‘Valorant’ review: a hero shooter that’s more shooter than hero

‘Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’ meets ‘Overwatch’: ‘Valorant’ is the best of both worlds… or is that the worst?

Valorant is the latest entry in the hero shooter genre, created by Riot Games, and currently a free-to-play PC exclusive. It borrows the structure of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and the focus on characters and powers from Overwatch, but while it tries to be the best of both worlds, Valorant sometimes feels like the worst instead. CS:GO is made for the pure gunplay enthusiasts, while Overwatch has the high energy chaos that ability-based gameplay brings. Valorant could live in the middle ground, but too often it feels like it’s trying to do both, and ends up doing neither.

As a live service game, expect more to be added in time. You can only judge it by what it’s offering right now though, and that means shallow offerings. There are just four maps and two game modes – up from three and one respectively from the beta.

The maps all come with an attached gimmick, whether that be an extra Spike Site or teleporters. At first, this keeps every map feeling fresh, but hero shooters are built for you to pour hundreds of hours into them. Before I got to my 10th, the maps all started to feel the same. Moreso than the gimmicks, it was learning the best rush points and defensive strongholds which helped the maps stand out. Even then, Valorant still feels more like a strong beta than a game ready for a full release.

Valorant
Credit: Stacey Henley

Another part of the reason it still feels like a good beta than a real alpha is down to the game modes. There are only two now: Ranked (initially Unrated until you play enough matches to unlock it), which was in the beta but has since been removed for improvement, and Spike Rush, the new, shorter, more frenzied game mode. Spike Rush definitely shakes things up, and following Spike Rush up could be the key to Valorant discovering its identity.

Ranked is just full-on CS:GO. Matches are played first to 13, and your team of 5v5 switches halfway through from attacking the Spike Sites to defending and defusing the Spike Sites. The actual gameplay is solid enough, but your abilities never feel that important and the gunplay, while very impressive and with a substantial amount of depth, just feels like CS:GO lite. I’m not even a huge Counter-Strike fan (it’s a little dry for me, personally), but if you come for the king, you’d better not miss.

Valorant
Credit: Stacey Henley

Spike Rush gives every attacking player the Spike at once, meaning every inch of the map is constantly in play. Ranked often casts attackers as lookouts, decoys, or guards. Other than the one carrying the Spike, you all feel like defenders of one form or another in Ranked, and being the lone attacker feels incredibly pressurised, especially in a game that has already been bogged down with toxicity. Spike Rush, however, creates a much more significant split between defenders and attackers. With everyone getting the same gun – which changes each round – it cuts down on the hyper tactical, CS:GO clone feel of Ranked, elevates the emphasis on the abilities and allows Valorant to feel like a game in its own right, rather than parts of its competitors sellotaped together.

Also, while Ranked’s 30-40 minute matches can often feel too long, Spike Rush averages a much leaner 10 minutes. The difference the match length makes cannot be overstated: 40 minutes is long at the best of times, and longer if you have bad teammates. If you are the bad teammate though? It can be an eternity. Valorant can be enjoyable with friends, but it’s often frustrating alone.

While Valorant’s general make up is almost excessively simple – you attack, then defend – it does enough within that simple premise to offer an enjoyable time, especially if you’re good at CS:GO but want something a little more vibrant. The Ranked matches are long, certainly, but by locking you into one hero per match, not restricting your arsenal to said hero and having your Ultimate Ability be charged by performance and not time, it does its best to construct a learning curve for you. The curve is steep, perhaps too steep for some, but it at least feels deliberately so. The fact that death is final – for the round, at least – with no immediate respawn means that single moments can turn a match. In an age of bullet spray, live-die-repeat shooters, Valorant makes sure every single shot counts.

Valorant
Credit: Stacey Henley

It wouldn’t be a hero shooter without heroes, and the heroes in Valorant are… fine. While the likes of Overwatch and Apex Legends do attempt to characterise their heroes, they only tickle you with the lore and let the artwork, fan fiction and cosplay of the community do the rest. Valorant’s characters are very similar, in that they feel enough like caricatures for you to instantly understand them, but not so much that it becomes cartoonish. Because loadouts aren’t locked to a hero the way they are in other hero shooters, the only real distinguishing feature between them are their abilities.

Jett’s Cloudburst and Sage’s Barrier Orb offer good defensive options, Cypher’s Spycam can highlight the positions of other players, and Raze and Phoenix are amongst those with area damaging abilities through Paintshells and Hot Hands, respectively. There’s no abilities which feel like duds, even if they don’t have quite the influence you’d expect them to. On the other hand though, there’s no power which sticks a flag in the ground as being the flagship ability that gives Valorant that just one more game edge.

Its newest hero, Reyna, is fun to play as, but do we really need another dangerously sexy Latinx woman with an aesthetic built around cartels and criminality? It’s not just that she’s incredibly similar to Overwatch’s Sombra (right down to the colour scheme) and Apex Legends’ Loba, but that Latinx players deserve far better. Reyna’s general edge feels very worn out and there’s so much more to celebrate about Latin culture besides violence and thievery. Her abilities are fun, yeah, and the fact she gets better or worse depending on your performance is an intriguing addition. It doesn’t change the fact her design is desperately tired now.

Another mark against Valorant is the already toxic fanbase. This is far from an isolated incident, but probably the most damning evidence came via this viral clip, which shows one of Riot’s own employees receiving creepy, unwanted flirting and general harassment. Valorant is far from the only e-sport which suffers in this way, but that still doesn’t make it any more acceptable.

There’s certainly fun to be had here, even if it’s not too different from the fun to be had elsewhere. You might find a hero whose abilities fit perfectly with your playstyle, but otherwise Valorant feels like a valiant effort which just falls short of being a game changer. It’s left itself room to grow though, so maybe in a few month’s time it’ll be a different story.

Valorant is now available for free on PC.

Our Verdict

Valorant is a competent hero shooter with the gun intensive gameplay of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and the game changing abilities of Overwatch. There’s a lot to enjoy here, and it’s a solid shooter in its own right, even if it feels like it lacks depth right now. It is difficult to see how it can carve out a niche for itself in an already crowded marketplace, especially when most of its best bits have been airlifted from elsewhere.

Pros

  • Robust gunplay
  • Good range of abilities
  • Spike Rush is full of energy

Cons

  • Lack of depth with game modes/maps
  • Attack vs Defence gets stale
  • Other games do it better
  • Toxic players
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