Valorant's new mode, Escalation, is exactly the sort of game I crave inbetween the usual tense shoot-outs the tactical FPS has to offer. It's a new Gun Game-style mode where you cycle through weapons as your team racks up kills, and you gradually get worse weapons as the match progresses. Except, Escalation doesn't just draw from Valorant's gun pool - oh no - it also chucks a few damage-dealing abilities from various agents into the mix, causing brilliant chaos when everyone gets their hands on rocket launchers and grenades that they absolutely should not have.
Escalation selects a random character for you when you start a game. You're stripped of your abilities because it's a very un-tactical team deathmatch, so it doesn't really matter who you play. But each ability in the weapon pool still belongs to someone - Sova's shock arrows, Raze's Boom Bot and rocket launcher, and even Brimstone's snowball launcher (which is usually for molotovs) from the winter event can be part of the cycle as well.
Each of these special moves have unique animations that you'd usually only ever see on the character they're designed for. The arrows and rocket launcher don't look too weird (well, they do when everyone has them), but the grenades made me do a big giggle. Raze does a little flourish when she pulls the pin from it, and daintily holds the explosive with her fingers all flared out. It looks a whole lot weirder when Omen, the edgy ghost man whose hands are almost permanently in a claw position, did the very same little finger dance (before I got him blown to pieces - see above gif).
Animations aside, including these sorts of abilities is what makes Escalation shine. Sure, running around as a shotgun squad is fun, but desperately trying to aim Sova's arrows at an enemy charging you with a knife is probably the most I've laughed playing this game.
Everyone just seems to have a lot more fun when this level of randomness is involved. In a normal intense Valo match, your teammates might get pissed at you for sprinting at someone with a shorty. But in this kind of mode they're more likely to say "screw it" and join you. It's great to be able to play around with the various weapons and abilities like this without the pressure to perform - and you might even discover you like using something more than you realise! I almost never play Raze, but her explosives are great fun and I'm encouraged to try her more often.
My only gripe with Escalation is that I think it could be more chaotic. A few less kills between weapon swaps, or even a few more players on each team would give it just a slightly faster pace. My favourite sort of Gun Game modes have always been ones that throw you completely off guard - Overwatch did one once where you changed hero every time you got a kill, and it was hectic, disorienting and brilliant if you managed to chain your elims. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Escalation is fab, and I'm excited to see how Riot will experiment more with Valorant like this in the future.