Cary based developer, Epic, announced earlier this month that all wasn’t going to plan with Paragon. Their statement, announced on the official forums detailed how the studio is evaluating continued development of their MOBA franchise. While the statement was thin on concrete detail, it did cast some blame towards the unexpected and immediate success of Fornite Battle Royale, alongside a lack of player retention in Paragon. Both issues combined have seen the game fail to grow as Epic had hoped, with some of the team being diverted to Fornite.
With Paragon having gone through monumental change since it was first announced on November 3, 2015, this news shocked many fans. The thought that Epic are wavering on Paragons development after all this time, and after such investment, doesn’t seem possible. For some of us however, this wasn’t entirely unexpected and on the back of Fornite’s success, was likely inevitable.
Having played Paragon since Early Access, invested hundreds of pounds, interviewed and played alongside Epic several times, while founding Monolith Magazine alongside Gus, I wanted to share my thoughts on where Paragon might have gone wrong.
It’s fair to say that Epic have iterated a great deal since Early Access first launched. Changes to Travel Mode, the removal of Travel Mode, a new map, map reworks, item changes, card overhauls, movement speed tweaks, balance adjustments and complete kit reworks make up only a fraction of the number of changes. What’s particularly telling about this level of iteration is that Epic were clearly chasing something. As is evidenced by their public statement, they were seeking both player growth and retention. Despite all the work they’ve done, nothing has quite worked. What’s frustrating about this level of iteration, even if it has brought some very good things (honestly, Monolith is visually stunning), is the fact they shed so much that made Paragon unique. Epic’s pursuit of shorter match times and a more accessible game resulted in key ideas being thrown on the cutting room floor. While iteration of an idea or mode will often see sweeping changes, or nuanced refinement, I still struggle to understand the logic behind their design approach.
There were several things that made Paragon special.
- The large sprawling map
- Orb Prime dunking
- Harvesters and Harvester Keys
- Shadow Pools
- Travel Mode
During the course of Early Access, Paragon has single handedly lost every single one of these features. It has drastically reduced its map size in Monolith, removed almost all verticality (with the exception of a few marginally higher platforms), binned Orb Prime dunking, trashed Passives, banished Harvesters to the waste bin, completely reworked Shadow Pools to the point where they’re no longer recognisable, and only allows Travel Mode when leaving your Core. What’s so frustrating about this is the fact all these ideas were fantastic, but none of them were given the time to grow and evolve.
While I will freely admit that not all the above bullet points were perfect ideas, all of them combined created something truly special in Legacy. Whether it was hiding in a Shadow Pool waiting for an unsuspecting opponent, using verticality to escape an opponent, or tracking the Orb Prime through the jungle as the opposition attempted to dunk it; they all added a layer of complexity to Paragon that’s now missing.
Although all of these ideas could have undoubtedly been improved (Harvesters simply needed greater value and Passives needed more effort on Epic’s part), the framework to refine them was absolutely there. Unfortunately for Paragon, Epics obsession with match times ensured they were shelved all in the name of having matches hit the magical 30 minute sweet spot, or to make the game “more accessible”, much to its detriment.
Card System and Itemisation
Although the Card System of Paragon has potential, it has often felt like Epic were simply being different, just to be different. With the exception of Heroes of the Storm, the vast majority of MOBA’s have active items, and purchasable items (with varying attributes, which can then be upgraded). While I understand why Epic chose to pursue the card route (honestly, monetization undoubtedly played a part here - just look at Paladins), it’s a spectacular failure. Not only does it lack the flexibility of its peers, but renders counter builds almost redundant. As you can’t build decks on the fly based on who you’re fighting (unless your deck is premade in anticipation for X or Y Hero) it makes effective counter play impossible. Not only does this further limit the strategic depth of Paragon, but forces cookie-cutter builds; players inevitably pursue “safe” decks.
