Hey, Jackson Leight of vytal_news here. This article is part Paladins review, part RWBY crossover review. If you already know everything about Paladins, feel free to skip to the RWBY section. Either way, I hope you have fun with this in-depth look into both!
Back in the beginning of July, when Hi-Rez Studios and Evil Mojo Games announced their collaboration with RoosterTeeth to bring RWBY to their free-to-play hero shooter Paladins, I was quite excited – a game I’ve never tried before has a much better chance to hook me in with characters I’m familiar with. Not only that, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Hi-Rez’s Smite and their RWBY collaboration. Now that exactly a month has passed since it’s introduction, how well did Team RWBY (+ Qrow and Salem, so more like SQRWBY) fare in a slightly different setting? Spoilers – not so great, but also it’s complicated…
So what is Paladins?
It’s a hero shooter, like Overwatch, Valorant or even Team Fortress 2. Pick a character, one who has a distinct weapon, offensive, movement and ultimate abilities, then push a payload, stand on a point or shoot the opposing guys till you win. Still, it takes inspiration from quite a few different places. Visually, it reminds me a lot of Smite, which is completely fair, as it’s also published by the same company. Its maps and most characters got this slightly cartoony medieval fantasy-ish vibe, which is a bit jarring since every single character in the game uses projectiles as their primary weapons, meaning a lot of modern-looking guns in the game, which clash with the aesthetic quite a bit. Actually, out of its impressive roster of 56 characters, only 27 characters don’t use some form of gun or explosive that’d belong more in a Battlefield map rather than a fantastical game. Admittedly, it’s something to be expected from a first-person shooter, but running around in a XVIth century marketplace with gigantic bipedal tortoises, demons straight up from Doom, medieval armored knights and undead pirates with all of them holding a modern firearm of some sort is a bit ridiculous. There’s other weapons too – staves, swords, magic, bows and cute pet dragons – plenty of variety if you’re inclined, but there’s also like nine champions that are just a generic Call of Duty person with a different gun and movement ability.
Continuing the idea that the game’s not too sure of its identity are the liberal inspirations from other, preceding hero shooters. Khan looks and shields like Overwatch’s Reinheardt, while Barik’s appearance and gameplay is far closer to Torbjörn than most games would allow themselves. Speaking of Barik, he even has a Team Fortress 2 Engineer skin, which is fitting, as some other characters play suspiciously similar to TF2 characters. The appropriately named Bomb King uses a weapon that plays just like the TF2’s Demoman’s sticky launcher, while Betty La Bomba, the Bomb Queen, has a weapon functionally identical to Demo’s grenade launcher instead. There’s many more similarities with other games and it’s something Paladins isn’t afraid to admit – the character voice lines, ability names and even in-game text constantly reference movies, video-games and pop culture.
Paladins isn’t just an Overwatch rip-off though, and the absurd amount of champions released should immediately give you that clue. Taking inspiration from MOBA games like Dota 2 and League of Legends, Paladins features in-match item buying, allowing you to get stronger by playing well and adapting against your opponents. All of the items are just for that single match and can be upgraded up to two times. Unlike those games, however, the items are all fairly weak and provide support like increased health or ultimate regeneration rate, not straight up increased damage. The items are few and some are incredibly situational (stuff like increased damaged to buildings or increased distance to see invisible enemies don’t even come up every match), which means most of the time I end up buying the same items regardless. Also similarly to League, Paladins has a loadout system, which allows you to customize various benefits your champion gets before the game by selecting specific cards and allocating points to strengthen them. To the game’s credit, it’s all free and immediately unlocked with the characters, giving a completely fair playing field gameplay-wise. It also means that there’s quite a lot of room for player expression and with its large cast of characters, you’ll definitely find one that’ll feel right for you.
And how does it play?
