Smart, tactical shooting that is a lot of fun to get good at and has a lot of depth, Valorant Roit’s playstyle is based on nail-biting bomb plants, headshots from hip fire, and wrist flicks that look like they came from nowhere. This 5v5 tactical hero shooter was made by Riot Games, the same company that made League of Legends. From the moment I pulled off my first well-planned victory, I was hooked. Now, after putting in 90 hours between the closed beta and the official release, I’m still in love with how well the superpowered characters and great gunplay were put together. Nothing has changed about how I feel. The learning curve is hard, but once I got all the pieces of mastery to fit together, it was almost impossible for me to stop playing Valorant.
First-person shooter (FPS) fans have been playing Valorant for such a short time, it’s hard to believe. Even though Riot’s competitive shooter just got out of beta testing, it already goes up against the most popular games in its genre. Valorant was made by a big company, and the fact that it worked with Twitch streamers to give a small group of players early access to the game was a huge help in getting the game off the ground. But if Valorant wasn’t also very good, that huge marketing push wouldn’t mean nearly as much as it does now.
It’s true that Valorant is Riot’s best attempt at making a game like Counter-Strike, but what makes it so good is how it changes the way Valve does things. Anonymous groups of counter-terrorists are being replaced by a group of dynamic agents with skills that match who they are as people. In a way that’s similar to Overwatch, agents make jokes with each other at the start of each round and break the fourth wall to say that they’ve gotten rid of the “imposter” on the other team (the enemy playing the same character). It has the same happy vibe as Overwatch, which makes even losing feel a little bit like talking to a friend.
The 5v5 games can have up to 25 rounds, and each round can last anywhere from ten seconds to a couple of minutes, depending on how fast the action is moving. The attackers want to plant the bomb, which is called the “spike” in this case, and the defenders must either defuse it or die trying to do so. Over the years, other games have copied counter-round-based Strike’s bomb mode. However, far fewer games have tried to copy Counter-Strike’s way of shooting, map design, or weapon economy. Even in the year 2020, Counter-Strike is still a standout among shooters because it can be won with a mix of mechanical skill, strategic frugality, and sophisticated mind games.
Screenshots from Valorant Roit’s game play (closed beta)
At first, I wasn’t sure why a tactical shooter like Counter-Strike would have “ultimate” skills that were loud and similar to Overwatch. Valorant, on the other hand, has a very short time-to-kill: it only takes one bullet to kill you. It creates a very high level of tension and makes it more likely that the sound of gunfire in the distance will make you shiver. One of my biggest worries before I went in was that the ultimate abilities (ults) might ruin the atmosphere and make the strategies too similar. But from what I’ve seen so far, I don’t think that’s how it works in real life. Valorant brings balance back to the game by making it cost points to use ultimate attacks instead of putting a cooldown on them. You get these items when you die, pick up gathering nodes, and, most importantly, when you kill other players.
In addition, you will have to choose which of the weaker skills you want to invest money in. It’s not unusual for me to start a round by looking through a weapons catalogue and debating whether or not I should buy a flashy machine gun or wait and save my hard-earned money for later in the game. What I haven’t seen before is how cleverly Valorant adds hero shooter elements to the buy phase. This is done by making two or three skills (the exact number depends on the playable agent) that can be bought by the player instead of just being available on cooldowns. It will take some time to get used to the rhythm of Valorant, especially if you are not used to micromanaging an in-game economy while playing shooters.
My go-to secret agent at the moment is Man Sage, a combat medic who can control the power of the frost element. I have to give her the money I’ve earned in order to use her barrier orb, which blocks off entrances, and her slow orb, which covers a piece of the ground with ice sheets. She has both of these orbs in her arsenal. If you want an agent to be as effective as possible in battle, you need to know how to budget their skills as well as their guns.
The art style was made simple on purpose so that it would be easier to read during battle.
It also helps that Valorant’s art style is simple and was made with the goal of making battles easy to read in matches. Because the art has been developed so carefully, every visual signal, from the simplest muzzle flash to the most complicated agent ult, is easy to recognize. When Sage throws her slow orb, it has a brilliant blue sheen as it moves through the air. This is a nice contrast to the brown cobblestone walls that can be seen on maps. Because of the focus on a colour palette where less is more, even chaotic firefights won’t be able to dull an orb’s shine. I still don’t like the weird character forms or the simple particle effects on their own, but I really like how they work together to make it easy to see what’s going on in fights.