What’s also frustrating about the Paragon card system, is the fact that it’s a balance nightmare and confusing for new players. Not only do cards have active abilities, but they also have gold costs, affinities, affinity traits, and base stats. Worse still, there’s also Gems and Gem Slots (which also act as a barrier to upgrading your cards). It’s a convoluted mess that’s undeniably inferior to every other competitive MOBA. Why make it so complicated? Wouldn’t it have been simpler to design a set amount of items with upgrade path, with set gold costs? Better yet, add a seperate tier of items that were “active”, which were independent consumables (such as potions, Wards and boosts). This would immediately give players creative freedom in how to build their Heroes, but it would also place far greater depth on counterplay and be far easier for new players to understand.
Lack Of Ranked Mode
After all this time, for Paragon not to have a ranked ladder with season rewards, is incredibly disappointing. Playing just to improve isn’t enough of an incentive, and relying on the likes of Agora.gg to determine your “rank” is ridiculous. Having a goal, with a season ladder, would provide a clear objective for new and existing players. It might sound small and inconsequential, but a season filled with rewards and ranks is often the primary reason why I login to my MOBA of choice. Without it, not only does play feel like it lacks a competitive edge, but there isn’t the pressure to succeed and win. Climbing, and achieving high ranks in any MOBA is part of its allure. Failing to offer this will inevitably have an impact on retention: players won’t stick around, as there’s no goal to stick around for.
Lack of Depth
Building on the above points, Paragon sorely lacks depth. The removal of every game mechanic that offered it, coupled with a lack of active items outside of cards, and many Hero kits having either too few active abilities, or too many targeted ones, results in a style of play that’s simple and shallow. When you look at the likes of Battlerite, which offers Champion kits that are vastly more complex, there’s little wonder that Heroes are so easily learnt and mastered. There’s no depth to combat exchanges, duels or laning because rotations are simple and potential tactics are narrow.
While it would be wrong to suggest you have to have more abilities to create depth (the likes of DOTA 2 debunks that theory) you do, at the very least, have to have complexity and depth in the abilities you’re providing, or in the game that encases them. When it comes to Paragon, not only are all abilities straight forward and offer little layering, but the surrounding game has been neutered. The end result is one where Heroes become one-dimensional and ability interaction relatively sterile.
If I were to take one comparable example, take a look at Alysia from Battlerite versus Aurora from Paragon. Both share a similar themes revolving around ice and crowd control, and yet one is vastly more complicated than the other. Alysia’s requirement to manage Chill and Freeze effects makes her vastly more complex. Even basic abilities that are somewhat comparable, such as Ice Crown (Alysia) versus Frozen Simulacrum (Aurora), demonstrate how simple Paragon is. Ice Crown needs to be aimed, it provides a push back, a chill effect when it explodes, a barrier to fight around and a means of mitigating incoming burst. When you also consider each ability in Battlerite can be customised to change or alter its effect, there’s little wonder Paragon Hero abilities feel so basic. If you also consider that many Heroes in Paragon have a Passive ability, or an ability that doesn’t even require aiming, it’s not entirely surprising that those seeking strategic depth and a high skill ceiling look elsewhere.
Too Little Use of Verticality
Most Paragon trailers make it look like you and your team will regularly be making use of Monolith’s vast verticality. The reality is that for the most part, verticality is now largely irrelevant. While some Heroes can make use of the odd platform here and there, allowing them to evade pursuers and those unable to follow, use of the very limited verticality makes no real difference to the game or your ability to win. Where in Legacy there were signs that Epic had intentions to ramp up the value of terrain, it never came to fruition. Instead, it was vastly reduced or replaced with ridiculous jump pads.
When I look back on Legacy and think of the amount of verticality that mattered, such as over the Orb Prime pit, around the Towers, or even in the jungle, I question why Epic would abandon its value so readily. Paragon and its Z axis had an opportunity to truly provide something no other MOBA does, and yet it barely bothers. It begs the question, what’s the point of even going to all this trouble if it’s going to only play a bit part in the games’ design?
