Smite is a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) by Hi-Rez studios, the developer behind the recent revival of Tribes via Tribes Ascend.
The game plays very much like League of Legends, Defense of the Ancients, Awesomenauts, Super Monday Night Combat… in the same way Halo and Call of Duty play like each other. They’re not exactly the same, but they’re not entirely different either… I’m sure you get the idea.
The flavour of “five versus five” that Smite offers up, is a third-person action-oriented gameplay style. You move around using the WSAD keys, instead of clicking where you want to go ala DotA/LoL. This change of perspective does quite a bit for refreshing the feel of this style of game, and brings with it some interesting considerations.
We gave the closed beta a once-over, and this is what we found:
From the get-go, it’s clear that Hi-Rez has a kind of interface style they’re maintaining. Just like Tribes Ascend, the menu is on the left, and there is space on the right to advertise (in a very animated fashion) whatever new thing is on sale in the Store. Smite is a Free-To-Play game like Tribes Ascend, and follows the same ideal: you can spend money to unlock things now (like Gods and Skins), or you can just keep playing the game to gather up enough in-game currency to buy new Gods. Vanity Skins require real money, though.
The interface has lots of nice little touches, like animated scenes that play out depending on which menu you’re in. If you hit up the Social side to add a friend, two of the Gods buddy it up while a third roughhouses along. It’s a small thing, but it adds a lot of charm to what could otherwise be a lifeless and utilitarian screen.
PRICE OF PIETY
Currently, the beta has five base Gods unlocked, and a handful more than can be unlocked via Gems (real-world money) or Favour (in-game currency). It costs about 5500 Favour to unlock a God, which (at the start) about 6 or 7 matches, depending on if you win or lose. You get 1000 Favour each time you level up your profile, so once you hit level 6 you should be able to afford a new God, and another at level 12, and so fourth. The profile page wasn’t functional yet, so we couldn’t see how much “experience” it takes to level up your profile. (Levelling up your profile is a separate thing from levelling up a God in-game during a match). There doesn’t appear to be any persistence outside the match, so nothing like the League of Legends “Runes” or “Masteries”, but this may change in the future.
Just like in League of Legends, it shows the heroes both sides picked for the match. In this case, the heroes are literal Gods, taken from the various religions like Hinduism, spirituality from the East, the Egyptian and Greek pantheons, and so fourth. In a sense, it cuts right to the chase, since all these MOBA games design their characters around these archetypes, whereas Smite just uses them undiluted. It’s only once you’re in a match though, that things start to feel very different.
The map is your standard three-lane affair, turrets along each lane to defend it against attackers, with “jungle” in between the lanes that contain various “Jungle Camps” that have monsters you can kill for gold or buffs.
In each base on opposite ends of the maps, is the Minotaur. The opposing team’s goal is to take out your turrets (with assistance from Minions that spawn out from their base), get past one or all of your Phoenix, then assault your Minotaur.
The Minotaur fights back. It’s huge, faster than it looks, and hits very hard. If the entire five-person enemy team comes in after smashing past the Phoenixes that guard the three entryways to the Minotaur, and they’re all on quarter-health, they’ll get smashed. If you’re lucky and catch the enemy unawares, coming in behind them while they’re fighting the Minotaur, you can likely take them all out before they do any serious damage. It’s an interesting twist from the norm, in which the “Base Heart” or whatever, just sits there taking damage while you watch your respawn counter.
In League of Legends, there are three towers that defend the goal. Just ahead of those towers, are three Inhibitors, that when destroyed, starts giving the enemy team more powerful minions in their regular stream of attackers. In Smite, the three towers and three Inhibitors are combined into three Phoenix. The Phoenix is reasonably powerful (more powerful than a regular tower), but if it is destroyed, the enemy team’s minions start spawning with flaming weapons instead of regular weapons. That’s a real pain for people still fighting in that lane, and just in general.
The towers in a lane are spaced as you would expect, equidistant from each other, three-fourths up your lane. They feel a lot closer together though, which isn’t a bad thing when you’re retreating from your first tower after it’s been destroyed. There is a jungle lane that connects to your lane, midway between each tower, so ganking is very likely if you’re not careful.
Like in Tribes Ascend, there is a quick-voice system, which should really just be a standard in all online games by now. It’s laid out very logically, with the numbers 1, 2 and 3 always representing left, mid and right lane, and then hitting the category key twice for a general shout. For example, you hit V to bring up the menu, G for Gank, then G again to just shout “GANK!”, which is both text and voice. If you hit V, G, then 1, it’ll be “GANK LEFT LANE!”. They have categories for most of the important things, like “ENEMY MISSING” and “RETREAT”. Once you get used to the system, it’s very satisfying to be able to quickly communicate intent without having to type things out.
