VALORANT changes the tactical shooter game scene

screen capture of a video game
Gameplay image provided by Bradford Ozuk / the Watchdog

In 2019, Riot Games announced their expansion from League of Legends into several other games over the coming years, most recently including VALORANT, a tactical shooter to challenge the likes of Counter Strike.

Counter Strike: Global Offensive controlled the tactical shooter genre for seemingly forever, maintaining a healthy competitive scene over the last decade. Still, to newcomers it can come across as dated. VALORANT provides the same style of gameplay while feeling more modern.

Tactical shooters generally follow the same formula. At the beginning of the game and each subsequent round, players are given set amounts of money to buy weapons with. If you don’t die that round, you get to keep your loadout. Players can even pick up dead players’ weapons to use as their own without having to spend money on them. From there, the team designated as attackers have to plant a bomb and defend it until it goes off, while the defender team tries to stop them from doing so. The match ends if either team is eliminated as well.

What makes tactical shooters different from other shooters is how little emphasis is put on the gunfighting aspect. The games are built upon finding information and generating an advantage before a single shot is fired. Rather than picking whatever fights you find, players try to only take the fights they know they can win ahead of time.

Where VALORANT builds upon CS:GO is in the unique abilities of different characters, broken into passives, tactical abilities, signature abilities, and ultimate abilities, to help dictate the fights. Overwatch tried a similar method and it ended up being ability-centric with the gunfighting taking a backseat. Riot Games would have to find ways to implement abilities without making Overwatch’s big mistakes, such as too much focus on ability damage and a lack of visual clarity.

The answer to the first option was simple: a vast majority of VALORANT abilities are tactical. Instead of using abilities to finish opponents, the utility came to the forefront of the game. The character Sage functions as a healer, having the ability to heal or even resurrect her teammates. Her other abilities are a massive area-of-effect slow and a wall to close off choke points. The characters Phoenix and Breach both utilize their abilities to blind opponents to gain an upper hand in skirmishes. Sova is the premier recon character, using special arrows to reveal locations for him and his teammates. The lack of ability damage also allows Raze and Jett to find footholds as viable characters on their own. Raze sacrifices the utility for damage in the form of explosives, including a rocket launcher for an ultimate. Jett is more focused on mobility, with multiple dashes and an ultimate that allows her to barrage her enemies with knives.

Don’t let the plethora of abilities fool you. The first game to really change the dynamic of a shooter with characters and abilities was Overwatch, which put the priority entirely on having fun. In contrast, Riot has and is doing their best to make sure VALORANT captures the competitive essence of CS:GO, by keeping most if not all of the shooting mechanics that set tactical shooters apart from other games. Rather than make the game fun, the abilities are in place to enhance the gameplay that could potentially get stale if the game were to exist for several years.

While the skill ceiling for CS:GO shouldn’t be underestimated, the addition for abilities adds a layer of depth to VALORANT that inherently makes it different than its predecessor.  Only time will tell if it’s for better or for worse, but VALORANT has been nothing if not a joy to play. The maps are bright, the characters add a level of personality that CS:GO lacks and it’s relatively easy to get the hang of.

I wouldn’t put it past Riot Games to somehow ruin this opportunity in front of them, but VALORANT has come out the gates fast and if they keep the momentum up we might see a new era of tactical shooters. As of now, VALORANT can only be played by those with a beta key, which can be obtained by lucky viewers of VALORANT streams that have key drops enabled.