Too Many Lock-On and Passive Abilities
When Paragon’s kits are already simplistic, especially after the removal of Passives, reworking kits to offer less active abilities, or to have multiple that require no aim, has never sat with me. While I’d be fine with one Hero of each role having a simplistic kit (such as Raynor from Heroes of the Storm), for so many to have their skill ceiling limited is bizarre. What’s also frustrating about this, besides the fact it immediately weakens the value of Paragon’s free-aim across the Z axis, it also results in players feeling cheated. While I understand the reasoning behind implementing some lock-on abilities (how else would Epic have Heroes target other Heroes when they’re mid-air?) it doesn’t change the fact it’s frustrating to play again. When the likes of Morigesh or Countess have two lock-on abilities, or when Murdock - with a perfectly solid kit - loses active abilities to gain passives, something, somewhere, has gone wrong with Hero design.
To use Murdock as an example for just a moment, he originally had Buckshot, a knockback (Move Along, and Static Trap (a timed area mine that inflicted root on anyone who triggered it). His kit was eventually squashed, so that Buckshot and Move Along were merged (Buckshot now dealing AOE damage, while also knocking back). Static Trap was removed, and in the process he gained two passive abilities: Hot Pursuit and Shots Fired). While both have their uses (Hot Pursuit provides a movement speed buff when enemies are low health, and Shots Fired a damage boost every few seconds), their implementation only served to lower Murdock’s skill ceiling and a players autonomy over his abilities. Without the ability to wave clear or knockback (it’s one or the other), he was instantly inferior to that before. He lost zoning potential and gained no control of the burst Shots Fired offers.
As I’ve already stated above, having a Hero that’s easy to learn is a good thing. Unfortunately for Paragon, all of its ranged Heroes are easy to learn. When you look at the likes of Sparrow (who, let’s be honest, should have been “the easy Hero”) it’s hard not to question why Murdock’s kit was adjusted in such a way. Would it not have made more sense to layer his kit to add far greater depth?
For example, and keeping his kit how it was before it was reworked, Shots Fired could have been added to Buck Shot so that his next basic attack, after hitting an enemy, dealt additional damage. In addition, Hot Pursuit could have been his Passive (honestly, why were they removed from the game?) or added as an additional bonus to Move Along: any enemies knocked back would grant Murdock a movement speed increase as long as Murdock faced his opponents.
I suspect you’re now thinking, “Well, that would make Murdock way too strong versus other ranged Heroes” and if done only for him, yes it would. However, were all Heroes to be given the same treat - a layering of abilities to create greater depth, while avoiding lock-ons - there would be a far higher skill ceiling, and a far steeper learning curve (which inevitably keeps players coming back).
Balance and Metrics
Throughout Paragon’s development, I’ve regularly seen Epic lean on data and metrics to justify the lack of, or implementation of sweeping changes. They’ve detailed how their metrics say this or that, and that Monolith performs better under every metric than Legacy. What’s frustrating about this approach is that game design isn’t just about metrics. While it’s undoubtedly a big part of it, sometimes you just have to go with your gut.
Like Epic’s dive into the Battle Royale genre, it wasn’t born from the team analyzing spreadsheet after spreadsheet, it was born from a group of the staff doing something different with what they had.
There are countless examples of where Epic have been slow to react, or entirely dismissed valid community feedback because “the metrics don’t reflect X or Y”, and yet I can’t help but feel that it’s completely the wrong approach.
To address the metrics issue, it’s completely unfair to compare Legacy to Monolith and profess that the new map performs better in every way than its predecessor, especially when Monolith gained vastly superior movement and a complete overhaul to cooldowns. Regardless of where Paragon is played, these changes alone transformed the game. To suggest Monolith offers better metrics isn’t unsurprising: base cooldowns and movement speed in Legacy were awful.
The only way to truly establish whether or not Legacy is better than Monolith is allow players to go back to Legacy, with the lane changes, with the movement speed changes and with the lowered ability cooldowns. Anything else is simply conjecture.
