On April 26th 2018, Epic Games turned off the servers for their free-to-play third-person MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), Paragon, after only two short years. While the game did manage to build a fervent community during that time, the number of concurrent players just wasn’t enough to sustain ongoing development, and this was unfortunately impacted by the huge (and largely unexpected) success of Fortnite Battle Royale. Given that game’s unprecedented success, Epic needed to shift resources from one project to another, and unfortunately, something had to give. Long live Paragon.
What WAS Paragon?
Paragon was officially announced on November 3rd 2015, and the first gameplay trailer debuted at PlayStation Experience in the same year. Pay-to-play early access began on PC in March the following year, offering multiple payment tiers that offered players currency boosters and access to an increasing number of the game’s heroes, depending on the tier purchased. Soon also released to PS4, Paragon entered open beat in August 2016, at which point it also went free-to-play (although the packs were still available for purchase for those after a boost). Strangely, Paragon was never released to Xbox One, presumably due to an exclusivity agreement with Sony, but no reason was ever given for this over the course of the game’s lifetime.
The original release (at early access) had 13 characters, and this grew to 20 by the time the game was released into open beta. At the time the servers were turned off, there were 36 heroes available to unlock. In total, there were 3 maps – the original, Legacy of Agora, was replaced by Monolith in December 2016, and remained the only playable map until the servers were shut down. The third map, Origin, was only ever used in the Tutorial.
The game itself was a MOBA through and through but played out in third-person, not unlike Hi Rez Studios’ Smite. For those new to MOBA’s, these games put players into an arena with two distinct sides, each with their own “core” structure. Two teams of 5 players, starting on opposing sides of the map, battle along distinct “lanes”, destroying towers, defeating enemy minions, capturing camps, and recruiting mercenaries – with a goal to destroy the opposing team’s core. Each player chooses a character from a pool, each with their own distinct abilities, and players often have the capability to upgrade further within a match itself, gradually becoming more and more powerful in ways that best suit a player’s playstyle. Many MOBA’s are played using an overhead perspective (League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm are two standouts), while Paragon used a third-person over-the-shoulder perspective.
The biggest way that Paragon differentiated itself was via the use of cards and gems. Rather than having a static upgrade route per character (as per the competition), Paragon players could unlock cards, each with their own specific boons to several different variables. Players could increase their healing rate while out of battle, for example, or increase the speed at which they regenerate energy to be used for abilities. The cards could then be built into a deck used for specific purposes – with players using gold acquired in battle to essentially purchase access to a card. Each card itself could also be assigned points, essentially upgrading their effect on a player during a match. In addition to card decks, players could also find and equip gems, basically augmenting their chosen hero by applying buffs or passives.
Realistically, the above highly simplifies Paragon’s approach to MOBA gameplay, but I guess it doesn’t matter that much now anyway. Suffice it to say that the game had a complex structure that the community loved.
A second way in which Paragon differentiated itself was in its presentation. Few games are as gorgeous as Paragon, from its menus to its character models, everything about the game was absolute perfection. Even given the relative simplicity of the maps themselves, just the sheer beauty of the character models made the game a joy to behold. I can’t even think of a full-price AAA title that impressed me as much, so kudos to the developers (and particularly to the Art Design Lead).
Updates and Community Interaction?
Maintaining a live service game such as this is hard work. On the one hand, you need to work hard to iterate, to improve, and to add content, and Epic made grand promises from the very start, promising to release a new character every three weeks. While this cadence wasn’t strictly adhered to, the addition of 23 characters during the game’s 24-month lifecycle (from early access to early demise) demonstrates that they weren’t too far off the mark. However, on top of this, you also need to keep the community happy – keep them coming back for more and encourage them to bring their friends.
Here, Epic was less successful. Keeping a large group of opinionated players happy is no easy task, as everyone has their own personal preference, and in some ways, Epic dropped the ball. This wasn’t a constant throughout development, as they did try to maintain communication via forums and Reddit, but by and large, the community often felt that they were just too quiet. This is a relatively common reaction among many live service communities, but as this style of game is new, it’s a learning experience, and overall, I think Epic did a solid job for the most part (not so much in the last few months, though, as I guess there was some internal turmoil).
The final update was v.45 (released in February 2018), which represented the 45th significant update. Many of these updates added new events or characters, but there were a few very major updates over the course of the live game that changed core mechanics and processes – those major updates that were released occasionally divided the community.
In September 2017, for example, changes to the contents of the purchasable packs had the community in an uproar, as they were considered pay-to-win. In retrospect, given the new packs contained chests (aka loot boxes), which awarded cards and gems, they were probably right to be upset.
The Monolith update (which released in December 2016) made several major changes to the game itself – from the speed of the game’s pacing, to the card and gem system, to the very map itself. Overall, it was a huge improvement to the game, and in fact is the reason I picked it up initially myself. However, it also was much debated within the community, for various reasons – much of this was around the simplification of the game’s card system, as long-term players of any game do tend to enjoy complexity. I guess change is hard when you’ve put many hours into an existing system. Of course, with that said, the Monolith update also represented the biggest leap in growth for the game, and resulted in its peak of 5 million players, although of course that dropped off steadily over time soon afterwards, particularly following the release of Fortnite‘s Battle Royale mode.
With a peak of 5 million active players, it’s no surprise that the announcement that the servers would be shut down was met with surprise and sadness from the community. Within the last week, YouTube was flooded with videos from prominent and not-so-prominent content creators alike, all expressing their grief over the loss of what was a very competent video game. Some of these, I’ve posted below.
Now, the servers are off, so the game can only live on through these images and videos, and in the hearts and memories of its players. Generously, everyone that purchased anything during Paragon’s lifetime was offered a full refund – a highly respectable move. On top of this, Epic decided to release the game’s assets for free, so we may see these employed somewhere else soon enough (to be clear, they only released the assets that amounted to what was released at the game’s open beta, but even this amounts to around $12 million worth of assets). Also, whether in tribute or in the interests of trying to catch the community before it disappears, a somewhat unknown developer, Visionary Games, has appeared from nowhere with the promise to honour the memory of Paragon, and release a MOBA of their own. What they’ve shown off so far appears to be doing far more than simply honouring the game, but I guess there’s no harm now that development on Paragon has ceased.
So, whether you were a fan of Paragon, or if you simply read this article to understand what the game was a little better, spare a thought for those that dedicated years of their life to the game. For many individuals, this was their life, and it’s over now before it really had a chance to spread its wings. Sad really, although we can take heart in the knowledge that the whole team was brought over to Fortnite, so nobody lost their job (to my knowledge). In fact, some of the tech that was created in Paragon has already been deployed to Fortnite (replays, anyone?), so some good has come from its demise.
*Hat tip* Farewell, Paragon! It was fun while it lasted!