The game was on its second half and the enemy team had somehow managed to win five rounds in a row, bringing the scoreboard to a close 8-10. As any human being would react to a losing streak, my teammates were frustrated and losing hope. Despite that, we continued to press on. We continued our usual plan of three A and two B, and waited for the round to begin. Our Brimstone was immediately one-tapped trying to peek mid. In response, Phoenix and Jett take a teleporter to mid only to be quickly gunned down, but not before taking one with them. Now it’s 2 vs. 4 with Sage and I holding bombsite B. She peeks into “Hookah” only to get a rocket to the face.
“Last player standing,” the announcer coldly reminds me.
This is Valorant summed up in one moment. A highly competitive tactical hero shooter that requires brains and mechanical brawn in equal amounts. As much as I want to avoid doing so, it is impossible to not mention that 90% of its gameplay borrows heavily from fellow competitor, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If anything, Riot Games should be credited for attempting to refine and build upon preexisting mechanics.
At the start of every round, players have 40 seconds to purchase weapons, shields, and abilities. To encourage teamwork, guns can be requested to allow a fellow teammate to spot the price, if they have funds to spare. Players can also freely move around the “buy zone”; this gives attackers the ability to stack an entry point for an aggressive push towards a bombsite, or allow the defending team the luxury of setting up crossfires to eliminate the attackers.
Combat is best described as precise and hyper-lethal. Gunfights rarely last more than a few seconds and it is not uncommon to be instantly killed, without warning. Fortunately, character abilities can provide the necessary tools to even out the odds. Most of them focus on denying the enemy vision or forcing unfavorable fights. The symbiotic relationship of gunplay and abilities means there will be at least one character for every type of player. Entry fragging more of your thing? Pick Jett and dash into the enemy before they know what hit them. What if you prefer to support teammates? Grab Brimstone and drop smoke grenades wherever you think the enemy is to deny them vision. Through this way, Valorant can show players different ways they can contribute, other than pulling the trigger.
As great as the gameplay is, less could be said about the aesthetics. I’m not going to sugarcoat it: Valorant is ugly for a game about to be released in 2020. Shading is nearly non-existent, maps have a somewhat muted color palette, textures are muddy, particle effects look flat, and Brimstone’s beard is low-poly enough that it looks like something I made in my “Intro to 3D Modeling” class. However, this has the benefit of allowing the game to run on pretty much any PC released within the last 10 years while providing a high level of visual clarity. For example, smoke effects are extremely opaque spheres that let players know exactly how much vision they block—no more cheap one-way smokes. As such, it is important to play with the expectations of getting the purest competitive experience possible.
Valorant goes to great lengths to ensure the player never feels cheated. When you die, there is a detailed combat log that shows how much damage was dealt, received, what weapon was used, and how many hits to each part of the body. Crosshair customization is so robust that there is an entire section in the options menu just for it. A large variety of practice tools available for new players to try out, from shooting at bots to exercises on retaking and defending bombsites.
Just from playing for about a week, I can already tell that Valorant will be a very strong competitive shooter that just screams “esports.” It has taken concepts and ideas from its contemporaries to craft a finely-tuned gameplay loop. It might not be a “CS killer,” but it is a worthy competitor that shooter fans can look forward to playing this summer.