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Valorant Review - Addicting, Fun, Flawed

Just how does Riot's latest game fare?

Poorna Shankar Posted:
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For the last week, I’ve been heavily playing Riot Games’ latest foray, Valorant. With several hours under me, Valorant accomplishes many things, notably, reminding us that Riot does indeed know how to build core gameplay experiences. However, it is not without its share of frustrations and flaws. This is our review of Valorant.

What Is Valorant?

If you’re unfamiliar with Valorant, it’s effectively a co-op online multiplayer competitive tactical hero shooter. With those buzz words out of the way, the gameplay largely consists of the following.

Two teams of five heroes (or Agents as the game calls them) face off in one of four maps. Each match consists of multiple rounds, with the first team to win 13 rounds claiming victory in the match (Note, at this time, there is no Competitive mode for Valorant, though this may be added in the future). The two teams are split into attacking or defending. Attacking consists of planting a spike (bomb) into an enemy team’s base.

If the attackers kill all the defenders, or if the spike detonates, the attackers win that round. If the defenders defuse the spike, or kill all the attackers before they can plant the spike, the defenders win that round.

After 12 total rounds, the teams switch sides. Attackers become defenders, and defenders become attackers. Each Agent has abilities at their disposal to help accomplish this task, with each Agent possessing three standard abilities (mapped to E, Q, and C) and one ultimate ability (mapped to X).

Everyone starts each round with their E ability already equipped. However, you have the option to purchase your Q and C abilities. Enter the economy. Each round begins with a buy phase wherein you can purchase weapons, shields, and abilities. You earn money by killing, winning, and staying alive. Your ultimate ability, on the other hand, charges over time, or can be charged by picking grey ultimate orbs on the map.

There exists another game mode called Spike Rush. Mechanically, it’s largely similar to the normal mode. However, this time, everyone receives all their abilities at the start of each round. Additionally, starting guns are randomized. Finally, it’s much shorter in that the first team to win four rounds wins the match. As such, there is no Buy phase. I honestly didn’t like this mode. It was far too manic, and far too rushed. Just…no.

Overall, if this is starting to sound an awful lot like Counter Strike, well, you’re not alone in that thought. While I personally have barely played CS, I have watched enough matches to understand the similarities drawn between CS and Valorant.

Some may complain that this is just another CS clone. Personally, I simply don’t see this as a bad thing. When you get down to it, every game draws on every other game. Overwatch is essentially Team Fortress. Full stop. But the gameplay contained within is solid, and ultimately, that’s what matters.

This is my view of Valorant. If the gameplay is solid, the comparisons to Counter Strike honestly shouldn’t matter. If the foundation is strong and focused (and technically stable), gameplay comparisons to other games shouldn’t matter. The question is, just how solid is the gameplay?

Gameplay

In a word, very. I find the overall gameplay of Valorant to be highly enjoyable. The guns sound distinct from one another, with suppressed weapons sounding much more subdued than larger, punchier guns like the heavy Odin. They also feel different to each other. The Odin has a ton of recoil, while more precision weapons like the suppressed pistol retains accuracy.

My personal favorite gun is the semi-auto Guardian. Priced at 2700 bucks, this gun suits my playstyle perfectly. I always prefer the measured stealth approach, regardless of what game I’m playing. I pair this with precision weapons like a marksman rifle, a bow, or the like. And in a game like Valorant, my style of gameplay is not only viable, it’s outright lethal.

I am by no means an expert, nor am I somehow the greatest Valorant player to have lived. But I do consistently receive the Team MVP and Match MVP awards doled out at the end of matches. I’d like to think my specific playstyle has a lot to do with these accolades, whether or not our team wins or loses a match.

Furthermore, I find the intra-round flow to be tense, measured, and heart poundingly electric. When you play with a team full of your friends like we did in a recent live stream (below), the results are simply awesome.

On top of that, each Agent brings something unique to the game. When you have a team full of your friends, you can use these Agents to complement each other. For example, I love using Sova’s recon arrows to quickly ping an area to detect enemies. Bradford’s Reyna can then cast Leer, temporarily blinding enemies, while Leif throws out his bomb buddy to take them out.

This is a game where communication is vital. It’s a game which demands a measured approach. It’s a game which demands patience. Suffice it to say if you’re the type of player who likes the mad dash of constant chaos that is Call of Duty Team Deathmatch, I highly doubt you’d enjoy Valorant.

Personally, I absolutely hate the traditional multiplayer in Call of Duty. Games like Valorant are absolutely perfect for someone like me who does prefer patience, tactics, and a more deliberate approach. It’s less about “KILL KILL KILL” and more about “should we kill.” Remember, victory can be achieved without killing the other team.

To that end, I find each of the four maps well-designed. Each map (Ascent, Bind, Haven, Split) has distinct visual design with multiple lanes through which you can push or defend. Lines of sight have clearly been given tremendous thought and care, and only once did I feel like I was cheated out of a kill from an enemy I could not see. However, this could have very well been a case of a network hiccup, and therefore I cannot definitively conclude why I was killed by someone I couldn’t see. Though this could easily also be down to the fact that the other player was simply better than me.

