Hi-Rez Expo 2018: Hands-on with Paladins Battlegrounds, the game’s new battle royale mode
Paladins got not one but four announcements at this year’s Hi-Rez Expo. There’s a brand-new team death match mode coming as well as new battle cat mounts and a unique new champion. And then there was the biggest news revealing the upcoming Paladins: Battlegrounds.
But announcements only gloss the surface of things, so I sat down with devs to discuss the new modes. Todd Harris, Hi-Rez COO and Paladins Producer, and Erez Goren, Founder and CEO, shared details and answered questions on Team Deathmatch and Paladins: Battlegrounds. I also got to settle in and play a few matches of Battlegrounds. Here’s what I learned in the interviews and my hands-on.
More modes, more options
While developing offshoots on different platforms is all well and good (see Paladins Strike), continuing to expand the offerings in the base game is what builds a player base and encourages attention. And of course Paladins wants to grow. Harris noted that Paladins is popular globally, even popular in regions where SMITE never caught on, but that doesn’t mean the team doesn’t want to see it grow even more. Both Team Deathmatch and Battlegrounds bring something new to the table for current players as well as offer a way for new players to be introduced to the game.
What does Battlegrounds offer current players? On the surface it is just bringing a popular style of gameplay to the shooter using the familiar champions. But it is more than that. Goren discussed how Paladins currently is all action and adrenaline, and no-stop adrenaline mode gets tiring and wears you out. This means that many players will take a break after a time. Battlegrounds, on the other hand, offers an experience with more highs and lows; more mellow activities (running around looking for loot) are then punctuated by intense moments of battle. The burnout from constant intensity is avoided, and this leads to people playing longer.
Goren also believes that Paladins fans are pretty interested in this mode, as shown by the fact that when Fortnite servers go down, Paladins sees a 40-50% increase in players. When that battle royale is gone, folks flock back to the shooter. Devs also expect the mode to attract fans of the battle royale scene, increasing the number of players in the game.
With the win condition of simply a kill count, Team Deathmatch offers players the chance to utilize their favorite characters in a different setting, just racking up kills instead of completing any objective on one of three maps, Magistrates Archive, Foreman’s Rise, and the brand-new Trade District (see gallery below). All your team needs to do is get 40 kills first and you are the victors. This mode is also what will make Paladins more accessible to new players. Harris said,
“[Team Deathmatch] is really designed to be the most accessible mode in Paladins. It’s designed to be kind of a gateway. If you’re coming from another straightforward shooter, you may not want to get your head around items or cards of even team play.”
Instead, you just want to jump in, learn a champion, and get kills. Of course, as you get to know the champions and enjoy playing them, you may want to branch out into other modes, and you start participating in more of what Paladins has to offer.
Bring on the Battlegrounds
Harris and Goren delved deeper into the why and how of Battlegrounds. In a nutshell, Battlegrounds allows players to use their same Paladins champions in an open, survival-esque, over-the-top random experience. Players go in and choose their weapon and load out like any other mode. Items, however, are dropped in the match instead of purchased in the credit store.
Goran explained that although people had fun in the first survival mode in Paladins, anyone who died was stuck until the match was over. That was decidedly unfun, which is why that mode disappeared’ players loved playing it, but hated the wait. In the battle royal battlegrounds, as soon as you or your team dies, you can leave and queue up for another game, eliminating that trapped waiting experience.
That wasn’t the only aspect of Paladins of yore to resurface. Remember the thrill of getting a phenomenal card randomly in a match? Harris described how Battlegrounds brings back that feeling from early development. While that was way too much RNG based for a competitive game, RNG works very well in this mode. Now, the RNG — and the thrill of finding something spectacular — happens with loot drops. The fun moments that came with getting something legendary that was taken out for the competitive modes are back in with battlegrounds. He said,
“Some of the initial feelings that we used to have in Paladins are brought back in this mode where we used to have much larger maps, and much more random cards, and it was really really fun to play — except that it is not good from a competitive seat. “
As Goran noted, finding and looting really strong stuff is exciting. So are the drops in Battlegrounds that good? The drops are what make the game! “What we’re trying to do in our version of [this mode] is actually make those drops even more meaningful than any of the other type of battle royal games,” Goren explained. “In ours you really find over-the-top drops so you can really have those hero moments at the end.”