Because of the nature of the movement system (WSAD keys move your character around directly), all the skills are area-of-effect to make targeting easier. Holding down the left mouse button is a regular attack for taking out jungle creeps and minions, but if you press one of the skill keys (which have the usual QWERTY mapping) you’ll get a visual indicator of where that skill will hit, as shown to the left. Each character’s skills are tailored to match their playstyle, of course. The monkey god Wukong has a lot of jumping attacks that let you move around the AOE indicator a bit while he’s in the air.
AUTO SKILL AUTO BUY
Another nice touch, especially for people like me who are tired of researching builds for League of Legends, is the auto-skill and auto-buy systems. You can switch them off, of course, if you’re totally pro. But if you just want to play without worrying about which skills to upgrade when, or which items to buy when you teleport back to base and hit up the shop, you can leave them enabled. Skills will, as expected, magically increase in power when you level up as the game picks which skills to improve based on what the developers think is an “average” build for that character. Same goes for the purchasing of items if you leave on auto-buy: each time you teleport back to base, you’ll automatically get kitted out with what you can afford, and what will benefit your character. DotA 2 actually has the auto-buy system as well, but since it has multiple shops that sell different things, it can be confusing if you don’t know where to go to get what.
Another nice touch is the tooltip popup that appears when you’re facing monsters in one of the various Jungle Camps. The camps are highlighted on the map, with little icons that indicate what you’ll get from them when you kill the main monster there. But if you’re not sure what that might be, or how difficult the monsters are to kill, the tooltip solves that. It tells you the difficulty of the group and what buff you’ll get from killing them, like a speed boost, armour boost, health regeneration boost, and so on.
The minions that automatically spawn from each base, come in three types: warriors, archers, and monster-esq brawlers. At the start of the game, it’s just a few warriors with melee attacks. After a while, archers start spawning with them, which can pose a mild problem for Gods that only have close-range attacks. One the brawlers start spawning too, each pack of minions is quite potent, and can take down towers quicker than you’d expect.
Continuing the “Nice Touch” vibe of the game, when minions suddenly switch their target to you, usually because there’s nothing else around for them to attack, they’ll get comical little exclamation signs above their heads. This is very useful for realizing that there are none of your own minions backing you up. Towers also indicate their range via a circle on the grounds, which makes turret-hugging easier, and you also know exactly when you’ll start being attacked by the enemy turret, as it draws a line between itself and you if you’re its target.
The rest of the expected trimmings are there. Upon death, you’re given a breakdown of who killed you, with what, and who helpled. It’s a bit bare-bones right now, and like a few other elements of the interface, could do with a nip and tuck before release. One really useful feature on the scoreboard (opened with TAB), is a bunch of bars that fill as characters level up and buy items, that indicate their attack damage disposition (Physical vs Magical). So if you check the scoreboard and everyone on the enemy team has loaded up on Magical Damage type items, you know to grab some Magical Defense items. There are also high-level items you can buy that give you additional skills to activate, but I didn’t check those out yet.
Because of the third-person “over the shoulder” view, enemies can sneak up behind you quite easily. If you can see an enemy, all your team-mates get an icon on their map, and on their hud, showing where that enemy is. You can place wards in the jungle lanes to expand this vision, and a few of the Gods have built-in skills for doing exactly that, like Arianna’s “trap” skill that acts as both a landmine and as a sight wards.
It’s a MOBA, so that means expect highly-competitive players that love to lash out at the first thing they see that doesn’t match up to their expectations. If your team isn’t winning, clearly someone somewhere is being a noob, or doing something wrong, or doesn’t know how to play their character, or is feeding, etc, and so on. It’s almost a pity that the MOBA genre is plagued with these kinds of attitudes, because at its core, MOBA is the closest thing PC gaming culture has to a fighting game.
If you don’t like MOBA, Smite is unlikely to change your mind. But the more action-oriented approach and familiar view might draw in a few newcomers who don’t like the real-time strategy view of other MOBA games.
SMITE BETA KEY GIVEAWAY
If you’re interested in trying out the closed beta for yourself, here are two “first come first serve” beta keys.
You enter them on your Hi-Rez accounts page, once you’ve made an account.