Editor’s Note: Literally as I was writing this, the official Valorant Twitter account tweeted that Ascent will no longer be a featured map in rotation. The team cites, “All maps should have an equal chance of being played on in your games.”

Of all the matches I’ve played, only a few have ever truly felt lopsided – whether I was on the winning end, or the losing end. For the most part, matches have always felt close. Even if my team was down several rounds, I always felt like we could come back and win.

This is simply down to the length of matches. Some matches can last 45 minutes. Personally, I absolutely love this. Like I mentioned, I hate the multiplayer in a game like Call of Duty. I get zero sense of the possibility for a comeback given just how manic the multiplayer is. In Valorant, I’ve felt that sense of rallying to victory in almost every match specifically because of its deliberate pacing.

Performance, Stability, and Sound

Technically, Valorant is incredibly performant. I’m running the game on a PC equipped with an i7 8700k (overclocked) with 16 GB DDR4 RAM,  and an RTX 2080 Ti (overclocked) attached to a 4K 120 Hz Gsync HDR monitor. I have yet to see the game dip below my max refresh rate of 120fps.

I have the game completely maxed out with 4x MSAA, but framerate is incredibly solid. Mind you, this shouldn’t be surprising given the specs on hand. However, Valorant should remain highly performant even on more modest rigs. The game isn’t doing anything crazy in terms of graphics.

For example, there simply isn’t any ambient occlusion which I can discern, nor is there real-time global illumination. In the image below, for example, you’ll notice the room take on a red hue from the red cloth. However, this bounced lighting, as good as it looks, isn’t real-time. Instead, it’s baked. And it’s techniques like this which save on performance. In a multiplayer shooter, performance is king, graphics are secondary.

Graphics options are pretty scant to begin with, but even as someone who prioritizes graphics above all, I’m not terribly concerned. The art style does a lot of the heavy lifting on the visual presentation front, and it’s this visual presentation which can remain scalable across a spectrum of PCs.

PC options are overall good. Hovering over the text indicating the tweakable option provides a tool tip describing what that option does. There are plenty of sliders for audio, as well as full primary and secondary key bindings. Mouse options appear a tad threadbare, only allowing you to change sensitivities for mouse look and scoped look. I’d like to have seen further options separating out aim down sights sensitivity and scoped sensitivity.

Curiously, there is no FOV slider. On one hand, I can understand this. If Riot intends this to be a competitive esport, consistency is key. Everyone having the same FOV guarantees an even playing field in terms of peripheral vision.

On the other hand, a game like Overwatch has an FOV slider and is also a competitive game. While I personally don’t find the default FOV in Valorant to be obtrusive, I still want an FOV slider in a PC shooter. Full stop.

Network stability is also pretty damn solid. I’ve never been kicked from a game. The longest queue time I recall is roughly 20 seconds. When compared with the minutes I’ve waited for Overwatch, this is a great change.

One of my friends was disconnected from our match, but upon booting up the game again, he was able to join our match. This was great to see, and I do like that Riot have given serious consideration to this very real-world problem.

I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss sound. Sound plays such a vital role in Valorant, perhaps more than any other game I’ve played. I mentioned the sound design of the guns in the previous section. While the gun sound design is good (but not the best I’ve heard), it’s the ambient contextual sound surrounding your player which is super key.

Specifically, footsteps are literally life and death. Everyone’s footsteps makes a sound. Unlike Overwatch where the tap tap tap of Tracer’s feet contrast heavily with the thomp thomp of Roadhog, everyone’s footsteps in Valorant sound the same. This means the footsteps of your teammates sound identical to the footsteps of your enemies.

This is where communication and the minimap are key. You need to constantly be aware of your surroundings. What makes this even better is that holding down Shift makes you walk, thus muffling your footsteps. You can also crouch walk with Left Ctrl, equally muffling your footsteps.

Enter Shank’s preferred playstyle of stealth and caution. See? This is starting to sound like the perfect Shank game now, isn’t it? Well, not so fast…

Progression, Monetization, Frustration

You’d be forgiven for thinking that based on my review thus far, Valorant is this masterpiece game. Let’s talk about the things which really, really frustrate the hell out of me, shall we? Let’s start with the UI.

Holy hell, the menus in Valorant are a complete mess. The UI design elements themselves (like font, colors, etc.) are rather clean and minimalist. But the way in which the menus are structured, in addition to the counterintuitive ways in which you must navigate them, is just a complete mess.

As an example, let’s look at the weapons screen. This looks relatively clean, right?

However, when you click into a weapon, you’ll immediately notice that nearly the entire screen is dedicated to a model or image of whatever it is you have selected at the bottom. There is no way to filter on just weapon buddies, or just weapon skins, or anything. Everything, everything in Valorant is presented in a single horizontal scrolling list. You cannot filter on anything. That giant model or image taking up the whole screen could be much better utilized with a neat filterable list. Why the hell is an image of a spray or a simple weapon trinket taking up 90% of my screen?

