SMITE Beta Preview
Between League of Legends, DOTA 2, and Blizzard All-Stars (formerly known as Blizzard DOTA) on the horizon, some may say there is no room for a new face in the MOBA scene. With three big names like that, I’d be hard-pressed to argue, if not for one key ingredient: innovation.
Enter Hi-Rez Studios, an indie developer with a pedigree for dusting off old formulas and putting a unique spin on them. Their first game, Global Agenda, blended MMORPG and co-op FPS elements, while their second title, Tribes: Ascend, took an honored classic and modernized it with a free-to-play business model. Smite, Hi-Rez’s third release, is going to completely change our perspective on the MOBA genre.
Multiplayer online battle arena games — also known as action RTS games — are known for their top-down, overhead views. Smite, instead, makes use of the third-person perspective, bringing the player down into the trenches alongside his character. With this view-shift comes the inclusion of action-RPG elements and the necessity to actually aim every strike rather than rely on auto-attack, which layers on an additional element of skill.
Smite’s assortment of characters consists of deities from a variety of mythological pantheons, including ancient Egyptian, Greek, Norse, Chinese, and Hindu. Familiar names like Zeus and Anubis fight alongside Kali and Guan Yu, deities less known in the western world but nonetheless steeped in real-world lore. By using actual mythology, Smite made its roster immediately endearing to me — these are more than just random characters with made-up back stories, created to look cool.
And Smite does look cool. The closer view means models are rendered in more detail than any MOBA I’ve ever seen, and while I’m not particularly fond of the somewhat cartoonish look favored by the genre, Hi-Rez executed it with a polish seldom seen in indie titles.
Apart from the points mentioned above, Smite is otherwise very much the standard MOBA: two teams of five players compete on a map with three lanes lined with defensive towers, and the ultimate goal is to destroy the enemy’s base. Although in Smite’s case, the base is a giant minotaur statue that comes to life and chases enemies when they approach — a nice touch.
Killing an enemy player puts him temporarily out of the game as he waits to respawn; the later in the game, the longer the respawn timer. Player kills thus grant a team a temporary strategic advantage and a window of opportunity to destroy undefended towers.
Jungles separate the three lanes with twisting, winding passages perfect for sneaking behind enemy lines and double-teaming an unwary foe. The jungle is also filled with NPC camps that grant a buff to those who destroy them.
Each deity has four special abilities, which can be upgraded upon leveling. Minions spawn in waves and march down the lanes to their ultimate fate: being crushed under the heel of a player for XP and gold. That gold can be spent at an in-game shop to further bolster your hero, and the game offers the option to make purchases and level upgrade choices for you if you’re too new to wrap your head around all the decisions.
At the end of every match, you are awarded points which can be spent to unlock additional deities. If you can’t wait to earn the points for an unlock, microtransactions allow you to do so as well, and additionally allow you to purchase new skins for your gods — an entirely cosmetic feature.
Matches tend to last approximately 30 minutes, with newer players leading to longer games because they lack the experience to recognize when they should surrender. While I would prefer shorter matches, that’s not a criticism against Smite, but against the MOBA genre as a whole.
Overall, Smite is shaping up to be a worthy entry in the action RTS genre, one that will probably be able to survive alongside the tidal wave of upcoming AAA MOBAs. Anyone who likes the genre should give Smite a try — it’ll cost you nothing, after all — and I’m certain the third-person perspective will attract a whole new audience. However, unlike League of Legends, I don’t foresee Smite building up a strong eSports scene, unless some form of overhead spectator mode is included to make the game easier for an audience to follow.