Auto-turrets may be the most hated gadget in multiplayer shooters. If turrets are too strong, they feel impossible to defeat. If they’re too weak, no one will want to use them. On top of that, auto-turrets lock onto enemies on their own, and make players feel like their opponent is circumventing the need for aiming at all. So when Riot revealed Killjoy, Valorant’s newest Agent, players were hesitant — which is exactly the response Riot was prepared for.
Most players’ first impression of Killjoy’s kit came from a video that was briefly posted on the Valorant website several days ahead of schedule. The video showed off each of Killjoy’s abilities, including the turret, and players were immediately on edge. Some reactions included the assumption that the addition of one turret would completely alter Valorant forever.
In a now-infamous clip, popular Valorant streamer and pro Spencer “Hiko” Martin said he thought Riot would need to add shields and additional healers to the game to balance out the amount of damage the turret would added. This reaction didn’t surprise Riot a bit.
“There’s certain things in shooters that people have almost an allergic reaction to by default, and stuff like wall hacks and turrets are definitely among those,” said Killjoy designer Max Grossman in an interview with Polygon. “So we knew that people were going to be a bit skeptical.”
Senior character producer John Goscicki was even less surprised. “Overall, reactions on the gameplay side of things are exactly where we expected them to be,” Goscicki told Polygon. “It’s not very surprising. [...] When you see the trailer without full context — even if you have full context, like a full essay dissertation on how that ability works — until you experience it, there will always be some sort of negative reaction if there’s been a history with that stuff. So for the [reaction] to be that extreme that quickly, yeah I think we were all expecting that.”
When players heard turrets, the images that popped into their heads probably involved getting mowed down by the unmanned guns of characters like Team Fortress 2’s Engineer or Torbjörn from Overwatch. These are characters that can practically set their guns aside because their turrets do all the shooting for them, which is completely antithetical to Valorant’s aim-first ethos. And apparently, that was Riot’s opinion too.
“A lot of our Agents start out as [us taking] an idea that we feel like kind of pushes the space of what can exist in tactical shooters and we say, ‘How do we actually make it work?’” said Grossman. “I think turrets are a really good example. It’s one of those things where you say it, and your examples are like Torbjörn and Engineer. Turrets that are sometimes even stronger than individual players. And obviously that does not belong anywhere near our game. So we start with those fears, and we spend a lot of time prototyping different versions of it. It’s like, ‘How do we make this thing still feel powerful and fulfilling that fantasy of playing with a turret, while still making it feel like it is acceptable in our game?’”
Killjoy was released about a week after the short video of her abilities leaked, and when players got to try her turret for themselves, most were pretty surprised. As it turns out, the turret does almost no damage whatsoever. The community quickly realized that they may have misjudged the purpose of the turret and its place in the game. Despite what players were expecting, the turret was never designed to get kills on its own.
“One of the early bets that we made with [the turret] was this concept of always playing off of it,” Grossman explained. “It creates a distraction and that’s really more of how we imagined it. It’s more like a distraction device [...] if you don’t deal with it, don’t shoot it, or smoke it off, or destroy it with other utility, it’s going to be really annoying and you’re eventually going to take more and more damage, but it’s not really gonna just blast you away.”
Making a turret all about distraction and detection, rather than actual damage, is quite a departure from the way they’re normally used. But even while it defied expectations for shooters in general, the addition of something that can automatically aim and shoot at all still represented a risk for Valorant. Goscicki was careful to point out that plenty of players in the community appreciated that side of the ability as well.
“There’s another voice in the room, and I’ve seen this from streamers and from some community members, that are like, ‘We are stoked that you guys are willing to push the boundaries, that you’re not confined to this defined box,’” Goscicki said.
While Killjoy definitely pushed the envelope — and doesn’t seem too broken so far — it could be a while before we can say for sure whether fans are happy with her or not. But even if she isn’t quite right, and ends up with her turret or other abilities being too powerful or too weak, Riot’s prepared for that, too.
“I hope that, at this point, all the follow-up work we’ve done with characters has built some amount of trust,” Goscicki said. “We’re listening to what’s happening, we’re making changes, we’re adjusting. Nothing’s set in stone.”