Paladins can be a lot of fun when it works, which isn’t as often as you’d want. There’s several game modes, including ones that are almost mandatory in any multiplayer FPS, like Team Deathmatch or Capture the Point. It’s featured mode is definitely Siege, however, as matchmaking seemed to highly prefer it over any other mode combined. It’s a combination of King of the Hill and Payload modes, that sometimes could end after a grueling 20 minute match. Those are somewhat rare however, due to the game’s interesting choice of matchmaking. While playing unranked, it often feels like players are completely thrown in together without accounting for personal skill or experience. I’ve had matches where the enemy team had thousands of combined hours on just the champions they’ve played, while I had to explain basic game mechanics to a teammate. This often means that matches are incredibly one-sided, with either team absolutely dominating the other without much fun for both. I don’t really remember any team-based FPS with such lopsided matches. While this might be the result of me playing unranked, it wasn’t too different in ranked, either. Out of my placement matches, my team absolutely destroyed all but one game, landing me in the surprisingly high Platinum ranking. My friends, who played all my placement matches with me, got put into Silver and Gold, which baffled us. I definitely wasn’t such a better performing player like the game was implying, but the game’s matchmaking thought I was some sort of Paladins prodigy (or a smurf) and started matching us with players in the thousands-of-hours-played range. Neither in ranked or unranked did I feel like the games were close or that both teams had roughly equal chances of winning. I can definitely count more matches that had at least one player leave or disconnect (being replaced by an utterly useless bot) than nail-biting close-calls. That’s really impressive considering that due to Paladin’s relatively weak items the snowball effect that’s in most MOBAs is far less prevalent. Losing teams should have the chance to come back, the game even has killstreak-ending mechanics to facilitate that, but more often than not they’re crushed even harder by the winning players.
Teamwork is a big part of Paladins and all but one game modes require the players to do some sort of objective. Some players, unfortunately, seem to be practically allergic to standing on capture points or being anywhere near the payload, preferring to run off (and usually die) alone. Still, it’s not the worst teamwork I’ve seen and there were plenty of people doing their gosh-darn best to win the match. There were some ragequitters and the occasional toxic pricks, but because of the relatively short matches, at least compared to MOBAs, and the fact that typing is difficult on consoles (Paladins has cross play between all major consoles and PC) there were only a few instances of people losing their marbles in chat. They might have been losing their marbles in voice chat, but after a couple of incredibly loud and young players decided to bless me with their angelic screeching, I’ve promptly turned it off forever.
The gameplay itself is fine, sometimes being good, especially for the asking cost of free. It may feel a bit ‘floaty’ while being too ‘flashy’ to discern what’s going on, but it’s absolutely alright for a hero shooter. Unlike the competitors in the genre, quite a few characters feel very same-y, and almost all of them are painfully generic. I had a lot of trouble, at least at first, distinguishing girl-with-rifle from another girl-with-rifle (there’s five) or stealthy-masked-assassin-man from a similar guy (there’s four). Their personalities aren’t anything to write home about either, but once again I completely understand how difficult it must be creating over fifty characters based on the same template and give them wildly differing playstyles and personalities. There are some standouts, like Imani, who got Yang’s skin. Instead of shooting a gun, she wields fire and ice, but never at the same time. Her offensive ability instead switches between one or the other. Each element interacts with enemies differently and her attacks can be charged. Finally, instead of a dash or a jump, Imani can fly away on a block of ice, which is distinct and really cool. There’s a few other totally unique champions (the gigantic Zerg-looking Yagaroth is an absolute winner) but there’s unfortunately fewer of those than human-with-gun ones. The variety is there, absolutely, but it’s not as immense as the expansive roster might suggest.
Over the admittedly fun gameplay and large roster lies the inescapable shadow of utter jank that envelops the entire game. The animations are stiff and look amateurish, with abilities and characters looking and moving not like someone would expect. The mount animation in particular is harsh, as the mount moves almost like it’s sliding on the ground (remember Cinder on the rooftop in Volume 2? Yeah…), while the player character is basically T-Posing completely still. The sound effects are another problem, with most guns and explosives feeling really weak and toy-like. Bombs clink and clang instead of deafening booms, while some guns, like Corvus’s SMG, feel like they have the impact of an off-brand Nerf gun. Adding to the cheapness are the multitude of bugs, of different flavors for your enjoyment. Characters in the champion screen shrink down, then immediately expand when selected; mid-match it sometimes forgets to play music or sounds or delays voice commands by a few seconds, the game freezes for a bit when selecting a weapon while picking a champion and my personal favorite, the game straight up crashes itself, Steam and every Nvidia process on the PC if you alt-tab or change windows. Sometimes. Never seen any game kill itself and everything around it out of jealousy before, but that one has cost me several matches and its the reason why I’m hesitant to call every person who quit mid-match an intentional leaver. After all, the game could have crashed on them and they still get slapped on a ‘Deserter penalty’. Apparently some of these bugs have been in the game for years and, according to people on the forums and Steam reviews, I’ve yet to experience most of the bugs myself. The consoles might fare better in that regard, but the overwhelming amount of errors, glitches and crashes really diminish my enjoyment of the game.
Below is a comparison of sound and visual effects of similar weapons in Paladins (Corvus and Drogoz), Overwatch (Sombra and Pharah) and Team Fortress 2 (Sniper and Soldier). While the sounds do fit the theme of their respective games, to me Paladins sounds feel fairly low impact, especially Corvus’s SMG.
