Valorant’s impactful hero abilities are an exciting departure from CS:GO

Here's the moment that Valorant finally clicked for me: we were on match point attacking site A of Bind, a compact, two-lane map with teleporters that connect its objective sites together. After losing myself and two other teammates to an entrenched sniper, our Sage narrowly planted the bomb and retreated to Showers unscathed. As she reached safety, she used her ultimate ability to revive me. We could see the bomb from our positions, so all we had to do was defend. Fortunately I was playing Cypher, a covert spy with the best kit for the job. 

The bones of CS:GO are here, but with a lot of magical assists wrapped around them.

I tossed my surveillance camera on a nearby wall overlooking the bomb and covered our flank with a cloaked tripwire. I watched through the camera as the enemy Viper’s poisonous wall erupted in front of the bomb and cut off our best sightline. Instead of pushing, we waited for the sound that signaled they started defusing. Right as it sounded, I shot a tracking dart from the camera blind through the poison wall and stuck the defusing Viper, exposing her silhouette through walls for a brief moment. We used the opportunity to peek from Showers and simultaneously kill Viper and the Jett protecting her.

It was a deeply satisfying fight. Like a clutch round of Rainbow Six Siege, I used an intelligence gadget to gain the upper hand and help a teammate nab an important kill. So much of Valorant is Riot doing its best imitation of Counter-Strike’s rigid gunplay and strategic weapon economy, but I definitely can’t do this in CS:GO.

After a weekend with Valorant, I’m loving how its interpretations of equipment like flash and smoke grenades transform simple tools into character-defining skills. Take Phoenix’s Curveball, a flash grenade that only travels left or right, or Viper’s Poison Cloud, a noxious smoke plume that consumes a shared tank of fuel that powers her other abilities. The ghostly Omen has a version of a smoke grenade, but he can precisely channel it through walls and combine his short-range teleport skill to disappear into it.

The bones of CS:GO are here, but with a lot of magical assists wrapped around them. There is no universal equipment that anyone can buy, so your role is limited by your agent’s abilities. There’s a great spread of overlapping utility between Valorant’s nine agents that gave me the impression that any team composition can satisfy a team’s tactical needs. Since it’s easy to cover the basics, I felt a lot of headroom to pick whoever I felt like playing. Most of the time, that was my robo-buddy Cypher. On defense, I appreciate the security of his tripwires that spot enemies through walls when triggered. Cloaked tripwires might sound oppressive for attackers, but they’re easily spotted if an enemy is walking (holding the Shift key). Both teams' agent lineups are public information from the get-go, too, so it’s easy to know when to expect traps.

I’m still unsure about Valorant’s version of a support role.

Many of Valorant’s other agents feel tailor-made to fill roles in CS:GO’s established meta. No need to study exact angles to bank smoke grenades off buildings—just play Brimstone, a smoke specialist that designates up to three locations to airdrop smoke clouds with impeccable accuracy and timing. In a single action, he can initiate a site push for the whole team. Defending a long sightline with an Operator, Valorant’s cheeky homonym for the AWP? You’re better off with Jett, who can boost herself on top of boxes with a gust of wind and hold unexpected angles. I like that specialized roles let me flex my FPS brain and predict how an enemy will choose to play out a 1v1. I can guess that Viper will flush me out of a corner with poison, but I can also confidently push her without fear of getting flashbanged around a corner or spotted by a camera. The upshot is that specializations, by their nature, limit what I can do with the hand I’ve been dealt. A well-placed flash grenade might be exactly what I need to win a tense attack round, but I’d be out of luck with Cypher traps better suited for defense.

Reach Immortal rank with these Valorant guides

(Image credit: Riot)

Valorant release date: When will it fully launch?
Valorant characters: All the hero abilities
Valorant ranks: How you'll be progressing
Valorant system requirements: Can you run it?
Valorant error codes: How to solve them
Valorant tips: Get more wins
Valorant beta: How to get in
Valorant guns: Damage, recoil patterns, and more

I’m still unsure about Valorant’s version of a support role. It can be frustrating to deal with Sage, whose abilities let her heal herself or a teammate at least once per round, deploy an ice field that slows movement, and build a Mei-style ice wall crucial for cutting off flanking routes. A self-heal that’s basically a free second chance at a botched firefight feels out of place among a pool of abilities that require careful timing or skill. Comboing her wall and ice trap has already become a common strategy to lock down an objective and create an obnoxious environment to attack. Her all-in-one support kit is a potential argument for why Valorant should have abilities that directly counter each other. There is no answer to her wall other than shooting it. I can deter Phoenix’s fireball by burning my own utility, but it’d be more satisfying to fight fire with water instead of more fire.

I can only imagine how many hours Riot spent tuning Valorant’s weapons so that any CS:GO veteran can stroll in and instantly recognize the AK-47’s (sorry, the Vandal’s) recoil pattern. There’s an exact Counter-Strike analogue for almost every weapon on the buy screen, with a handful of additional offbeat weapons like the Shorty sawed-off shotgun sidearm and the Guardian DMR rifle. The recreation is certainly faithful because I’m just as terrible at hipfire as I’ve been in every iteration of Counter-Strike.

Thankfully, I found a groove once I discovered that every rifle in Valorant can aim-down-sights to significantly reduce bullet spread. In a presentation before our play session, I got the impression that Riot is encouraging precise “tap shooting” over Counter-Strike’s full-auto meta. Valorant weapons do have recoil patterns that can be mastered in bursts, but rapid fire eventually introduces small amounts of randomness.

So far, this feels like a nice compromise that allows for dramatically different shootouts. The Vandal is made for picking headshots down a long alley, but a full-auto burst from a Spectre SMG has the upper hand at close range. This balance also opens the door to the Guardian DMR, an accurate semi-auto rifle that would be as useless as CS:GO’s reviled auto snipers if rapid-fire was better in every circumstance. Some weapons’ ADS even doubles as utility—both the Stinger SMG and Bulldog assault rifle switch to burst-fire while aiming. The Bucky pump shotgun can’t ADS, but its right-click is an alternate fire mode that deals additional damage at medium range.

My first few days with Valorant were surprisingly great. I didn’t expect Riot’s clone of an FPS I don’t frequently play to reel me in, but the hero abilities expand Valorant’s toolset and let a novice marksman like me occasionally win fights with my brain.

Still, there are plenty of out-of-game details that Riot has yet to fill us in on. Our test accounts had every agent unlocked, but I want to know how long it’ll take to access the full roster of nine. That’s a pretty small pool of choices and I certainly don’t want to be stuck playing a single role for days. This is the League of Legends studio we’re talking about, so agents might cycle in and out of free access at Riot’s will.

We’ll learn more as Riot charges toward its vague Summer 2020 release frame, but your first chance at giving Valorant a shot is the closed beta starting April 7. You can follow the elaborate steps to sign up for that here

Morgan Park
Staff Writer

Morgan has been writing for PC Gamer since 2018, first as a freelancer and currently as a staff writer. He has also appeared on Polygon, Kotaku, Fanbyte, and PCGamesN. Before freelancing, he spent most of high school and all of college writing at small gaming sites that didn't pay him. He's very happy to have a real job now. Morgan is a beat writer following the latest and greatest shooters and the communities that play them. He also writes general news, reviews, features, the occasional guide, and bad jokes in Slack. Twist his arm, and he'll even write about a boring strategy game. Please don't, though.