The final reveal at a video game keynote is an honor usually only given to titles that will elicit a large amount of excitement. At the Playstation Experience in 2015, this privilege was given to Paragon. A new MOBA by Epic Games that aimed to be more ambitious than anything else in the genre. But now, less than 3 years later, Paragon servers are shutting down forever. Without the game having ever left open beta.
The first, and perhaps most fatal, mistake that Epic made was the very feature that attracted so many to Paragon in the first place; its graphics. Here at the end, one of the few things that most people can agree on is how beautiful the game looked, especially in comparison to other MOBAs. But to the dismay of Epic, there might actually be a very good reason for Paragon’s competition to look as dated as they do. Whether it is intentional or not, the visuals of other MOBAs granted something incredibly important for growth; the ability to make changes very quickly.
With Paragon looking as stunning as it did, Epic Games had a much more difficult time making changes, and developing the game in general, at a healthy pace. Anything from map adjustments, to character balancing (if visual effects were added), would take a significant amount of time. In one of the last major updates, V44, changes were made to the Jungle area of the map that Epic later revealed “took several months to complete”. This was not a complete overhaul of the jungle by any means, but it still took an obnoxious amount of time to develop.
The nature of MOBAs in general, especially ones still in beta, means that new characters, balancing, map changes, and more all have to be introduced swiftly. Of course, with any MOBA, mistakes are going to be made along the way. So it is imperative that any issues be handled in a reasonable amount of time. Paragon’s visuals, as appealing as they were, ensured that Epic could simply not keep up.
But Paragon suffered from plenty of gameplay related issues as well, with the card system, in particular, working hard to make sure new players didn't stick around too long. Every MOBA has some sort of shop where players can buy items during a match that give beneficial effects. But Epic, determined to be needlessly unique, came up with cards. Where, instead of an item shop, players would build decks of cards to use during a match.
Many loved it, some hated it, but the problem with cards wasn’t how they worked during actual gameplay, it was how they were distributed. Other than the starter decks, every card had to be earned by playing the game. While not apparent to Paragon veterans, this was a legitimate problem for new players, and only served to turn away many that were interested enough to give the game a chance.
The week before Epic officially announced the end of Paragon, they made very clear that player retention was their biggest problem. Without a doubt, the card system was, at the very least, partially responsible. If a new player wanted to do research on how to play a specific character, they would quickly find themselves lost, as the deck recommendations would contain cards largely not found in the starter decks. And with no idea on what to substitute those missing cards with, it was very easy to get frustrated. Even veteran MOBA players thought the whole system to be ridiculous, turned off by the idea that something more than skill would separate players.
And it might not have been so bad if the distribution was the only problem with Paragon’s card system. But in August of last year, after a lengthy development period, Epic introduced a major update to the card system that aimed to fix all of its problems. The goal was to make cards easier to understand, as well as more significant during play. It was a great idea that, if it had been successful, would have brought a much needed breath of fresh air to a game that could desperately use it. But within a week of the update, it became very clear that Epic had, in their usual style, only made things worse.
With Epic wanting to give each card a more significant effect, the library of over 100 cards proved too difficult to balance. Many characters became extremely over-powered, being able to nuke other players in an instant. And attack speed could also be could be raised to a level that resulted in an absurd power level with animations to match. This, again, all comes back to not giving players every card to start. If Epic didn’t need a large number of cards for players to chase, they could simply have introduced a much more modest card roster that would have been easier to manage.
Unfortunately, the card system wasn't the only piece of Paragon that Epic would make worse by trying to improve it. The map itself being the largest (literally) example. The original Paragon map, now referred to as Legacy, was loved by a tremendous amount of players. It was, of course, beautiful, but it was also big, mostly well designed, and very much deserving of being a battlefield for champions. Time would prove, though, that it had its own fair share of problems.
It all came down to its size. Because Legacy was so big, Epic saw fit to include a travel mode that increased the player’s speed outside of combat, something that did more harm than good. Players could easily escape attacking opponents, quickly move back and forth between lanes, and more. MOBAs are all about risk and reward, and travel mode took all of the risk out of matches. It wasn't working. The only solution, Epic concluded, was an entirely new map.
After, again, spending a shocking number of man-hours in development, Epic introduced Monolith. This next part may sound familiar, as Monolith was designed to fix all of Legacy’s problems, but ended up failing in a way that only made things worse. The biggest changes that came with Monolith included the removal of travel mode, one of the few decisions I actually commend Epic for, a map size reduction of about 30%, and a base movement speed increase for all characters. The last two changes continue to baffle me to this day.
Legacy’s problems boiled down to the map being too big and characters being too slow to traverse it without a travel mode. Something that, again, had to go. But with Monolith having a reduced size AND increasing character speed, it ended up going too far in the other direction. Players could, yet again, move around the map so quickly that there was very little risk in switching lanes. And it didn’t help that many fans of Paragon hated the new map and how the openness of Legacy was replaced by claustrophobic lanes walled off from the rest of the arena.
For those, like me, that have watched the development of Paragon since the closed beta, it is easy to see how foolish Epic has been in the development of their MOBA. But even still, they had something that many developers don’t; a loyal fan base that truly cared about the game and wanted to see it succeed. From newbies to veterans, Epic had no shortage of players that gave constant feedback. But, despite what they say, Epic never actually listened to that feedback, throwing away the very advice that could have saved their game.
Unless Epic had already planned on making a certain change or addition to Paragon, they rarely, if ever, listened to their players. From match length, to tower damage, to movement speed, to card changes. Epic, even when their game was falling apart, would do nothing but dig in their heels, cover their ears, and ignore everything their fans would tell them. Often pointing to “statistics and data” as an excuse for their hardheadedness. I can’t even describe how frustrating it was to see them talk as if they had done everything they could to save their, game when they actually never even began to try.
So let’s be clear about something. Making video games is hard. Even if a developer pours their heart and soul into a game and makes all of the right decisions, failure is still a possibility. But this isn’t what happened with Paragon. The death of Paragon lies squarely on Epic’s shoulders. A game that had promise and potential, killed by the incompetence and stubbornness of Epic Games.