Valorant Review 2021 – Part 1: Stabilisation
Another year of Valorant is coming to an end, and it's time to take stock! After a year 2020 extremely rich and sometimes chaotic, Riot Games' FPS has found its cruising speed in 2021. The euphoria of the launch is over, with lengthy patch notes that modify dozens of systems, even if its means causing unsuspected bugs. Valorant's development is now focused on more precise points, patch after patch, without forgetting to innovate on different levels.
Like last year, we will divide our end of year review into two parts. The first will focus on the evolution of Valorant as a game. The second part will take a look back at the competitive scene and the various Valorant events of the year.
Valorant 2021 in figures
In 2021, Valorant got 4 new Agents, 2 new maps and not less than 26 patches ! As far as Agents are concerned, 2021 started with the appearance of Yoru in early January, followed by Astra in March, then KAY/O in June and finally Chamber in November. These four new Agents have extremely different kits and play styles, but only Astra has been able to win over the players. It's too early to draw conclusions about Chamber, who has just been released, but he is more likely to become popular as a solo Agent rather than a team one, like Phoenix. As for KAY/O, it took a while, but he is now appearing, even in competition. There is still the case of Yoru, who doesn't really convince. He is already planned to be redesigned at the beginning of 2022.
The two new Valorant maps are quite representative of the future of the game. Breeze, and even more so Fracture, are very original playgrounds for a tactical FPS. The former offers original and complex combat situations that go beyond simple line taking, while the latter places Attackers and Defenders in unique and contradictory starting configurations. By receiving maps that shake up the classic architecture, Valorant reinforces its personality, brick by brick. The choice of map in competition becomes more important than ever and forces to play different strategies that should enhance many compositions.
There is also one final point to make, which is directly related to the released of the Agents and maps: Riot Games has started to really reveal the Story of Valorant. It was this year that we learned the existence of two parallel worlds, explaining the presence of duplicate Agents and the origins of the war for radianite. While everything is still cryptic, we have more and more elements to understand what really happened and why the different Agents are fighting. Better still, the different elements of Valorant respond to each other, like Fracture which evokes the division between the two worlds, but also teases the arrival of Chamber.
More targeted updates
Valorant has therefore had one major content addition every two months, on average. That's more than many service games, but it's still less than Riot Games originally planned. In 2020, the developers hoped to release 6 Agents per year. Clearly, this was not tenable this year. At the end of 2020, we've already seen that the simultaneous release of Icebox and Skye caused very big problems, ultimately pushing the release of the shaman back by a few weeks. This year, Riot did not try again and, instead, released the Agents and maps separately.
This was an extremely beneficial decision for both the game and its players. Rather than trying to stick to an impossible schedule, the developers preferred to take the time to finalise their projects before deploying them. This was particularly true of Chamber, which was released later than planned. In 2020, Valorant suffered from numerous bugs and crashes, and some Agents and maps had to be disabled several times while updates were made. In 2021, there was nothing like that and Valorant remained extremely stable, and that's the most important thing.
We should also remember that we are still in the context of a global pandemic which forces everyone to adapt to complex working conditions. COVID is having an unexpected, but very real, impact on the development of games.
A mid-year change of direction
If there was a defining moment in Valorant this year, it was the launch of Episode 3. The patch 3.00 brought with it a number of profound changes, all of which were designed to return to a promise made before the game's launch: ' In Valorant, shooting matters. You don't kill with abilities. '. This has resulted in a rebalancing of all weapons, as well as an overhaul of the game's economy. Most abilities have increased in price. Some ultimate abilities require an extra orb before they can be used. All of this resulted in players having to make big decisions at the beginning of each round. Every purchase in the shop is now carefully considered and Agent abilities have become valuable resources.
This change of direction has stabilise Valorant in terms of balancing. Up until Episode 3, all patches contained changes to the various Agents, which is not really the case anymore. Of course, there are special cases like Jett or Skye, but on the whole, Valorant patches no longer contain balancing. This is not to say that all Agents are balanced, as evidenced by the dominance of some and the absence of others in the meta.
In its other games, Riot Games likes to play with the balancing of its characters to provoke different meta and diversify game situations. It's a course that Valorant's developers were considering for a while, but it seems to have been abandoned, at least for now. It's mostly the maps that dictate the compositions today, and that's a point we'll focus on more in our second part of the 2021 review about esport.