Harris emphasized how Battlegrounds allows the game to serve multiple audiences, allowing players to have over-the-top random fun while still keeping the competitive play balanced. Knowing that the unbound card system is a concern, I asked if that would be a part of Battlegrounds; he confirmed that yes, this mode will use the unbound card system. However, he also emphasized that the cards won’t have as much of an impact as the over-the-top legendary items that are looted within the map. “The strength of even the highest-level cards is very, very small compared to the items that you get in the game when you find them,” he told me. “[Although] you do bring your stats in, when you are finding legendaries that are a 100% damage buff in the match, you see that makes a lot more difference than even level 10 cards.”
The unbound system was specifically made in order to facilitate having these different modes. Harris stated, “When we originally did the unbound system it was around having some modes that are super, super constrained and fair, and others that are just more over the top.”
Worried about your favorite character not working well in Battlegrounds? Goren noted that while the team initially thought certain characters might be the dominating powerhouses, that didn’t play out in testing. Most all characters have shown to be viable — although admittedly some are better than others in this mode. He emphasized, “We don’t want to change the core Paladins game in order to make this mode work.” And with the cards and legendary loot, they didn’t have to.
Although your favorite characters may not be available to play depending on the RNG of the day (more on that in a bit), cards and legendary drops allow the devs to balance the characters for a specific mode instead of having to alter the make-up of the characters themselves. “We can help the balance a lot with cards; that’s one of the really nice things. We can set some cards to be better for one mode vs. another versus the characters being better or worse, so you can still play your favorite characters,” Harris said.
Although it looks like a new game spin off (it even gets its own special title, Paladins: Battlegrounds), Battlegrounds will be just another mode available for all Paladins players within the base game. Once it was announced, I looked forward to was getting into Battlegrounds to try it out. I had the chance to play a few matches to try and get an initial feel for the mode. And now that I’ve played a little, I am really looking forward to seeing the mode fleshed out and getting back in to play more.
My first match was not the most pleasant one. There are only eight champions to choose from — two per role. (Harris assured me that of the two options one of the choices in each role will always be a free champion so anyone can play their preferred role). Of the eight, not a single one was a character I felt comfortable with! There was one that I had tried a while back, but I apparently had one I had never before tried auto selected for me. So here I was dumped in a new experience on a new champion (Androxus if you are curious). Even worse, I was in third-person mode, which I totally hadn’t expected. Yes, I died pretty quickly when our team went head-to-head with another.
The second round I had way more fun. I chose a character I knew a little better (and I remembered to press C to move back to first person) and our team went on the hunt for treasure chests to gather loot. Near the end I died to the encroaching fog because I couldn’t outrun it. Be sure to keep an eye on your map for that, as the fog didn’t feel as easy to discern in game yet.
We actually scored pretty high up the rankings on the next match, where I got to play a healer I was familiar with as well as find a legendary item! Our downfall came when we engaged a another team, only to have two more teams appear and join the fray against us. (I can only assumed they immediately turned on each other after we died.)
One interesting mechanic that I don’t feel like I got to really try was the chicken death. The devs discussed how they wanted to promote teamplay with a limited resurrection mechanic, so players who lose all their health are turned into a chicken. Nearby teammates can revive the chicken, or enemies can kill the chicken to eliminate the player. Why a chicken? I learned it was because Founder Erez Goren loves chickens! The only problem is neither myself or a teammate seemed to have any time to test out the rez mechanic before becoming chickens as well. Maybe next time.
I personally felt at quite a disadvantage in the mode because I have experience with and feel comfortable with only a very small number of champions. Sometimes I was just out of luck with the choices. Harris told me that yes, the idea is to encourage people to try more characters. This could be positive in that folks will find something new they love to play, but it can also be negative if there is no fun because of constant deaths. If you don’t like any champion in one match, you won’t have to wait more than a day for a new set of choices. Harris said it was undecided so far whether selection would change for each match, but he did assure me that it will change at least daily.
Will I continue to play Battlegrounds after the convention? Yes. I have to admit that devs are pretty spot on about the excitement of finding legendaries. Harris said, “A lot of the replayability of Battlegrounds mode is you might get lucky [finding great loot] one match and you might not get as lucky another match.” I also identified with Goren so much when he described how when he sees a shiny loot chest he just has to run and get it! Oh, I know that feeling well! He even described how he couldn’t even fathom how another dev was just sitting at a legendary drop killing everyone who came for it instead of looting it (and admitting that is why the other dev wins when he himself does not!).
Just a few matches wasn’t enough, even in its unfinished state. I am looking forward to playing more. Can’t wait to get in and try this mode for yourself? The devs have a goal of having Battlegrounds in players’ hands (at least beta) by end of this quarter, meaning by the end of March. I’ll see you there!