Valorant review: Riot’s first shooter venture is an instant hit

valorantRiot Games / Dexerto

Valorant emerges as a serious contender in the free-to-play space with memorable Agents, satisfying gunplay, and a promising future. 

When it comes to excellent free-to-play titles, Riot Games is a proven expert in the arena. From League of Legends’ release in 2009, the company has continued to tweak its formula and offerings to attract a wide variety of players. With Valorant, Riot has proven it can bring that very same type of expertise to a completely different genre: the competitive first-person shooter.

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Combining the “characters with multiple abilities” gimmick with the satisfying Counter-Strike formula was a winning move indeed, as Valorant is one of the most exciting shooters of the year, and one that anyone looking for a new title to scratch that itch should no doubt pay attention to.

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Valorant review: Learning the ropes

Test your skills at The Range in Valorant when you first jump in.Riot Games
Test your skills at The Range in Valorant when you first jump in.

The first time you jump into Valorant, you’re filtered into The Range — a map created specifically for new Agents to get acclimated with the game’s ins and outs. Instead of forcing players into a trial by fire, Riot Games opted to make it mandatory to equip newbies with a working baseline of knowledge about how to play. When first loaded up, The Range requires Agents to practice shooting targets and bots, then hone their headshot skills with a quick test down on The Shooting Range.

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There are opportunities to test out a variety of different weapons as well before jumping into the game proper. But if you feel like you need some additional training in this area, you can always return via the game’s Practice Mode to play around in the Open Range. Here you can take out some bots with the Shooting Test area, practice your spike maneuvers with Spike Planting, and become an even better asset to each match’s defense with Spike Defuse mode.

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The game does ensure that you’re properly equipped to make a splash when you start playing with others, but it’s up to you to get that additional practice in if you don’t feel confident that you’re ready for prime time.

Valorant review: Simple yet complex

Racking up kills in Valorant is extremely satisfying.Riot Games
Racking up kills in Valorant is extremely satisfying.

Valorant’s main game mode is a simple riff on competitive play you’ve likely seen in your favorite multiplayer title. Two teams of five players hit the field, with one group on Attack and the other on Defense, in a bid to plant the ‘Spike’ at one of their ‘Reactor Sites’ throughout four different maps (at the time of release). At the beginning of each round, the Buying Phase lets you spend currency earned throughout the match on new weapons, armor, and abilities. You can alternatively save up for the next round if there’s a particularly expensive item that you want to use.

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The offensive team works to plant the Spike, while the defensive team aims to defuse the planted Spike. Of course, either team can prevent this by straight-up brawling their way through rounds. After 12 rounds, the teams swap places, with the first team to win 13 rounds taking the match. Because of this, the main mode can begin to feel a bit tedious at times — especially if you’re strapped for time.

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The buying phase of each round in Valorant lets you select the equipment you want to use.Riot Games
The buying phase of each round in Valorant lets you select the equipment you want to use.

Enter Spike Rush. This mode picks up the pace on the more traditional counterpart. Every Attacking player gets their own Spike to plant, with teams only needing four rounds instead of 13. But there are far more differences to heed as well… Though detonating a Spike or defeating all players on the other team means victory, there are changes to the way players obtain weapons, armor, and abilities.

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At the start of each round, you and your teammates are assigned a weapon at random; whether it’s a Shotgun or an SMG. There are Orbs that award different effects scattered around the maps, which offer a fantastic variation that isn’t offered in Spike Defuse. You might get a damage boost through Damage Amp, or you might activate Crippling Decay which reduces all enemy health for a certain duration.

It’s an all-out scramble to claim Orbs before the other side, which gives a real “deathmatch” feel to the match while still maintaining the focus on the objective at its core. Each game lasts between 8-12 minutes, and for that, it’s a great alternative to the more structured and rigid play offered by Spike Defuse.

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Valorant review: Agents of every stripe

Jett has a variety of useful abilities, including multiple knives she can throwRiot Games
Jett has a variety of useful abilities, including multiple knives she can throw.

Each Agent offers their own special abilities, a la Overwatch or Apex Legends. While the characters themselves aren’t as memorable as those in either of the games Valorant is clearly influenced by, they still hold their own in battle. From the boisterous Raze, who can send out seek-and-destroy bots that explode on contact, to the zippy Jett, who can dash from location to location. No matter your play style, there’s an Agent that should satisfy.

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Whichever Agent you pick will remain who you’re saddled with throughout an entire match. If you don’t fancy a 45-minute game using the same set of abilities with a new Agent you may not have tried before, this could be a potential annoyance. For that reason, you might be inclined to test out new Agents with the shorter Spike Rush mode instead.

Agents come packing their own special Ultimate Ability, which charges as you perform certain actions or pick up Orbs that are dotted around the map. There’s also a Signature Ability you’ll get each round. Two additional abilities may be purchased during the buying phase of each round, which you can use at any point throughout the round.

