Valorant Review: Counter-Strike meets Overwatch

Valorant

Valorant has officially released. While many people jumped straight into the beta, there are plenty of other players from games such as Overwatch or CS:GO still waiting to see whether the Valorant wave dies down.

For those new to Valorant, or even new to competitive first-person shooters, it’s likely that several of your friends have already jumped onto the wagon, cluttering up the voice channels of your Discord server and convincing you to play with them. Although FOMO is a powerful influence, not all games are friendly to newcomers.

Regardless of which boat you find yourself in, Valorant‘s rise in popularity has many people chiming in. After spending countless hours playing the beta – and being a former top 500 Overwatch player – its time to finally weigh in on what this competitive shooter does to set itself apart from the rest of the games in the genre.

A quick overview

Valorant is a free-to-play 5v5 first-person shooter, where players can play as agents with unique abilities. Matches are played in short rounds, where each match is a back and forth of players either attacking or defending areas of the map. There is a diverse cast of agents with varying abilities to choose from. While certain abilities can help secure kills or obscure vision, the core of Valorant’s gameplay is precise aim.

What’s changed since the beta?

The official release has promised new features, updates, and plenty of balance changes since the open beta. Ascent is the new map introduced at release, set in an airborne city in Italy. A new agent has also released. Reyna has abilities that let her heal from each kill she gains and an ability that causes her to be untouchable after every kill.

In addition, there is a new mode called Spike Rush, which is shorter in length. All characters have the spike, and the first to four rounds wins. Other than new features, there are were a bunch of agent rebalancing and map tweaks that were introduced due to feedback during the beta.

Strengths

Riot gets a lot of flak for taking existing games and stealing their thunder. And honestly, it’s true. Valorant is very clearly inspired from CS:GO. And while having unique characters with abilities is common, Overwatch is the most reminiscent when it comes to ability-based shooters.

However, Valorant remarkably stands out on its own, taking existing ideas from both of its predecessors and vastly improving on them.

Exciting and well-paced gameplay

When your team spawns in a level, there’s a short preparation period to ready your team’s attack or defense. But once that preparation period is over, the barriers disappear and each second of gameplay feels tense and exciting. A gunfight can occur within the first couple of seconds when the barriers drop.

Comparatively, in its predecessor game, Overwatch, there’s a lot of dead air. Oftentimes you’re just waiting for your team to regroup on the payload or to push a point. The stakes in Valorant feel higher – and better paced – thanks in part due to having short round timers and closely-packed maps.

Guns have plenty of depth and variety.

There’s no shortage of good guns to choose from in Valorant. Each gun fits into a category: pistols, submachine guns, shotguns, rifles, snipers, and heavy machine guns. Although Valorant has only half of the guns in CS:GO, all the guns are viable to use in certain scenarios. I’ve gotten numerous kills with the cheap pistol shotgun from hiding in a corner.

In Valorant, you can’t simply aim and shoot. You have to either stop moving or watch your bullet go several feet from where your crosshair was. Each gun has a unique recoil as well. So depending on which gun you’re using, you’ll need to aim a little lower or higher the longer you hold the trigger.

The main difference from CS:GO is that Valorant’s shooting error is much more forgiving. Your speed while you’re shooting plays more of a factor, so walking while shooting can still be relatively accurate. In addition, there are mechanics in CS:GO that are no longer (completely) necessary in Valorant, such as counter-strafing, since your character stops almost immediately after letting go of a movement key.

The risk of simplifying mechanics is that you’ll end up with a system that’s too democratized, too easy, and not a lot of depth. But Valorant has succeeded in creating mechanics that retain most of the depth from CS:GO. The skill ceiling is still very high while making it easier for newer players to jump in and learn. A lot of the frustration of bullets flying feet away from where you’re aiming is eliminated, so newcomers can more easily focus on their aim.

Abilities are impactful and fun to use – but they don’t overshadow the shooting.

If Valorant was simply all about the guns, then I don’t think it would have seen the large player base we see today. The agents and their abilities are what give Valorant its own unique flavor, its secret sauce.

Every agent has four abilities, including an ultimate that can only be cast once you have enough points from killing enemies or from every round. The other three abilities are consumables and purchasable from the store, except for one ability which is given for free every round.  Since abilities come in a limited amount – and only a select few of them are even on a cooldown – every ability cast is impactful. This means that a single ability cast at the right time and place can completely turn the tides of a round.