Enough about that, bumbleby man! What about RWBY?!
The Smite collaboration had cool skins for gods that mostly fit the characters of team RWBY. Sure, Thanatos the flying edgelord might be a stretch for Ruby, but seeing her all cheerful while swinging the scythe around and mowing down gods was pretty great. Yang fit perfectly for the tanky punchy Terra and the bubble-flinging Freya was a nice choice for Weiss. Blake as the bruiser Amaterasu was the only questionable choice, since the assassin Bastet, a.k.a. the cat goddess, already had a skin that used whips and SMGs, similarly to Blake. Below you’ll see the skins from both Smite (right) and Paladins (left) in comparison.
Paladins choices for RWBY skins are, more or less, on-point, with one exception. Ruby once again gets slapped on the only scythe-wielder in the roster – the vampiric flanker Vora. Vora’s different from Smite’s Thanatos in that she shoots her scythe, by swinging these weird energy scythe projections. Her movement ability is a grappling hook, something we’ve never seen Ruby use.
The healer Furia loses her angelic wings and becomes Weiss, which isn’t too far-off our favorite Schnee, as she’s also the supporting role in most team fights. What’s strange is that Furia wields a greatsword, that she uses to shoot people. While the idea that everything is a gun is almost too fitting for RWBY, seeing Weiss handle a zweihander-sized Myrtenaster with one hand is really strange…
Blake once again gets a really strange pick – she’s a skin for Saati, a sci-fi bounty hunter, who ricochets shots from coins she flips. Although she does have an ability to leave a Decoy, the rest of her kit is quite strange as Saati uses a powerful hand-cannon, instead of an SMG, and uses coin ricochets instead of Blake’s agility and ribbons.
And Yang substitutes Imani, the elementalist I described earlier. Nothing in her kit is even remotely close to what Yang ever does (Imani flings fire and ice, never landing a single punch), and it’s such a shame to see Yang being left as an afterthought. Yang’s hands are broken, both as in her fingers shouldn’t bend that way and in a video game sense, as her Ember Celica actually clips through her hand… Her robotic arm is also strangely blue, which seems like a thing that they just kept from Imani. Yang’s ultimate summons a Grimm dragon she controls, which, although looks pretty awesome, makes absolutely no sense. Her skin is by far the worst one out of the batch.
I just can’t get over Yang’s hands… What have they done to you, Xiao Long?!
As you can see, the character models look suspiciously similar to Smite’s. I’m not particularly against that, as long as they fit the game and the characters, but it does feel like Smite made a better job, especially matching faces and expressions. Still, there’s a surprise – two more skins were added to Paladins, not part of the Crossover Pass but as separate purchases – Qrow and Salem. Qrow is a skin for Corvus, a healer (wait, what?), who uses a knife and an SMG (huh?). Nothing in his kit really is anything close to Qrow and it’s absolutely wild seeing Qrow with a realistic-looking-SMG. Salem is a skin for Seris, also a healer, who uses a funky-looking magic orb to shoot magic orbs or laser-beams of healing. A mysterious witch-like entity is absolutely the best pick for Salem, and even though it’s weird seeing her heal people, it’s not something that you couldn’t imagine her doing. Instead of an orb she holds a Seer Grimm, which is kind of cute, but personally I would have loved if they spoiled Volume 8 and gave Salem the Relic of Knowledge instead. The spell effects on her attacks look great, she floats around like Salem does and playing Seris actually feels like playing as Salem. An absolute winner of a skin.
In summary, it felt like all but one of the skins are only for that character because of a specific single trait that both the RWBY character and the Paladins champion share. Ruby and Vora both use scythes, Furia and Weiss use a sword-like weapon, Yang and Imani don’t have weapons in their hands, Blake and Saati can leave a decoy while Qrow and Corvus… both have names based on crows? I’m seriously lost on their connection.
All voice actors reprise their roles from the show and generally do a great job. Qrow and Salem do sound a bit off from what we’re used to from the show, but in Salem’s case I think it’s because her voice isn’t behind the same filtering as in the show. Unlike some criticism I’ve read, I don’t believe that the skins reuse the lines from the show, or if they do – it’s not often. Some lines are definitely ones we’ve heard from the show, like Ruby’s pre-food-fight speech but if you listen, you’ll hear that it’s definitely newly-recorded. Since not everyone’s rewatched RWBY to the point they’d hear minute differences in delivery, I can’t blame people thinking they straight-up ripped lines from the show, but I am glad that the VAs went above and beyond to re-record their older, famous lines, as well as brand new ones so everything sounded consistently great. The new lines recorded for the skins are awesome – they’re pretty hilarious, like Ruby’s comments on her landing strategy, Yang calling all her ice attacks as ‘Weiss attacks’, or Qrow’s taunting of the enemy team. There are some that are actually fascinating insights into their characters, especially Salem, who got fairly little screentime in the show. Here’s a couple of examples, this one in particular being my favorite. While these lines aren’t canon unless stated otherwise, they were most likely written by or help from Rooster Teeth.