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Phoenix's Riot Games
Phoenix’s “Run it Back” ability is indispensable, given that it grants you a placebo life!

There are certain Agents who feel universally effective, such as Sova with his Recon Bolt. A well-placed shot can reveal the location of enemies, which almost always inevitably means there’s usually a Sova in each team for that coveted ability alone.

Phoenix‘s Ultimate, aptly named ‘Run it Back,’ allows you to place a marker at a particular location, then go in all guns blazing or run up and plant a Spike. When the timer runs out, or Phoenix is eliminated, the ability will bring Phoenix back to the marked location with full health and reloaded weapons. It’s like a do-over that can get you out of several sticky situations, almost as if you’re sending out a decoy. A real game-changer and a nice change of pace.

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Similarly, Sage can heal teammates and even bring them back to life. When there’s only one life granted per round, this is an invaluable skill that empowers players to make riskier moves — as long as teams are coordinating their movements. She’s also a fantastic offensive character, especially since she has unique abilities that aren’t found with other Agents. Her Sentinel counterpart, Cypher, also brings some savvy abilities to the table with his array of gadgets: offering a nice change of pace to the action.

Cypher's Tripwire can be a great way to turn the tides of battle.Riot Games
Cypher’s Trapwire can be a great way to catch your opponents off-guard when on the Defense.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing in the way of game lore for each of the Agents, which is odd since they’re such vibrant, intriguing individuals. If you’re aching to learn more about them, you’ll be a bit disappointed — there isn’t a complicated backstory for each Agent, which feels odd in a climate where players want to eat up personalities like the sprightly Tracer from Overwatch or confident Loba of Apex Legends.

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If it’s story you’re looking for, it comes mainly in the form of vague references and occasional voice lines where the Agents’ personalities are given a chance to shine. There’s definitely potential for character development here. With that said, each Agent brings something unique to the table with their quips. Whether it be the way they interact with their fellow Agents, the opposing team or after winning a clutch situation, you really feel immersed in the gameplay from the character interplay alone.

Valorant review: Satisfying gunplay

Securing a team win in Valorant always feels good.Riot Games
Securing a team win in Valorant always feels good.

The most important aspect of Valorant, however, is gunplay. Each bullet connects with its target with a satisfying thud, while every weapon comes with its own unique recoil and bullet spread to master. Headshots are king, as body shots won’t earn you a quick kill. You’ll learn how to adjust each gun’s mode and rate of fire to deliver a shot to the dome each time, but this will take time as you practice with each weapon you purchase.

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It’s rewarding in a way that few games are, since many include weapons that feel largely the same. If you down an enemy in Valorant, it’s because you meant to do it. It feels like a system created in stark contrast to games like Call of Duty… While both titles’ mechanics are effective, those interested in refining their accuracy and aim will gravitate more toward Valorant.

Valorant review: Free-to-play finesse

A sampling of what you can purchase in Valorant.Riot Games
A sampling of what you can purchase in Valorant.

The game’s free-to-play trappings don’t feel predatory or excessive. When you first jump in, you can choose from a selection of five Agents, but you must unlock the rest by way of earning XP through playing matches and activating Agent Contracts. You can opt to purchase Riot’s premium currency called ‘Valorant Points’ (VP), if the grind gets too tedious, with each character level costing 200 VP to unlock.

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That means you’d need to spend about $10 per Agent if you prefer the fast route, making it $60 to complete your roster. Keep in mind that it only takes a few matches in the beginning to unlock a new character, and you’ll get a second choice after that at Level 10.

The game is fair in terms of allowing unlocks, so these purchases never feel like a necessity… but they’re there if you’re interested. Additionally, there’s a Battle Pass available, which comes in two variations. The free version offers limited rewards, whereas the Premium iteration will grant you special weapon skins, player banners, Gun Buddies (charms for your guns) and sprays in exchange for grinding through the levels. These are fun ways to make each Agent feel more like ‘yours,’ but these cosmetics don’t add anything other than a bit of panache to each match.

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Valorant review: Playing for valor

Spike Rush matches can be short and sweet.Riot Games
Spike Rush matches are short and sweet.

Final verdict: Exceeds expectations (9/10)

Valorant is a deceptively simple ballet of bullets and mayhem. Though it will undoubtedly take a bit of time for newbies and players gravitating to the game from other shooters to find their feet, it’s a game that’s incredibly difficult to put down. Sooner or later you’ll find that you’re sucked deeply into that “one more game” trap… But in this case, it’s a good place to be.

Of course, as Riot Games continues to add new content to its Future Earth over time, it’s only poised to continue improving. As it is, it’s an absolutely excellent game to get in on the ground floor with and a no-brainer for shooter fans. Aside from sprinkling a little more character lore (which will no doubt come over time), this game ticks all the right boxes.

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