When it comes to map design in first-person shooters it can be difficult to find true innovation. Typically in bomb defusal game modes, you will find two bomb sites, one on either side of the map and a mid area that offers pathways to both sites.
These three lanes, one to each bomb site and the mid area, are often connected by some smaller corridors, which is where variations between maps are usually made.
Of course, different coats of paint, stylistic choices, and game mechanics mean that no two maps feel quite the same, even if they share a lot of similarities in the basic design.
But Riot Games decided to go further than this. Instead of sticking to the core pillars of map design, they set out with a mission to try some new things with Valorant and decided that each map should have some kind of feature that differed from the norm. Some of these ideas were a little outside the box.
“We knew that we needed to build maps that supported our wide range of characters who could wield any weapon from our arsenal,” says Chris Carney, Map Design Lead of Valorant at Riot Games. “Instead of trying to take multiple stabs at an ideal map, we instead aimed each map at a specific question. This helped us understand what fits best for the goals of the game while also providing gameplay diversity within our roster.”
The questions we have seen answered so far by the map design team on Valorant include, what if there are three bomb sites, not two?
What happens if we have massive elevation changes and ropes to navigate them? What happens if some pathways to sites can be opened and closed? And perhaps the craziest of them all, what if there simply is no mid area?
Haven, Split, Ascent and Bind answer these questions in that respective order, with each of them having one feature that is either a first in the very top levels of FPS map design or takes the idea to a new level.
The easiest to look at and see these new ideas are Haven and Bind, which add another bomb site to the mid area and remove the mid area in favour of teleporters respectively.
They are without a doubt the most iconic Valorant maps so far, but they do divide opinion quite a bit. Many find these new ideas refreshing and having to learn entirely new ways to play these new styles of map can be great fun.
Others, however, wish that Riot had stuck to a more traditional map style. After all, if something isn’t broken then you do not need to fix it.
This viewpoint is slowly wearing away for some after having more time to get used to the maps, but it is still a sentiment many feel.
“I think we’ve accomplished our job when we know all four of the maps have serious fans and haters,” jokes Carney. “This tells us that different playstyles and agent affinities feel more or less comfortable with certain map designs and that our map experiences are meaningfully different.”
Regardless of your views on the maps themselves, there is no doubt that Riot should be applauded for trying something new with map design.
You can compare Valorant to the likes of CS:GO and Overwatch in many of its core areas, but no other shooter comes close to its map design ideas, and that kind of innovation is something we rarely see in AAA games these days.