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What do you get when you mix CS:GO and Overwatch? Well, yeah, you probably guessed it: you get Valorant. Although a lot of comparisons have been made to other popular titles, Riot Games' new 5v5 round-based shooter does feel unique enough, with a roster of 11 agents who each offer a distinctive twist on its competitive gameplay. On the other hand, it's hard to not look at the games that have clearly inspired Valorant and immediately differentiate between them.
If you suck at FPS games, you're probably going to suck at Valorant. The time-to-kill is incredibly low, with headshots almost always being instant kills. In Overwatch, for example, you don't have to rely on your aim to do well - especially if you pick a hero like Winston as his Tesla Cannon will lock on to any nearby enemy. Valorant is much more about gunplay and accuracy with the agent's abilities being a secondary factor - but more on the characters later.
There are currently two game modes in Valorant, in which there is an attacking team and a defending team. The attackers must plant the bomb (called the Spike) within a time limit, or eliminate all of the opposing players. Sound familiar? The core game mode, currently called Unrated, is first to 13 as you buy weapons, shields and abilities before each new round starts. Obviously if the match is very even, it could go to a total of 25 rounds, ending 13-12. With each round lasting a couple of minutes, that could be an hour of gameplay, for one match.
From my experience, the average length of a whole game is around 35 minutes, though this still feels too long to me, especially as you can't swap between agents mid-game. You pick one and you're stuck with them, which isn't too friendly for new players trying to learn each character. There is an area where you can practise with the agents on your own, but it's not the same as learning how different abilities work in a competitive environment.
The other game mode is Spike Rush, which produces faster-paced, more arcade-like gameplay. This time it's best of seven rounds, so matches only last around 10 minutes. The whole lobby gets the same random loadout and there are special powerup orbs scattered throughout the map, allowing you to upgrade your gun, get a health boost, temporarily blind the enemy or even get the infamous golden gun - which of course is a one-shot kill! I'm hoping more game modes are added in the future, but Spike Rush definitely gives Valorant a new lease of life for me after playing the core mode for a few hours.
Although you do need to have at least some mechanical skill to do well in Valorant, when you eventually pull off a clutch or an impressive kill with your agent's ultimate ability, it's more satisfying than anything I've experienced in a competitive multiplayer game for a long time. Yes, even more satisfying than getting the W in Warzone. As I've been playing Valorant with a keyboard and mouse and not my familiar Xbox controller, these plays were few and far between - so even getting a single kill gave me a rush of adrenaline.
There is a good variety of agents to choose from in Valorant. All abilities are designed to complement gameplay instead of being an overpowering force. The way you approach a situation can differ massively depending on what agents are on your team. For example master archer Sova, has a recon arrow allowing you to see enemies through walls; Viper can set a poisonous trap and wait for enemies to pass through a chokepoint; and Omen can teleport behind enemies to catch them unaware.
A lot of the Agents' abilities have clearly taken inspiration from games such as Overwatch or Rainbow Six Siege, with some being almost identical. Apex Legends showed that it's possible to create a new ensemble of heroes with captivating personalities and distinctive powers. Although Valorant introduces us to a vast array of agents, none of them bring anything new or are quirky enough to be remembered.
Getting kills or picking up orbs will fill up your character's ultimate ability. This fills up pretty quickly, allowing you to use multiple ultimates in a game. For a newcomer, I found both Raze's rocket launcher and Viper's poison cloud very useful. The former as you don't really need good aim to get a kill with it, and the latter to put on the bomb once placed, to keep enemies away from it. Jett's blade storm looks really cool, too.
I've been a little harsh on the agents so far, but they do add a fun tactical aspect that wouldn't be in the game without them. The way they break the fourth wall and have conversations with each other before each round begins can be amusing, and their abilities add unique moments that aren't possible in a game like Counter-Strike. They add value, making the game more than just clicking at an enemy skull. Would I enjoy playing Valorant as much if it didn't have agents? Almost definitely not.
There are currently only four maps in rotation but they are all brilliant, offering a mid area with flanking routes either side so players coming from other FPS games can adjust as easily as possible. One map has teleporters and another has a secret tunnel as well as strategic vantage points that you learn over time. There are so many ways to surprise the enemy. Another map gives the attackers the option of three bomb sites instead of two. You can tell that Riot have really tried to vary the playstyle even with the limited maps on offer.
A decent pair of headphones can certainly help as it often sounds like an elephant is rampaging around the corner, allowing you to precisely pinpoint where movement is coming from. The minimalist, cartoon-like art style is for the most part pleasing on the eye, but a lot of the environments and even the agents themselves look dated. I can't help but go back to Overwatch, which just looks... better. On the other hand, the visual simplicity does allow the gameplay to really shine.
Valorant is a lot of fun to try and master though a little tricky to pick up at first. The gunplay feels as precise as any shooter on the market and the cast of agents add to the erratic nature of unique gameplay situations. The game has only just come out of beta, so improvements and additions are likely to be made in the future. Valorant is very good right now, but it has the potential to be truly great.
Valorant is out now, and was reviewed on PC using code supplied by the publisher. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores, here.
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