Combining your abilities with your teammates is especially fun. This is where playing with friends makes the game borderline addicting. Coordinating smokes or sharing your intel with your team are great ways to help your team, even if you don’t necessarily secure a kill. Abilities are no replacement for having good aim though, yet they create other avenues of contribution that are extremely satisfying to use.

A great practice mode

Something that’s almost necessary in a modern esports title is a good practice mode. In CS:GO, the lack of a good practice mode, other than hopping into a custom match with bots, has given rise to a plethora of community-made practice maps that allow you to practice your aim, spray, and smokes on certain maps. Although Valorant lacks support for community-made maps and modes, its practice mode provides a map that’s filled with useful aim exercises and minigames.

The map has an aim training arena with easy, medium, and hard settings, where bots appear in an arena and you have a certain amount of time to destroy each of them. The aim training alone is a great daily minigame to boost your aim, but the practice map has even more exercises that help you practice your spray, planting the bomb, and defusing the bomb. The practice mode streamlines the process of improving your aim. Its addition to the game deserves praise.

Weaknesses

Maps still feel claustrophobic.

One of my biggest criticisms during the beta was that maps often felt too cramped and blocky. There seemed to be way too many corners that blocked sightlines or cover that obstructed vision. Too often, it’d feel like you’d be playing a game of peekaboo instead of exciting gunfights.

However, the map that was perhaps the most notable perpetrator of this, Split, has been continually tweaked and updated to address this. During the beta, they changed spawn barrier locations and wall angles to mitigate this effect. Even more recently, Riot removed several crates in the middle of the map. It really opens that area up. The new map, Ascent, is also a stark difference from the previous maps with longer corridors and sightlines.

I’m happy with how they’re addressing these problems. If the development team continues to listen to feedback and make changes, then I’m confident that the maps are going to keep improving over time.

Certain agents are too good to not have.

Ahem… I’m looking at you Sage. Currently, Sage has the most useful kit in the game. Her ice walls can completely block off areas of the map, and her heal can bring a low health ally to full life. Plus, her resurrection is the most helpful ultimate in the game.

Now, she has been met with several rounds of nerfs. It’s not clear yet whether the player base’s perception of Sage’s strength is lagging behind these changes. But it’s clear that whenever I played ranked during the beta, teammates would either start whining or flat-out dodge a game if nobody picked Sage. Hopefully, this attitude wanes out when ranked officially releases again, and the most recent round of nerfs have had some time to roll out.

Not a lot of modes

My favorite memories as a kid of playing Counter-Strike: Source wasn’t competitive or casual or team deathmatch. It was the community-made maps. Playing jailbreak and zombie escape mods where I got to defend Helms Deep from hordes of player zombies were the most fun and memorable moments I had with the game.

I may be a bit biased, but I think having a variety of fun game modes is essential for the longevity of an esports title. There should be a place where you can be hyper-competitive and a place where you can cool down and just enjoy good-natured shenanigans.

Both CS:GO and Overwatch support community-made maps, although Overwatch introduced it a couple of years after launch. But even in the time prior to community workshops, Overwatch had a large variety of memorable modes like Lucioball or Free-For-All.

Currently, it doesn’t seem that Riot has any plans to add a workshop mode, although that can change in the future. They’ve already added spike-rush, which is a step in the right direction. But I think it’s essential for them to roll out more game modes if I’m going to still be playing 2-3 years in the future.

Conclusion

Valorant is a fun and addictive competitive game, a trait that seems to be shared with all of Riot’s games. With its roots in CS:GO and Overwatch, it greatly improves on the ideas of its predecessors. By merging a conservative ability system with well-tuned gunplay, it has found the right balance of being friendly to newcomers while having a high skill ceiling for competitive play. And, for all its weaknesses, it’s fair to say that the dev team has already made steps to address each of these points.

That is why I’m confident in saying that whether you’re a newcomer or a veteran, Valorant is a free-to-play game that’s well worth diving into. If your friends have been bugging you to join their five-stack, you should definitely join them. And if you’ve been waiting for the Valorant wave to die down, then you should either join the wave or wait a good long time before it does.


Recommendation | Fans of CS:GO and Overwatch should hop into the action.


Final Score | 4.5 out of 5


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  • Reviewed On:

    PC
  • Also On:

    None
  • Publisher:

    Riot Games
  • Developer:

    Riot Games
  • Genre:

    First-person shooter
  • ESRB Rating:

    T
  • Release Date:

    June 2, 2020
  • MSRP:

    Free-to-play


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