The modern era is peculiar. Technology is overly complex, poorly constructed, and unreliable. Engineered obsolescence is built into the gadgets we buy, and consumers are cajoled into purchasing ever more expensive warranties for systems that are designed to fail. Video games are no different. Server architecture, reliability, and gameplay have been sliding ever downward as developers publish early access titles and betas that will never be finished with bugs that will never be fixed. When something as carefully curated and as well-developed as Valorant emerges, it’s almost a shock to the system.
The worst part about being an older PC gamer has been watching the industry slide backward in terms of input-latency, server lag, and tick rate. In the past, when a game released with a tick rate lower 64 hertz it was derided, chastised, and humiliated – and rightfully so. But the consoleification of PC style shooters has enabled developers to lazily release games with abysmal 20 to 30 server tick rates. Thinking back, I can only remember a few recently released shooters that had launched with a decent tick rate. Overwatch, Blizzards competitive squad-based shooter, launched with a tick rate of 20 hertz before updating it to 60 after player complaints. In contrast, Riot’s new competitive shooter Valorant has sprung into closed beta with a stellar 128-hertz tick rate.
Tick rate refers to the frequency that a server processes updates. A 20 tick server updates the game-state 20 times a second, 64 tick updates the game-state 64 times a second, and so on. A higher tick rate with a properly implemented netcode should translate to more responsive gameplay and lower overall input latency. For a competitive shooter, having a lower tick rate should be a cornerstone of the gameplay experience as it results in a more stable connectivity and input latency experience, which makes gunfights less prone to lag and connectivity issues. For high-level FPS players, this results in fewer fights lost to latency issues and things like peaker’s advantage.
Another paradox with recent shooters has been that, as visual fidelity has increased, enemy visibility has decreased. Graphics quality increases focus almost exclusively on what is in the gameplay environment. Foliage, wall textures, and ground textures are high resolution, but the enemy character – the only thing that a player absolutely needs to see – is a low-resolution fuddled mess that blends in with shadows, foliage, and wall textures. For example, shadows cast by a nearby tree in the middle of a sunny day in Escape from Tarkov are visibility black holes. In Call of Duty: Warzone, shadows have severe transitional issues. They become darker, depending on how far away you are from whatever is casting the shadow. In certain portions of the map, players sitting in a shadow in a poorly lit building are invisible until you step forward a few inches, and magically, like someone flicked a light on, the shadows peels back, and the enemy pops into view. Often, these lighting and graphics issues result in deaths that would not have happened if the game had implemented reasonable visibility standards.
None of these issues are present in Valorant. Player models are distinct from background textures. There are no unnecessary shadow or lighting issues that impact enemy visibility. The game is absent the aliasing issues found in so many other games that produce the dreaded screen-door effect. Valorant’s servers are also remarkably stable, and in several dozen hours of gameplay, I haven’t experienced any latency or server issues.
Valorant’s gameplay and gunplay are similar to those found in CS:GO. Two teams of five players each take turns in a bomb-plant game mode, where one side must plant a bomb to destroy an object, and the opposing team must defend the site and diffuse the bomb if the enemy team manages to plant it. Guns feature significant recoil and movement-based inaccuracy, which raises the skill-ceiling significantly for Valorant players.
Skill gap compression refers to the tendency for certain developers to mitigate skill-based advantages. The intent is to make the game accessible to a wider audience by lowering the amount of time and practice required for a novice player to be able to succeed in a game. The intent is to boost the player base, but the paradox of skill-gap compression is that as a game becomes easier, it suffers longevity issues. Winning a fight begins to feel random, and more skilled players, who typically invest more time in establishing communities leave for more rewarding games. Three of the top shooters on Twitch are currently skill-based FPS games with minimal skill-gap compression.
In Valorant, players that practice controlling a gun’s recoil have an advantage over players that sprint around and wildly fire their guns. Valorant, CS:GO, and Fortnite all have a high skill-ceiling, and earlier in the year, Escape from Tarkov, which is a complicated niche shooter, skyrocketed in popularity because of its uncompromising gameplay. The one exception to this is Warzone, which features some rather extreme aim-assist for console players. However, Call of Duty games typically spike in popularity, followed by a larger exodus of players, at least on PC, where gamers get bored of the skill gap compression found in COD games. For the developers, this exodus is largely irrelevant as they release Call of Duty titles very frequently, but for games following the free-to-play model, where developers expect repeat revenue from cosmetics sales, a game’s longevity is directly tied to profit.
uncontrolled recoil vs manually controlled recoil
Valorant features different playable characters, each with their own unique set of abilities. Like guns, abilities can be purchased at the beginning of every round for money. Characters can summon ice walls to slow enemy progress, shrouds of smoke, wind, or poison to obscure portions of the map from view, or cast spells which can damage or kill enemy players. Each character has a unique set of abilities and a unique role and playstyle.
Valorant is one of the best competitive first-person shooters released in the past ten years. Perhaps the only criticism that can be directed toward the gameplay is that it borrows a great deal from Counter-Strike’s recoil and gunplay patterns. For most Counter-Strike fans, the recoil, movement, and gunplay will feel very familiar. But it is precisely these similarities that initially attracted me to the game, as I can’t think of a recent shooter that has featured Counter-Strike inspired gunplay combined with excellent game and server architecture. I never expected Riot to be capable of delivering such a high-quality skill-based competitive shooter. As their first foray into the first-person shooter genre, Valorant is an unmitigated success that will supplant titles by more experienced and lauded shooter developers. Valorant is a high-quality, competitive first-person shooter, and I cannot recommend it enough to fans of the genre.