Valorant First Impressions
It’s important for perspective that you know I’m not a pro player or a gaming god – my take on Valorant so far may be vastly different from the high-tier analysis that you may find from those sources out there on the internet. That said, I did spend a significant amount of time playing Counter-Strike at a LAN center, which happens to be highly relevant toward my enjoyment of Valorant.
Why? Because Valorant has real roots in Counter-Strike, much of the shooting, features, mechanics, weapons, and more have incredibly similar counterparts. If Valorant and CS are cakes, the core recipe is essentially the same – but the sprinkles on top of the Valorant cake are a different color. The bright neon confectionery may set Valorant up to take over the tactical shooter space as it moves into open beta and beyond.
If you know CS guns, you know Valorant guns. If you know that you can’t run around spraying and praying like a Call of Duty shoothouse match, and that you need to stop moving to get a clean shot, you know Valorant. You have to watch those footsteps too, as that auditory clue is encounter-defining.
All the stuff that defines Counter-Strike is here, with a layer on top that arguably makes the games more interesting and varied from round to round, and also probably way more watchable, allowing players to set up “big plays” with high-skill cap abilities that make for the esports equivalent of a Hail Mary pass or a fake punt. While witnessing amazing skill in CS is great to behold, there’s a little more punch behind the splashy and flashy ultimates in Valorant. It’s actually kind of ridiculous just how much Counter-Strike DNA is in Valorant, but this presents an awesome skeleton to flesh out with some bold new features layered on top.
Over my first few days, I’ve gravitated toward a character that specializes in taking out other characters via damage. While the roster runs the gamut of characters that can use cameras to gain visual intel, set up area-denial poison clouds, and drop smokes and flashes, Raze is all about racking up kills. She’s got a suite of explosives including a semi-homing bomb bot, but the real fun is charging up her ultimate and letting loose a giant rocket with an absolutely insane area-of-effect impact radius. I’ve gotten a few triple kills with it, and I’m sure there are some quad kills in my future; it’s a ton of fun to let fly on a crowded spike (bomb) site.
Matches can feel like they take quite a while, as the “first to 13” round system can have you in a game for over 45 minutes. Since it’s an economy-based shooter where you need to save or splurge each round, I understand that you need to have quite a few rounds in order to make that aspect meaningful, as well as take into account a “side switch” where teams swap between offense and defense. Even so, sometimes games feel just too plain long right now.
At the core, it’s about the guns. You have all kinds of glittery and fun accent abilities that can have a huge impact on the game, but knowing what to buy and how to use it are essential regardless of the character you select. Unlike other hero-based shooters, weapons are not specific to a character, so you have the same SMGs, snipers, rifles, shotguns, and sidearms available on your entire roster.
Hero abilities tend to create situations that allow you to use your firearms more effectively, by obscuring enemy vision, cutting off access routes, or providing valuable information about where the opposition is located. Ultimate abilities are incredibly powerful, and can turn the tide of an entire match, allowing superpowers like resurrection, complete location information on every enemy on the map, and blasts that fire through walls. To charge your ultimates up, you have to get kills or risk going after small black orbs scattered at “high conflict” areas in each map. This lets you formulate a strategy even if you’re not great at racking up killstreaks; you can chase the orbs to power up your big play.
Communication is essential, and that makes playing with your friends a much better idea than pick-up-groups. I’m lucky enough to have a playgroup, and playing with them is night and day from a game with random folks – the difference even the barest minimum of coordination and communication make is astronomical. Watching XxGamerGodXx AFK at spawn or play pistols only at full running speed into the enemy team every match isn’t a wonderful way to play. My advice for launch is to have a few other friends ready to roll and it will likely make your experience substantially more enjoyable.
Graphically, it’s not doing it for me. I do love that less of a focus on the visuals ostensibly makes it run super smooth on just about any rig out there, and in a game like this functionality is way more important than flavor – I want my sniper rifle to connect when i fire it without any stuttering, so if we have to sacrifice some graphic candy I’m alright with it. This extends to the characters – while I enjoy the creativity in some of their abilities a lot, their actual personalities and personas are forgettable and bland.
We’re still in early beta, with more maps, characters, and tweaks to come, so I'm nowhere close to anything resembling a final verdict on Valorant. I’m enjoying my time with it so far (An affinity for Counter-Strike goes a long way for this one), but we’ll have to wait and see how things shake out on the way to a summer launch.