Update: Hi-Rez has posted an expanded defense of Paladins on Reddit, which includes a history of the game going all the way back to its 2010 release Global Agenda, the transition from that to Tribes: Ascend and Smite, and eventually a “fantasy-based Global Agenda PvP-like game” called Aurum that became the inspiration for Paladins.
“In Paladins (code name Chaos) pre-production, we experimented with both the Global Agenda Sci-Fi theme and the Aurum Fantasy theme. After a lot of testing the project team decided to go with the Fantasy theme,” Hi Rez COO Todd Harris explained. “[Then] Overwatch was announced. We were shocked and not sure what direction to take. We were already so far along with Paladins, but we didn't want to compete directly against Blizzard. We initially tried to find different ways to differentiate on gameplay (different TTK, different style maps and game modes, different theme, etc), but the feedback from our tests, stats, and surveys showed that only a small part of our population was enjoying that style of game. In the end we said screw it and just made what we thought best, and closest to our original vision, even if people would think it's too close to Overwatch.”
He goes on to provide a detailed breakdown of the differences between, and similarities in, Overwatch and Paladins/Global Agenda—“About 42 Abilities are very similar between Overwatch and Paladins, 36 of these abilities were previously in Global Agenda or Tribes Ascend, 6 abilities were seen in Overwatch before Paladins”—cites “core mechanics” that were in Global Agenda before Overwatch, and even links to numerous videos demonstrating Global Agenda and Aurum gameplay that's similar to, but predates, Overwatch. (The pre-alpha video playing below, of the mech-riding Ruckus in action, was posted by IGN before the Overwatch closed beta began.)
Taken together, it makes a strong argument: Paladins and Overwatch share some undeniable similarities, but claims that Paladins ripped off Overwatch don't hold up. The character archetypes in Overwatch, Paladins, and other 'hero-based' MOBAs and FPSes have been well established for years, and the simpler explanation is that Paladins' character roster is a combination of those existing templates, some riffing on Global Agenda and TF2 designs, and the validation provided by Overwatch's massive success.
Overwatch casts a long shadow. When Gearbox released its MOBA influenced team shooter Battleborn in June, many (erroneously) thought that it was similar to Blizzard's shooter. While they are aesthetically similar, the two games play quite differently. Now another game is attracting unfavourable comparisons with Overwatch: Hi-Rez's class-based shooter Paladins.
Since the game entered open beta earlier this week, players have noticed similarities between Paladins and Blizzard's game. The speculation is so loud that it has prompted Hi-Rez COO Todd Harris to address the matter, in a statement provided to IGN.
"While Overwatch is a fine game, it was not the inspiration for Paladins," Harris wrote. "Game development is an interactive process with ideas coming from many past projects. For the hero shooter genre, the game that deserves the most credit is Team Fortress 2."
Harris notes that, if anything, Paladins is a "fantasy version" of the studio's own class-based shooter Global Agenda, which itself was influenced by Team Fortress 2. According to Harris, "of the approximately 85 combat abilities currently in Paladins, the vast majority are from the game Global Agenda we made 10 years ago."
He continued: "Given the marketing of Overwatch many people do not even realize that some of our champions, like the mini-gun mech (Ruckus) and the ice block character (Evie), were available and playable in the Paladins Beta long before similar character abilities were shown in Overwatch. And specific features, such as Chests, were also demonstrated in Paladins ahead of Overwatch. People who are interested can see all this early gameplay footage on YouTube and come to their own conclusions."
Todd Harris later took to Twitter, promising that he'd "post a bit more history / details tonight on Paladins subreddit." He's already done so, and it makes a strong case for Paladins being an evolution of Global Agenda, rather than a hasty Overwatch cash-in.
Tom Marks played Paladins' blend of deck building and FPS in October last year, and he liked it. "Hi-Rez has managed to take a lot of different ideas and mesh them together into a fun and unique FPS—but if Paladins is meant to be a shooter first, then I hope Hi-Rez can spend the alpha period giving the shooting a bit more substance," he wrote.