So how do I get those skins?
Team RWBY skins can be unlocked by buying the Crossover Pass. It’s essentially a battle pass, and while it has Ruby unlocked immediately, the other skins are locked behind levels. You get experience by playing the game and completing quests – standard affair for anyone who’s played a game with a Battle Pass before. Alongside the skins are a variety of RWBY-themed goodies, like sprays, avatars, a loading-screen border and so on. The Crossover pass costs 750 gems or 1500 gems (~$15 and $25 USD) if you want everything unlocked immediately. It’s also the first significant issue I have with it.
I’ve played for about 50 hours (that’s over two days of my life spent on this game alone) – I have over a hundred wins under my belt, which means I should have played about 200 matches. I also played quite a lot with friends and liberally used XP boosts, which increase pass XP gained by 10% and 20% respectively. I’m still at level 19. Out of 30. And Weiss, the character I wanted to play the most is a level 29 unlock. It’s an incredibly grindy battle pass, and I can’t see anyone who doesn’t spend entire days at their PC completing it without forcing themselves to play. Since matches give ~100,000 XP and you need 1,250,000 XP for a level up, you can see that you’ll definitely need over 300 matches to complete it. Sure, daily quests exist, but they give pathetic XP amounts – 100,000 or even 50,000. It’s actually quite scary how much time the game wants you to commit to unlock the thing you actually pay for – team RWBY skins. In Smite, the battle pass felt much faster and unlocked the girls quite early – it needed only 60 levels for the four main skins, and had 60 bonus levels for a single optional ‘Classic Ruby’ skin. Most matches gave a level outright and quests felt like they had a real impact on your progress.
With 16 days left at the Crossover pass at the time of writing, I suggest you only pick up the Crossover Pass by unlocking everything instantly, since otherwise you won’t be able to unlock most skins and cosmetics in it. The price is doubled, but in hindsight I’d gladly pay it, since I feel like I had my share of Paladins for the past month. Now, if I wanted to finish the Crossover Pass by paying gems, it’d cost me 770 – more than the price of the pass itself. It’s a pretty scummy system, all things considered, and could be solved by just increasing the XP earned, as now it feels like the game is holding the content I want hostage behind just hours played.
Qrow and Salem aren’t in the pass, but they’re not much better. They are in a Mythological Treasures chest, costing 400 gems each. The game unfortunately didn’t explain well enough for my dumb brain that paying 400 gems will grant me a chance to get them, which I of course, didn’t. The chest dropped me skins for a variety of characters I didn’t care about, including one skin for Seris that wasn’t Salem. Luckily, you can’t get duplicates from the chest and eventually you’re guaranteed to get the skins you want. That happened for me, but it cost me quite an additional bit extra. After all that I’ve learned that you can actually just buy the skins outright, without all the predatory gambling nonsense for 800 gems each. I highly suggest doing that, since apparently they removed the chest that the skins belong to? Stranger still, they still advertise the chest that’s already removed?
To buy all six skins you’d need 3100 gems, which, of course, you can’t buy in that specific amount – you’d need to buy the $50 bundle, which would leave you with some extra gems. Alternatively, you could buy the Paladins Digital Deluxe Edition 2022, which will give you every single champion in the game with plenty of gold to unlock many future ones as well. The $60 bundle also gives you 2200 gems, which means you’d need an additional purchase of 880 gems ($15) for the skins. This way you’re spending $25 more, but without ever having to worry about unlocking champions, which is a different grind altogether. In conclusion, you’d need $50 or even $75 USD/EUR to unlock the RWBY skins without absurd amounts of grinding levels or praying for good gacha luck.
Is it worth it?
Are you a huge fan of RWBY and a huge fan of Paladins? Sure, go ahead, the skins are decent and it’s fun to hear the characters speak. Love RWBY but haven’t played Paladins? Try it out, the game’s free, but remember that buying the skins won’t be. They’re super expensive for what you get. If the game’s not up to your liking, you can go to the Wiki and hear the character’s voicelines – that’s most of the value from the skins anyway. But if you’re on the fence about either, I’d give this crossover a wide miss – the Crossover Pass and the extra skins are either an extremely tedious slog or a massive expense. In my case, it was both.