Nail-biting bomb plants, hip fire headshots, and hypernatural flicks of the wrist are the tenets of Valorant. This 5v5 tactical hero shooter by League of Legends developer Riot Games had a stranglehold on me from my first carefully strategized victory. Now, after clocking 90 hours between the closed beta and the full release, I'm still utterly enamored with the brilliant implementation of its superpowered cast and stellar gunplay. The learning curve is steep, but once the cogs of mastery clicked together, it became damn near impossible for me to put Valorant down.

If you've ever indulged in a little Counter-Strike (or, in my case, a lot) at some point over the past two decades, Valorant's high-stakes round-based shootouts will be immediately familiar. Teams take turns as either the attackers or defenders in a best-of-25 rounds. Attackers carry the spike (a bomb) to one of several designated bombsites on Valorant’s 3 finely tuned maps, plant that sucker, and hopefully blow everyone sky-high. Meanwhile, the defenders must thwart the attacker's explody-ambitions by defusing the spike once it's planted or stopping the plant altogether. Of course, you could also just mow down the enemy team to secure victory, whatever works! The back-and-forth race to that coveted 13th victory is as pulse-pounding as it is gratifying.

While thunderous, Overwatch-style ultimate abilities in a reserved tactical shooter might raise an eyebrow, the time-to-kill in Valorant remains extraordinarily low: a single, well-placed bullet can spell your end. It creates a spectacular sense of tension, encouraging scenarios where the rattle of distant gunfire sends chills down your spine even as flashy abilities are being popped. When hellfire rains from the sky, it’s a sign that Brimstone is only a hop and a skip away, so best get out of the way no matter how pinned-down you might be.

During my first few matches, I worried that ults might hurt that on-edge atmosphere and homogenize strategy to be all about their timing and use. Thankfully, those concerns were unwarranted, because Valorant balances ults by making them cost points instead of attaching them to a cooldown timer. You gain these points by dying, collecting static resource nodes, and, most importantly: killing opponents. Burning an ult means drying up yet another precious resource, so I spent them tactfully.