“Overwatch” is a new multiplayer shooter made by Blizzard, the game development behemoth behind “World of Warcraft.” It came out in May, and has quickly become a prominent player in the gaming world – in just a few short weeks, it sold more than 10 million copies.
- Blizzard Entertainment
It’s a part of a larger genre in gaming that’s begun to emerge that’s been named the “hero shooter.” These competitive multiplayer games typically feature a large roster of distinctive characters with diverse sets of abilities.
Pictured above are Zarya, a Russian body builder turned super soldier, Hanzo, a sharp-shooting assassin, and Mei, an environmental scientist who was cryogenically frozen and now wields a giant ice gun. These completely different characters occupy the same world and fight against each other.
It’s all very strange, but very fun.
Enter “Paladins,” a forthcoming hero shooter being developed by Hi-Rez, a studio best known for its MOBA, “Smite.” It’s currently in a period of beta testing, which means that Hi-Rez is still actively making changes to the way it works before officially releasing it.
While similarities between games in the same genre are to be expected, some have noticed parallels between “Overwatch” and “Paladins” that are just a little too similar, calling into question whether Hi-Rez directly copied character designs and animations from Blizzard.
These comparisons between the two games reached a head recently when a YouTube video poking fun at “Paladins” began to go viral. The video, embedded below, sarcastically argues that “Paladins” is unique from “Overwatch” while actually drawing comparisons between the two.
Some of the similarities between the two games are pretty damning.
For example, there’s a big, hulking character in “Overwatch” named Roadhog who uses a giant hook attached to a chain to pull enemies close to him. When they get within range, he can blast them with his shotgun, like so:
And here’s Makoa, a character from “Paladins” who has a nearly identical set of weapons:
Though the actual design of the characters themselves is quite different – Roadhog is a “Mad Max”-style scavenger, whereas Makoa is a large turtle creature – the similarities in the animations are shockingly close.
Note how both characters throw the chain and keep their hand open, suddenly grasping it when it hits their target. Even the way the two characters reload their guns is nearly identical: a small slot flips up on the top of the gun, new ammo is stuffed in, and they jerk the gun backwards to lock it back into place.
Hi-Rez fires back
Now that the video making fun of “Paladins” is at nearly 2 million views, the COO of Hi-Rez, Todd Harris, published a lengthy post on Reddit to defend the development process of “Paladins.”
The crux of his argument is that all game development is iterative, with every developer taking bits and pieces from other games as inspiration. In fact, he says that every game in this “hero shooter” genre owes its legacy to an earlier game: Valve’s “Team Fortress 2,” which came out in 2007.
“While Overwatch is a fine game, we want people to understand that game development is an iterative process with many ideas coming from past projects,” he says. “This is true for Hi-Rez and almost every other game studio. For a hero shooter, the game that deserves the most credit for the genre is [‘Team Fortress 2.’]”
Harris says that once Hi-Rez decided on a fantasy/sci-fi theme for “Paladins,” Blizzard revealed “Overwatch” shortly thereafter, sporting a similar art style and setting. He says Hi-Rez knew comparisons to “Overwatch” would be made, but they had no choice but to proceed as planned.
“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,” he says. “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.”
Additionally, Harris says that Hi-Rez’s new game “Paladins” has roots dating back all the way to 2005, with ideas for abilities and character designs coming from its earlier games, like “Smite” and “Global Agenda,” rather than from Blizzard’s game.
He also provides links to footage from “Global Agenda” that shows early prototypes of characters that would eventually become characters in “Paladins.”
Harris did not offer a specific explanation for the similarities between Roadhog and Makoa, except to provide a link to a YouTube video that shows a history of games that feature characters with hook abilities.
So, while Harris outright denies claims that Hi-Rez “cloned” Blizzard’s game, he does later admit that Hi-Rez directly took some ideas from “Overwatch.”
“As a last point, it would be almost impossible for a studio of our size to ‘clone’ Overwatch in a year,” he says. “But Overwatch did have some nice features that we decided to incorporate into Paladins (Kill Cam, Improved Lag comp, some verbiage like ‘eliminations’).”
So, where do we go from here? What does it all mean?
At this point, the controversy is getting into finger-pointing, he-said-she-said territory. While eerie similarities between “Paladins” and “Overwatch” undoubtedly exist, Hi-Rez is denying it took anything significant directly from Blizzard.
It’s certainly true that every game developer takes ideas from other games, iterating them and improving on them. That’s how creativity works.
For instance, after the fast-paced shooter “Titanfall” game out, the next year’s “Call of Duty” felt notably faster, featuring mech suits that closely resembled those in “Titanfall.” Did “Call of Duty” copy “Titanfall,” or did it simply hop on a trend in first-person shooters that was already in progress? It’s hard to parse.
Blizzard has yet to publicly comment on these comparisons, but we have reached out for comment and will update this post if Blizzard responds.