Valve's success story Counter-Strike has dominated the esports scene for a long time and very few developers have dared to compete against it with a similar gameplay concept - until now. Riot Games is currently working on a variety of new games and among them, Valorant has been on the forefront for many. Now, the game is available for all to play and it seems as though it could become a big-hitter on the esports scene.
While Valorant is simple to explain, it's hard to master. The players are separated into two teams and each team consists of five players. One either plays as an attacker or a defender and each match stretches out into, at most, 24 rounds, where the teams switch sides at half-time. The team that first wins 13 rounds leaves the match victorious and each round can be won in three ways. Either one team eliminates the other or the bomb (spike) that the attacking team has placed in one of the three possible locations explodes or gets defused. Should the round end in a tie, an extra and last round crowns the victor.
Since Riot Games is the studio responsible for the massive success that is League of Legends it might not come as a surprise that Valorant isn't a copy of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The thing that gives Valorant such a unique feel is the fact that each character has unique abilities, just like in League of Legends. For example, there's Sova, who apart from the weapons one can purchase ahead of the start of the round, is geared up with a bow. A bow which, in turn, is equipped with arrows that can either scan areas to pinpoint the locations of other players or electrify enemies. Every character also has an ultimate ability and in Sova's case, players will get an ability similar to the one used by Hanzo in Overwatch, where players will fire an arrow that can kill those behind cover. A separate character is equipped with items that resemble shock grenades or smoke grenades, while another can heal and resurrect teammates using magic. After having tried a variety of characters, I can confirm that they are all interesting and fun to play gameplay-wise. However, they lack personality which, sadly, makes them all less interesting to familiarise oneself with.
While we're on the topic of Valorant's characters, the character design is honestly pretty boring. In fact, the graphics are rather bleak overall and they pale in comparison to games such as Overwatch. Granted, Valorant isn't about the graphics but about challenging, tactical combat, but it's hard to start a new big-budget shooter that can't keep up with the graphical splendour of today's games. The same can be said of the menus, which also feel a bit last-gen, displaying boring, bland backgrounds and fonts, adding to the well-worn first impression. A game released in 2020 shouldn't feel this uninspired.
That said, as mentioned earlier, Valorant isn't about graphics, it's about intense, tactical and challenging combat. To assemble a team of five and communicate one's way to victory is, of course, the best course of action. If you're planning to go at it solo, you're going to have to pray to a higher power of your choice to get matched with a team of players, with companions as cautious and tactical as you are and who don't mistake the game for a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Team Deathmatch, because trust us - your skill will be put to the test. It's all about tactics in Valorant and if you're looking to get good, you'll have to put in the hours.
The maps are on the small side and ahead of each round, you have 30 seconds to equip your character with the gear you want to use and head in the direction of your preferred starting location. I felt like those 30 seconds were some seconds too many and I'd have preferred Riot to shorten that timer to at least 20. Especially considering the size of the maps you're on, the timer goes by rather slowly and you'll easily be able to start in the middle of the map if you'd like to. It also means that you can die in a second if you're not cautious. Just like in Counter-Strike, other players can also hear your footsteps so make sure to not run ahead, thinking you'll have the advantage. You might get lucky once, but probably not twice.
During the 30 second wait ahead of each round, you can, apart from buying weapons and gear, buy abilities for your character. To make things easier, once again using Sova as an example, you can equip your character with, for example, a drone and two electrifying arrows. Your sonar arrow is good to go from the get-go and refills automatically after a while. The character's ultimate is refilled during the match and can also be rushed by picking orbs at select locations on the map. These orbs are, however, placed in a way that has you out in the open, so bringing a teammate with you when attempting to grab them is preferable. That said, remember that you'll be able to see both enemies and teammates who have their ultimate ready, but so can your enemies, which could send them directly to you once you pick up an orb.
Just like in Counter-Strike, it's important to be able to handle 'sprays', i.e. it's important to be able to keep shooting without losing one's accuracy. One singular shot can be enough to eliminate an opponent and the same goes for your enemies - aim for the head. Accuracy is key in Valorant and this is just one of many things that makes the game hard to master.
Because the characters differ greatly from each other, it's important to learn how to play more than just your favourites. If you want to get really good at the game you should learn to play them all and not just the one you find the most fun to play. As previously mentioned, the lack of personality might lead you to stop exploring the lineup, but doing so will pay off in the end. Regardless if you like to play aggressively or defensively, you'll find characters and weapons that fit your playstyle. However, skilled players can easily counter each of your pics as well. Valorant is, again, a team-focused game and communication and assistance are both important.
Those who don't have time (or the energy) to play a game last up to 24 rounds can try Spike Rush, which is over and done with in about ten minutes. In this mode, the number of rounds is reduced and each player on the attacking side is equipped with a bomb with the goal of planting one of them. Here, you won't get the option to buy gear ahead of the round start. Instead, every player has the same prerequisites and the characters' standard abilities are refilled for free. This isn't the game mode that'll net the most players, surely, but it's nice to know that you can try other game-types if you're bored of the standard mode or don't have the time.
For a free-to-play game, there's a lot for content to enjoy in Valorant. This, however, doesn't mean that you don't have the option to spend some hard-earned cash in-game. If you want to pimp your guns out you can always pay to get so-called 'Valorant Points' to get cosmetic items for. Loot boxes, however, are not present.
Valorant is a fun game that we'll most definitely hear more about, especially within the esports scene. Considering the fact that there's plenty of room for new characters to be added and the fact that more maps are essential, the game will continue to expand down the line. Whether you're bored of CS:GO or you simply enjoy tactical shooters, or even if you just want to try it out because it's fun and free, there are plenty of reasons to give Valorant a chance.