Riot certainly said all the right words when it announced Valorant to the world. This is the ‘Age of Marketing,’ of course, so beware the bluster of a company claiming to solve decades-old technical problems like peeker’s advantage and online aimbots. But even just mentioning the words is a positive sign — at least we know they’re aware of it? Perhaps Riot will at least throw its weight at the right priorities?
Valorant is 80% Counter-Strike and 20% Overwatch, despite looking like the latter. Arrow Man’s arrows still bounce off walls and his ultimate is very similar, Ice Wall Lady still raises her breakable Ice Walls, and the new character is highly reminiscent of Swimsuit Sniper. But under the hood, the clear parallels to all the Counter-Strike weapons, map layouts, utility, economy, bomb defusal mode, and even recoil patterns, means this plays like a mod or gaiden for Valve’s persistent esports juggernaut.
While graphically superior shooters come and go, it all comes back to Counter-Strike. We’ve been playing it for 20 years, it’s still breaking its own records for concurrent player counts, and Riot knows longevity can be monetised.
Because beyond the question of fun, the main thing you want to know in a shooter like this is, is it worth your time mastering it?
Bullets and Abilities
In Valorant, you buy guns at the start of each round, as well as your character’s abilities — the latter of which persists across rounds if unused. Heroes can’t be switched, which instantly puts more weight on the character picking phase. Whereas in CS you essentially pick your class at the start of each round with your buy, in Valorant you have fewer options to switch up your strategy mid-match. If you’re light on abilities that obstruct sight, and they buy heavy snipers, you’ve got a serious problem to solve.
There are lots of quality of life improvements, such as being able to request a weapon by right-clicking it, which a teammate can then one-click buy for you. There’s a practice mode where you can get the hang of bullet sprays, and a ping system for spotting guns or enemies. All of which are nice to have.
Counter-strafing to settle a weapon’s accuracy is more forgiving in Valorant than CSGO, and bullet spray patterns are easier to master, albeit the same actual patterns. It’s fascinating to think that a bunch of random numbers typed into code by Gooseman 20 years ago, with no rhyme or reason, would become industry standard for static recoil patterns.
In Valorant they’ve made these patterns repeat themselves — after a set number of bullets they’ll sway back and forth, making it more feasible to shut down an angle with one of the heavy weapons. It’s early days, but already players are starting to combine enemy detection abilities with precise sprays through walls. While it’s much easier than CSGO, that’s a welcome gameplay dynamic, since the machine guns of Counter-Strike were always a “joke” weapon.
Some will mock Valorant for having a lower skill ceiling, but it’s important to not assess the gunplay or the abilities (or anything else for that matter) in a vacuum. Forgiving gunplay isn’t a failing of the game — we may arrive at a place where the speedy bomb boosts and sight-obscuring trickery makes up for the lack in mechanical complexity.
Perhaps there’s less nuance in wide-peeking an angle to counter-snipe, but more opportunities to zoom past their line of sight, nullifying their angle. In CSGO, movement is always in service of gunplay, either to isolate an enemy or to calm your weapon’s angry inaccuracy. In Valorant, movement is its own, independent skill.
In that sense, the overall skill ceiling may not have been lowered. Just…moved.
I expect there to be a degree of mind games involved with that movement, too. We aren’t seeing it yet, but players may opt to use area denial on a popular spot for a boost or teleport, in anticipation of that ability. Should you plant your trap at the entry point, or the spot you know they’ll land after the new boost that did the rounds on Reddit and Youtube? There’s enough here for a healthy meta.
Will all of that make Valorant as balanced and exciting for spectators as CSGO? Time will tell — my guess is no, but I’ll gladly eat my words when the meta is mature. It’ll certainly be fun watching while the pros figure it all out.
Maps and things
Like much of Valorant, the map design is straight from the CSGO hivemind. Quite literally — Riot poached FMPone, designer of de_cache, to make a map for them. There’s a lot to like here, and clearly the priorities were in the right place. All the flourish and detail is reserved for the elevated portions of the map that don’t see much action, whereas the corners, catwalks, and ramps below are made of no-nonsense, clean, straight lines.
These maps have the same layout as CSGO’s Cache, Dust 2, and Mirage, albeit each one has a gimmick. Each has a mid area leading to each bombsite and providing a quicker but riskier rotation. And on each map, the gimmick is my favourite part.
