Highly reminiscent of Blizzard's Overwatch, Hi-Rez Studios' Paladins: Champions of the Realm has recently arrived in open beta form on PS4, PS4 Pro and Xbox One, joining a PC release that has gradually evolved since its 2015 debut. The colourful aesthetic, characters, announcers, music, and even the HUD mirror a lot of the choices made in Blizzard's own shooter, but in terms of execution Paladins is still the one of the best alternatives we've played to date. Developed by the talented team behind games like Smite, it deploys Unreal Engine 3 with Havok physics to achieve attractive visuals at 60fps on all platforms.
In terms of the visual comparisons between all platforms, this is an issue that's easy to resolve without spilling too much ink: both PS4 and Xbox One run at the equivalent to PC's absolute top graphics settings, including max world detail, shadows, textures, particles, and shader quality. There's zero difference between them though it must be said that Paladins isn't striving to hand in the cutting-edge in visual technology. Given that it began as a PC game, it's catering to the largest audience possible, meaning visual settings that run at 1080p at 60fps even on today's budget graphics cards. And that's why there's basically no compromise on PS4 and Xbox One. There's also an exaggerated halo effect on PS4's lamps, but otherwise, character models, texture filtering - the whole package is identical to PC.
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The only major difference between PS4, Xbox One and PC concerns a touch of polish. Actual multiplayer gameplay is thankfully fine, but PlayStation 4's tutorial and practice mode appears to have an issue with AI not working properly, resulting in glitching movement - or none at all. Unsurprisingly, this issue also kicks in on PS4 Pro. Paladins is in its open beta phase, so we should expect to see minor issues like this resolved in its final release.
Resolution sees Hi-Rez deploy a dynamic solution to ensure optimal performance. Once the screen fills with alpha effects, PS4 and Xbox One prioritise 60fps gameplay over image quality: rather than letting a frame drop, the resolution dynamically lowers instead. This is something we've only actually noticed on Xbox One, which can lower to 1728x972 - a ten per cent drop on each axis, once you get into hectic battles with lots of effects. Other numbers are possible, but that's the lowest on record from our pixel-counting tests. However, just like Overwatch, the game moves so quickly, that drops in resolution are hard to spot. Hi-Rez Studios makes the right call here in prioritising the fluidity of the gameplay experience, and in motion, drops in pixel-count mostly escape notice.
The good news is that during gameplay, Paladins locks doggedly to its target 60fps, with the only drops kicking in during instant replays, where frame-rates can tumble to 40fps or lower on PS4. Curiously, Xbox One is mostly unaffected here. It's also odd that there's no correlation between the intensity of the effects-work and these drops on the Sony platform. All consoles turn in a rock-solid 60fps where it matters - in controllable gameplay - but the fact that PS4's replays are so inconsistent could be a matter of optimisation or bug-fixing for the final release.
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Paladins on PS4 Pro is something of a bitter-sweet experience though. If you output the game at 4K you get exactly that: a mostly native ultra HD output with dynamic resolution, with the pixel-count dropping at stress points. The lowest recorded resolution from our tests is 3264x1836, a drop to 85 per cent on each axis. That's not bad at all, and the dynamic resolution scaler is hardly aggressive - most of our pixel-counts did indeed resolve full 4K.
Next to a regular PS4, Pro users get a pretty decent upgrade. The downside is there's no improvement to the game graphics settings otherwise; it's the same visual make-up, this time running at 4K. Perhaps it's expected given we've hit the ceiling on PC's settings menu already, but the resolution boost should be enough to satisfy most PS4 Pro owners.
In fact, Paladins makes a bigger effort here than Overwatch, where the best we got was 4K HUDs, and a bump to texture filtering quality. It may be the underdog of the two, but Paladins makes a much stronger effort for PS4 Pro owners. The downside to Hi-Rez's Pro support comes from lackluster effort for 1080p display users - there's no down-sampling feature in effect here, meaning that the experience is essentially identical to the base PlayStation 4.
And it really shouldn't be this way. The fact is, Paladins runs brilliantly even on moderately specced PCs, and we should expect much more. We tested Paladins on a Pentium G4560 processor with a GTX 1050 with 2GB VRAM at stock clocks, which easily gets the job done at 1080p, max settings and 4x anti-aliasing. This is a budget machine, and not even using the Ti version of the Nvidia card, we're sailing through the entire experience at 1080p60 - sometimes with as little as 50 per cent GPU utilisation. The game is built to cater for the lower-end rig, and the good news is nobody's left behind there. But it makes you wonder just how much power is left on tap with a console like PS4 Pro running at these same settings - with a markedly more powerful GPU that could be put to better use.
For anyone on a 4K screen it's not an issue of course, and it's encouraging to see another ultra HD experience on Pro, running at 60Hz no less. And factoring in PS4 and Xbox One as well, it's great to have 60fps given the highest priority across the board - as it should be. Paladins may have a steep mountain to climb by going head-to-head with an industry phenomenon like Overwatch, but on a technical level at least, the game scales well to every machine it touches, with a surprise advantage over Blizzard's game with its 4K Pro support. It's fast and it's fun and it's free to play. We had a surprisingly good time with it, and highly recommend checking it out.