Additionally, when you do unlock cosmetics for your weapon and go to your weapons collection, there is absolutely zero indicator as to which weapon has new unlocks. You simply have to click on each weapon and scroll through the list, or memorize which cosmetic is tied to which weapon, and then select that weapon.

On top of that, in virtually every game, the option to “Go Back” is usually located in the bottom left or top left. Not so in Valorant. The option to “close” the menu you’re looking at is in the top right and is presented with an “X.” But this isn’t simply a regular “X.” It’s as if someone decided a simple “X” which everyone is used to isn’t enough. They had to go and overdesign an X so that you actually have to pause to not only find it, but also to realize that it is indeed an “X.”

This mess of menus carries over to the actual Buy screen in-game. Everything feels so incredibly cluttered. All the weapons are laid out in the center, with the shields on the right, and abilities on the bottom. However, the lines demarcating these sections are either so faint or so subtle that the Buy menu feels like one giant jumbled incoherent mess.

Let’s talk progression. Like the menus and the lack of organization, the overall progression system isn’t without clear direction. This is because, quite frankly, it’s never actually explained. I find this pretty ridiculous.

In short, it works like this: Everyone starting out in Valorant is given a default starter contract. This contract is located as the first circular looking thing in the top left of your menu bar (if you’re already confused, I don’t blame you.)

This starter contract contains 10 tiers. You progress through these tiers in one of two ways. You can either grind the XP by playing the game and completing challenges (indicated by the set of fractions directly left of this contract circle – I know, this is insane), or by outright buying these tiers with VP (more on this in a moment).

You can unlock a new Agent once you hit Tier 5 and Tier 10 in this starter contract. Each Agent has their own contract. Unlocking this agent automatically progresses you to Tier 5 in their contract.

With me so far? Once you complete this starter contract, you can then activate the contract for an agent you’ve already unlocked, or for one you haven’t unlocked. You then grind XP through this contract for cosmetics for your unlocked agent, or to unlock a locked agent.

I mentioned VP, or Valorant Points. This is your microtransaction currency. Valorant is free to play, and thus contains microtransactions (but no loot boxes). You can buy cosmetics with these VP, or you can outright buy Agents for 1000 VP via their contract.

You can also buy the Battle Pass for 1000 VP, which also contains a premium tier and free tier of cosmetics. 1000 VP roughly equates to $10 USD. That’s not all. There is another currency called Radianite. This currency can be earned through the battle pass, or be purchased outright with VP. Radianite is used to evolve certain premium weapon skins. Note, there are no character skins.

This right here is just unnecessarily complex. This level of (in my opinion) deliberate obfuscation is entirely avoidable. I get that you need to have microtransactions if you’re a free to play game. That does not mean you need to make it so damn convoluted.

The fact that there is nothing in-game to clearly explain and indicate how you progress, and how the microtransactions work is just maddening. As the producer of a product, the onus is on you to clearly explain that product to the people to which you intend to use that product – F2P or not.

This lack of clarity is unquestionably my single biggest frustration with Valorant. The worst part is that this could have easily been avoided if simply a trifle more thought went into making these systems more easily understood. I get that F2P lowers the barrier of entry. But if the alternative to a B2P game is this mess of convoluted progression and poorly explained monetization, give me the B2P game.

Conclusion

Valorant then is addicting and off-putting. It is both sublime and obtrusive. It is both nail-bitingly tense and induces hair-pulling frustration.

The moment to moment gameplay is something I genuinely do love. I love that it demands caution and patience. I love that you absolutely must think about each and every move, each and every round. You have a real chance of rallying and grabbing victory.

On the other hand, literally every element outside of gameplay is utterly maddening. The menus lack organization and simple filters. The microtransactions are simply not explained well. Riot also does not clearly communicate the progression system.

Now comes the part where I must assign a number to this review. Honestly, I do love the gameplay. But literally everything else tangential to and surrounding the core gameplay experience is a genuine pain. What’s worse, these pain points have been solved so easily by the games Valorant is so clearly inspired.

It’s a damn shame that these existing easy solutions were simply ignored. A veteran team with the experience and containing the caliber of talent like Riot should simply know better.  I cannot overstate just how much this frustrates me.

Disclosure: Battle Pass was purchased by the author with the author’s own funds.

6.0Okay
Pros
  • Solid core gameplay
  • Sound design is great
  • Extremely performant
Cons
  • Terrible menu design
  • Awful menu navigation
  • Lack of basic filtering features
  • Lack of clear explanation on progression
  • Lack of clear explanation on microtransactions


ShankTheTank

Poorna Shankar

A highly opinionated avid PC gamer, Poorna blindly panics with his friends in various multiplayer games, much to the detriment of his team. Constantly questioning industry practices and a passion for technological progress drive his love for the video game industry. He pulls no punches and tells it like he sees it. He runs a podcast, Gaming The Industry, with fellow writer, Joseph Bradford, discussing industry practices and their effects on consumers.