Valorant, the new free-to-play team shooter from Riot makes me feel all of my years. I’m 49 now, so I’m not so old that I feel like a senior otherwise. I exercise. I binge stream. I’m hip with the kids. Sure, I played the Atari 2600 and I remember when arcades had pinball machines that did not have movie licenses, but I’m down with the tweets. I am old enough that I feel out of step with just about everything in this game. Playing Valorant is a grim reminder that with each passing day I get one step closer to my match ending permanently. It makes me feel old. And not for the reasons you may suspect. I’m not too slow. I don’t have trouble seeing the enemy players. I get all the rules.
Nevertheless, it’s a game for younger folks. Here, then, are all the ways Valorant makes me feel like an old man.
1. It’s Overwatch and Counter-Strike combined.
There’s nothing wrong with that by itself. If you’re going to riff on team shooters, why not appropriate elements from two of the most popular and profitable eSports shooters out there? And boy, does Riot homage with the best of them. Here are the familiar vibrant cartoon characters and environments of Blizzard’s Overwatch mixed with the basic rules and gameplay of Valve’s Counter-Strike. Buy your guns, take up positions near choke points, plant the bomb, (here called a “spike” for some reason) and either eliminate the other team or run out the clock. The wrinkle, of course, is that those cartoon characters have special powers like teleporting, or the ability to create barriers, or they can fire an arrow that acts like a pulse detector. It works, but not in a you-got-your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter way. More like The Homer, the car that’s “powerful like a gorilla, yet soft and yielding like a Nerf ball.”
It’s a goofy Frankenstein’s monster of other, frankly better, games. There’s Overwatch right over there if you want waifu superpowered avatars and stylized environments. Right next to it is Counter-Strike if you want ruthlessly pure team shooting. There’s no need to combine them. In fact, they almost contradict each other. One appeals to casual players and all ages, the other is Counter-Strike. But I know the reality. Those are both old news in gaming. Valorant is the new hotness. It’s got that now-now sex appeal that everyone craves. People don’t stick to multiplayer games like they used to. Don’t tell the folks still playing Team Fortress what’s up.
2. Riot is trying so hard to make these characters a thing.
With names like Reyna, Cypher, Jett, or Omen, they better have cool powers, and they better have engaging (marketable) stories. Reyna is the purple supermodel femme fatale “forged in the heart of Mexico” that eats people’s souls and regnerates health. Omen is the hooded “phantom of a memory” that blinds enemies with shadow orbs and clouds. Supposedly, there’s a whole story for the Valorant universe that will include tidbits about these heroes. How did they get here? What makes them tick?
Good Lord, I do not care about any of this. I don’t care about these characters or what motivates them. I don’t care about the “spike” or why the other team is trying to stop me. I don’t care that Breach is a “bionic Swede” or that Raze “exploded out of Brazil.” I definitely do not care about this world any more than I cared about why the Liandri Mining Corporation made humans and Skaarj fight in tournaments.
What I do care about is grinding to unlock more heroes. It’s a tried and true method of giving players a carrot on a stick, but I’m not here to figure out the convoluted rules of leveling up contracts to gain XP to get heroes. I’m here to collect characters like Pokemon. I need to acquire them and shut them away forever because I only care about the one that matches my play style. Shut up about Brimstone’s “orbital arsenal” or Phoenix’s “star power.” You know which shooter character I remember after all these years? Orbb from Quake 3 Arena. A giant damn eyeball on a pair of arms that squeaked and yelped as it shot rockets at you. Now that’s a fine character, and I’ve done the hard work of locating some Orbb porn for you.
I get it though. I do. Modern team shooters thrive on bold comic book characters. Tracer and Widowmaker didn’t launch a bunch of slash art projects by being bland soldiers. They made their marks by being supermodels with guns and melodramatic histories. Supposedly, Riot has no plans to add character skins to the game, but have you seen the way Overwatch or Fortnite fans spend their money? Sage and Sova have some real porn parody potential.
3. The guns are awful.
The guns don’t suck as far as their in-game lethality. They’ll kill other players just fine. You can fire from the hip or aim down sights. They run the usual gamut from pistols to shotguns to assault rifles and light machineguns. But that’s the problem. They’re as dull as dishwater. Flat matte black and they all look like they came out of the same Syfy tool and die factory that made the arms in Haze. They sound bad, too. Like toys. They’re a generic mess of gunmetal and plinky sound effects. There’s no satisfaction from firing these lame weapons.
Thank goodness you can buy cosmetic skins to jazz them up! I know the argument. “Don’t buy them if you don’t like the prices.” Well, I didn’t buy any and I really didn’t like the prices. $17 for a purple and gray pistol skin? $99 for a skin collection that makes every gun look like it’s barfing lava? (That one in the upper right looks… Um…) It’s free-to-play so it’s going to run on hardcore whales propping up the economy, but give us plebes a break Riot. I guess that’s where the battle pass comes in. $10 gets you access to one of those XP tracks that are all the rage these days. Get your dailies in and unlock the skins and gun ornaments that you already paid for. If you don’t grind through it all the way before the season timer expires, maybe you can buy the next one and try harder? Yuck. That’s something for youngsters with no family obligations but have the ability to play a game overnight during the work week.
4. Vanguard is sketchy.
This may be the first game in a long time that forced me to reboot before I could play it – and that was by design. It wasn’t an error. I had to reboot after I installed the game so Vanguard, the anticheat program that comes with Valorant, could initialize and sit in my system tray. All the time. On every startup.
I’m not some privacy nut and I don’t think every app is spying on you, (at least not all of them are doing it for evil purposes) but what the heck Valorant? Thanks for giving me the option to shut Vanguard down when I’m not playing the game, because I’m damn sure doing that.
Riot says there’s nothing fishy going on. Sure. Maybe. I guess that’s a trust exercise for people that post TikTok videos or Instagram stories and believe none of it will ever come back to haunt them.
Back in my day, the Pac-Man virus would chomp across your Gibson’s main screen and eat all your data. It was destructive, but fun. Entertaining in a way. Vanguard just squats in your taskbar. Boooring!
5. Thirteen rounds.
Valorant considers a standard match as best of thirteen rounds. Thirteen rounds! You don’t know which team is dominating in three rounds, Valorant? Because I sure do. It’s the team running rampant all over the map. Your Spike Rush mode is only slightly better at best of seven, but even that can drag.
It’s all in service of the eSports focus. Anything quicker would be too fast for dramatic shows. Riot has made eSports their bread and butter, so it’s no surprise that Valorant is heavily skewed to that audience. Gone are the days of 1v1 arena fights in LAN tournaments with fullbright settings. One match. One result. One mistake and you were done. There were no upset wins or swings. You did a looping run from the railgun spawn and the keg of health and you didn’t dare deviate because it could all be over with one high-ping hit.
Anyway, I’m old. Valorant has made me realize that I don’t recognize the landscape I grew up with. I’ll let the younger generation deal with Valorant’s sequel.