmental storytelling going on, alongside the back and forth of the different agents you can play akin to Overwatch’s heroes. It creates the sense of a lived-in world, and that there’s pre-existing history between some of these characters and how they bounce off of each other. Despite minimal voice work and no exposition at all, there’s a strong sense of personality coming from each of these agents, and most of that is channeled through their abilities and voice-lines.
Where Valorant shines, though, is through its gameplay mechanics and systems. There’s two modes present at launch, regular play, and Spike Rush. Regular play is a 5v5 first to 13 points where both teams will take turns attacking and defending points on one of four maps. Much like Counter-Strike, you can purchase guns and armor at the start of each round, alongside your abilities. Each of the 11 Agents has unique active abilities that have limited uses per round. It’s an extra element to think about when it comes to the economic side of things, and when you’re trying to budget for cheap rounds, you really have to think about which abilities are worth spending your credits on, but the flipside also applies to your opponents.
It can’t be understated how much these abilities open-up gameplay options and the ability to make plays within rounds. Characters like Jett and Reyna can single-handedly wipe teams with their kits if played right, and seeing characters pull out a seemingly impossible clutch from no where is a sight to behold. This isn’t to discredit the other Agents, though. Characters like Viper and Brimstone can use poisonous gas and smokes to pressure enemies, force them off points, and control spacing. Everyone brings something different to the table, and while the playing field isn’t completely balanced, it’s remarkable how all these characters are viable to some degree. Each one also has an ultimate that you charge via kills and round completions, rewarding strong play with abilities that can turn the tide of a round, and by extension, the entire match.
Most of this is due in part to how the game plays. Headshots from rifles and close-range blows from shotguns are almost always guaranteed to kill, creating a constant sense of tension and vulnerability in every round. The formula is a near-perfect concoction of character-based abilities and skill-based twitch shooting, allowing for a seemingly endless skill ceiling and plenty of replay value. I say near-perfect because I think that most maps are slightly CT sided, meaning whichever team is defending has a slight advantage over the other team. This isn’t a huge issue as a side swap will always occur at some point in the game, but can still feel frustrating, nonetheless. All of the four maps are well-designed, and while there are definite standouts, I wouldn’t say any of them are boring or dull to play.
Spike Rush is Valorant’s only real arcade mode. It’s a much shorter, and condensed version of regular play with a few added elements. Each player uses the same gun in any given round, all abilities are refilled every round (besides ultimate abilities), and powerups are scattered around the map. Further emphasising the rapid nature of Spike Rush is that it’s only first to 4, so they’re usually over in 10 or so minutes. It’s a great way to unwind after a rough game, or to get back into the swing of things before you jump into regular games. There’s also a custom match function so you can jump into matches against your friends for those cheeky grudge matches.
Playing matches and completing quests earns you experience points which unlocks cosmetics and other Agents. It provides a strong sense of progression as you play, and there’s plenty to work towards on the cosmetics side of things, especially if you enjoy a particular Agent. Unfortunately, these progression systems are explained very poorly and are quite confusing at first, but you’ll get a grasp on them eventually.
Sometimes there are games that release with unbelievable levels of polish and attention to detail, and Valorant is one of those games. Everything from the animations, to the way that empty magazines slide onto the ground when you reload your weapon is immensely detailed. It’s clear that this game was a labor of love for Riot, and its presentation really shines through in a lot of ways. It has a simple yet bright and eye-catching art style that really emphasizes the characters and particle effects, and the sound design is satisfyingly punchy and responsive as it should be for a game of this nature.
While the game performs well for me, and I’ve had no issues at all during my 25+ hours, I’ve had some friends who’ve had crashes and blue screens, which is something to be wary of. There’s also the ability to fully customize your crosshair which you’d think would be included in more games of this kind.
Bar Rainbow Six Siege, this genre and type of game has never managed to hold my interest for long. I briefly dabbled in CS:GO, and never really enjoyed it, but I love what I’ve played of Valorant.
THE PC VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW.
Despite a few issues, Valorant has a compelling combination of twitch shooting and ability focused combat, fueled by kinetic gunplay and the ever-alluring temptation to get better. I’m excited to see where Riot take this title in the future, and as a free-to-play package, I implore you to download it. It’s a stellar showing by the developer, and really proves that they’re paying attention to what makes these titles good and condensing it down into a focused and refined package.
Compelling Combination Of Twitch Shooting And Abilities
Strong Sense Of World And Place
Extremely Polished And Top Of The Line Production Values
High Skill-Ceiling And Limitless Room For Creativity