As for balance, and this once again comes back to metrics, sometimes you just know. You don’t need to look at a spreadsheet to tell you that an ability or Hero is too strong. Heck, sometimes a Hero or ability needs changing because it’s simply not fun to play against. Metrics will only take you so far, and you have to rely on your own experiences when playing to truly judge what is or isn’t working.
It often felt like I was playing a different game to Epic, and upon the release of several Heroes (Wukong, Phase, Morigesh) I questioned whether or not I was imaging just how bullshit their kits were, and who on earth was playtesting it internally. I don’t use such language lightly, but there’s no mistaking that many Heroes in Paragon were obnoxiously broken at their launch and whether this was intentional or not, it showed a complete disconnect between developer and playerbase.
While I won’t list off the reasons why a variety of Heroes or abilities have been ridiculous, Epic have often been slow to react, or simply stone walled community feedback. Taking Phase as one example, it took over a month just to tweak her kit, a Hero that at the time rendered every other Support obsolete, and made a laughing stock of every single melee Hero.
MOBAs live or die based on its playerbases perception of its balance. As it stands, Paragon has a reputation - certainly amongst swathes of my online friends - that it has no idea what it’s doing. That’s a hard thing to shake, and I’m not sure it’s something Epic can now fix.
To finally finish on the elephant in the room, there’s no mistaking that Fornite and more specifically its Battle Royale mode, plays a big part in why Paragon isn’t growing or retaining players. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the rise of PUBG and Fornite Battle Royale is probably the sole reason behind many games losing players. When both have tens of millions of players investing time into them, the likes of Paragon is inevitably going to be pushed aside.
Many months ago I remember chatting to Steve Superville about Paragon. It was after Greystone had arrived, and he was discussing how Epic needed to draw players away from their favorite games. Paragon wasn't going to suddenly see SMITE, DOTA 2 or LOL players abandon their MOBA of choice. While it might take a few here and there, Steve - when at the helm - was attempting to grab those who’ve either never played a MOBA before, or those who have, but never settled on one.
The arrival of the Battle Royale genre has immediately removed those potential players. Not only are Fornite Battle Royale matches quick, but they’re also fresh, adrenaline packed, and offer an even playing field. It’s no surprise to see Epic have such success with it, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s well deserved (Fornite Battle Royale is a triumph).
Success such as Fornite has doesn’t come along very often. In fact, the last time a game reached the dizzying heights of Fornite Battle Royale and PUBG was World of Warcraft. It’s a phenomenon, and is an opportunity for Epic to create something truly special. Game studios dream of hitting the jackpot, and Epic have done it with Fornite. Why divert resources away from making it better, when what they have is so clearly loved?
I’m not suggesting Paragon doesn’t deserve a shot, or that what Epic have created isn’t good (honestly, Paragon’s Heroes are visually stunning and its combat is fun). However, from a business standpoint it makes absolutely no sense for its development to continue.
As long as Fornite Battle Royale is cannibalizing potential players that might have tried Paragon, Paragon will never grow its player base. If it did, it would be such small amounts of growth the time invested in the game by the studio would be pointless. Inevitably, Epic are here to make money and create a game that’s loved by the masses. As it stands right now, Paragon likely isn’t ever going to achieve that.
Unfortunately I don’t have a solution to Paragon’s woes, and the list above is certainly cutting. Before anyone suggests I’m not a Paragon fan, or don’t like Epic - honestly, it couldn’t be further from the truth. I wrote this because I care about Paragon and I loved playing it, but I’m not shocked to discover that Epic are doubting its future. They were new to the MOBA genre, and have also stumbled into Battle Royale. Fortunately for Epic, that one foray has seen their studio do what many others can only dream of.
While I hope that Epic find some sort of solution for the game, my gut instinct tells me that to right this ship would take considerable time and sources. Whether or not Epic are willing to spare both, when they’re such resources are likely better spent elsewhere. Either way, I wish Epic the very best of luck for righting Paragon’s wrongs, and I think the community deserves tremendous praise for not only sticking with the game, but coming out of the woodwork to make all manner of suggestions for improving it: they really are a fantastic bunch.
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Paragon Game Page.