One map has three bombsites, the middle site being the riskiest with quicker rotations and more entries. On another map, the bombsites have doors that can be shut from outside the site, cutting off an entry point.
Another map has teleporters that offer quick rotations but sound an alarm when used. I love playing with how these new things affect strategy. Thrown items, for example, seem to set off the teleporter’s alarm, making the defenders guess if it was a real rotation. I wish they had gone further here. I’ve played 20 years of Dust 2, so in a new game, why give me four variations of Dust 2?
Case in point: all four maps (ALL FOUR!) have the same design for the A bombsite. A raised balcony area overlooking a site with boxes for cover. Defenders can choose to make noisy footsteps rotating up to the elevated position, or sneak through the lower path. Even Cache and Mirage mix it up more than that. For every single launch map to have the same A bombsite is beyond formulaic — it actually seems…lazy?
CS pros have a reputation of disliking change, but I’ve found it’s quite the opposite. While the community is hostile to any change (or anything or person), the pros have been holding the same angles for years. They crave variety.
This reveals a problem with Riot’s overall content model. Wacky ideas can be tested en masse via the CSGO workshop, with the best community-made maps and modes filtering to the top before Valve even touches them.
But as long as Riot has to develop and test everything in-house, it sacrifices the ability to release new, competition-quality ideas at speed, for the sake of control over the ecosystem. For all of Riot’s desire to capitalise on the longevity of the Counter-Strike formula, its need to retain full control over what essentially grew out of an open community of modders is the reason Counter-Strike will ultimately last longer than Valorant.
The Game Outside the Game
So did Valorant solve peeker’s advantage? Not really, but the high tickrate servers are noticeably better. Many times I noticed my hits were registered on what must have been the very frame before my death. It’s not LAN, but it’s a step towards it.
Did Valorant end cheating? Nope, they’re still around. But Vanguard, the program’s kernel-level anti-cheat, sure will make its presence felt. It’s installed at the foundational level of your OS, monitoring every process — analysing them for suspicious activity, and often missing them, as cheaters still find their way into the game.
It’s there even when you haven’t loaded the game, and on one occasion my PC slowed to a standstill, needing 20-30 seconds for every basic command, because Vanguard was locked in an all-out brawl with Windows antivirus, using 100% of my CPU. I hadn’t even opened the game.
But in terms of technical issues, that was my only one — I’ve seen players complain of a low framerate, but my experience has been quite smooth. This PC – aged several years, for taste – still throws up enough frames for my hungry 165hz monitor to munch and be sated.
What’s less satisfied is the players you’ll find in-game. I don’t know who thought it’d be a good idea to combine the two most toxic gaming communities in existence, but if you wanted to find friends, abandon hope all ye who enter here.
To make matters worse, there’s seemingly no matchmaking or Prime system at work. It’s literally matching former CSGO pros with curious LoL players just checking it out, and both parties have been desensitised over years of filthy banter.
Burn it all down.
Is It Good?
Valorant is a fun game, in the sense that when you stick this close to the script, it’s hard to go wrong. But the real fun in a game like this comes from mastery, and we’ll have to give the game some time to see how the meta shakes out.
I’m prepared to say it’s definitely a game worthy of spending the time to master. That’s the #1 thing. Predictions at this point are ill-advised, but if you held a gun to my head, I’d say Valorant will be relevant in competitive FPS for longer than Overwatch, but will ultimately run up against the same problems. Counter-Strike will always be king, but Valorant will be a fun and worthy distraction for multiple years.
The fact that it’s free certainly helps, and there are many out there who used to play CSGO, or are curious about CSGO but want a level playing field. While I’d prefer a few more new ideas in a new game, the map gimmicks and the more unique abilities are definitely fun to play with. And I applaud the use of a raw battle pass system with zero loot boxes.
It’s clearly a game designed to stand on the shoulders of Gooseman’s giant. The message is clear: Hold my beer, Counter-Strike, we’ll take it from here. Of that, I’m highly sceptical, but it’s not often you get to figure out the meta with a new game, so it’s an exciting time to try it out.
No matter where it got its ideas from, there’s no denying it’s fun.
Valorant was reviewed on PC using a free-to-play download.