My teammate warned us over voice chat, “There are only two attackers left, and they are moving from bombsite A to bombsite B.” The commander said, “I’ll corner them and hold them off until then.” My heart was starting to beat faster. I was the only one watching over bombsite B, so I would have to use Sage’s toolbox skillfully to make sure I didn’t eat any lead aspirin. So, I threw up an ice wall as quickly as I could to block the path to my right. If they wanted to get through, they would have to blow up my wall, which would show where they were standing. So, I crouched down in a corner and pointed my gun toward the bombsite’s second entrance, which was on the left. I listened for the sound of footsteps with great anticipation. After that, I knew there were more, so I threw Sage’s slow orb in their general direction right away. I looked to see if I had caught anything in my frozen snare while the ground was frozen, and to my delight, I had!
Raze was an expert at destroying things, and her trigger finger was itching. When the phone rang, she was in the middle of throwing her grenade skills at me. I quickly fired a burst of three bullets at her. The third bullet hit her between the eyes, and a pattern of blood that looked like a lava lamp exploded from her head. The deal was very exciting, but there wasn’t any time to party afterward. From behind Raze’s dead body, a brave archer named Sova yelled, “Nowhere to run!” This cry turned on his ultimate ability, and he started shooting me right away with huge arrows that were full of power. With his flanking move, my friend finally got there and was able to shoot Sova from behind, saving my butt. Thankfully. Every match is a rush of adrenaline, and the fact that you are a hero shooter only adds to the stress in a good way.
If you can’t aim well, however, even the best magic in the world won’t be able to save your squad. Each gun you can use in Valorant has a unique recoil pattern that is both complicated and unique. I spent a lot of time in the game’s firing range, where I shot at target dummies and tried to get better at moving my hands quickly enough to use my favourite weapons well. For example, if you empty the Vandal rifle’s entire clip at once, the gun will tilt to the left and right. Because the Vandal only needs one or two shots to the head to kill an opponent, spraying and praying is not only a waste of ammunition, but the noise from a loud automatic rifle will also give away your position. If you try to shoot while you’re moving, your bullets will go everywhere too. I had to be able to quickly plant my feet, fire a few bursts of rounds, and then keep going.
No matter how much magic they use, a group that can’t aim well will fail.
My first couple of games were like a scene from “The Comedy of Errors.” I didn’t take the time to carefully place my shots. Instead, I strafed at full speed, unloaded a clip on a doorway, and hoped that someone on the other side would get eaten alive. The bullets would bounce all over, hitting every single molecule in the area except for the enemy. Phoenix, a handsome pyromancer, killed me with one shot from a sniper rifle. When she looked at my body afterward, she seemed to be thinking about the choices I had made in my life. I had to keep telling myself that getting good at this game would take a lot of work if I didn’t want to lose my confidence and break my spirit. So, when I wasn’t playing a match, I spent more time in the training mode, practising the rules of carefully timed hip fire that Counter-Strike had taught me when I was younger. When I killed an enemy with a perfect headshot, flashes of brilliance would appear right before my eyes. This happened more and more often, and it was very satisfying to see the results of my hard work in actual matches. Valorant is the game for you if you like first-person shooter games and want a hard competitive challenge. No matter how hard you hit the road, nothing will change.
Even though I’ve been playing the closed beta for a while now, I still feel like I’ve only just begun to explore everything Valorant has to offer. I still need to evaluate some of the agents and their skills, and I need to get better at using all of the weapons. Both of these things, along with other things, will keep me busy enough over the next few months.
Make sure to check back soon for a full review of Valorant. It will come out soon after the game leaves beta testing, which Riot says will happen sometime around the summer.
I haven’t had as much fun playing a multiplayer first-person shooter as I do with Valorant since Valve’s Team Fortress 2. Even though it may be hard to get the hang of at first, the game’s amazing competitive field is made possible by its flexible, magically-infused characters and a huge arsenal. I’ve already started daydreaming about the fun things me and my friends will be able to do in the future, and I don’t think I’ll stop any time soon. It’s not the most visually appealing first-person shooter of our time, but the game’s focus on minimalism makes it easy to understand how to play. Valorant’s strong grip on the ground makes me want to keep playing even after I’ve learned everything there is to know.