Like many others, I've been caught up in the Valorant hype these past few weeks. Twitch's most popular streamers received keys for the game before the closed beta launched on April 7, so my very first impressions were formed through watching others getting to grips with it.
It's surprising how much you can learn by simply observing someone else play a game. Flicking between streamers taught me the basics of Valorant's map layouts, callouts, and characters. I was excited by the prospect of a new FPS that has taken heavy inspiration from CS:GO and Overwatch. Enticed by Valorant's familiar aesthetic, I was keen to hop in and see how it compared to two of my favourite online multiplayer games. This had me avidly tuning in for a few hours each day, right up until the moment I finally snagged a key.
Flying through the tutorial, I was eager to actually begin playing. The calculated gameplans that many streamers had settled into appealed to me as a CS:GO fan, and I was excited to be playing another game that rewarded tactical thinking and thwarting the other team's plan. I gravitated to Phoenix, as having both flashbang and incendiary-esque abilities felt like a sensible place to start.
Over the course of my first match, I was able to get by with an average K/D by applying my knowledge of strategic peeking and patiently holding angles. I was playing CS:GO in Valorant. It was going well, but something still wasn't clicking. In the next match, I made an effort to use my abilities more. While I may have unintentionally blinded my teammates a few times with Phoenix's curveballs, I felt like I was playing Valorant properly, rather than slipping into the Counter-Strike mindset.
The games that followed were enjoyable enough, but the more I played, the more I realised how much I really missed CS:GO. The familiarity that I expected to feel comforting, just made me feel homesick.
Switching back to CS:GO, I instantly felt better. Counter-Strike weapons have a weight to them that is difficult to replicate, and Valorant's arsenal feels weaker in comparison. You can still land impressive one-taps on opponents, but it doesn't have that searing satisfaction you feel with a USP-S in a pistol round, or the authority you establish with an AK-47.
While I'm not entirely convinced by Valorant's overall feel, it's clear that Riot understands what Counter-Strike players are looking for in an FPS—aside from the main event. Their practice mode goes above and beyond to help you feel more at home. There's an open range to introduce you to each character and their abilities, and the shooting test helps you acclimate to Valorant's weapons and improve your aim through various challenges. You can even practice planting and defusing the spike. Rather than having to hunt for a highly rated workshop map to train, all of these components have been neatly tied to one menu and, most importantly, have been included from the beginning of the Closed Beta, when players need these tools the most. Implementing 128-tick servers also sweetens the deal.
While Valorant hasn't swept me off my feet, then, I'm happy that it exists. It's built on the foundations of two demonstrably successful formulas, while trying to amalgamate them into something that many others are clearly enjoying.
Unfortunately, for me, it just feels too familiar and nowhere near as fun. Maybe I'm set in my ways after sinking well over a thousand hours into CS:GO, but I'm reluctant to head back into Valorant to force something that should feel natural. Both CS:GO and Overwatch left lasting impressions on me that had me obsessively queuing into another match as soon as the previous had ended. Jumping into each of those games today still rekindles that feeling, stealing a few hours of my evening in the process. It's a shame Valorant hasn't quite managed to foster the same level of addiction, but I'm happy to stick with more of the same, for now.