August 23rd, 2012
Author: Sonny Williams
Smite is a MOBA game. For the uninitiated, that is a (usually) top-down strategy game based around a set of lanes, a set of champions and various ways of acquiring money and experience to improve your champions over the course of a game. The reason I said “usually” in reference to the perspective is because of the newest addition to the MOBA genre – “Smite”. Unlike all before it, Smite puts its players directly into the action, swapping out a more tactical bird’s eye view for a personal and cinematic over-the-shoulder perspective. It’s certainly an interesting concept, but is it a worthy addition to the MOBA pantheon?
Smite’s presentation is its unique selling point, it is a strategy game played in the third-person and despite how amazing it can look, there are many times where its perspective holds it back. In most MOBA games you quite heavily rely on your ability to assess the enemy team’s lane presence, effective strength and current situation by just having a looking on the Minimap or jumping to another’s lane vision and seeing what the situation is. The same goes for team fights where it is important to be able to see the remaining life and mana on all enemies in your vicinity. In Smite, there are small indicators that show the health of enemies, but it is not as effective as being able to look directly at the situation, the perspective effectively makes it impossible to see an entire enemy teams’ life bars if you are actually in melee range of the fight. It also makes it a little uneasy to assess distances when setting up ganks, it’s a minor gripe and something that many players might not notice, but it is there and isn’t something easy to fix.
Graphics wise the game looks impressive, the vista when looking onwards to your enemy’s base is suitably epic and textures/models are a cut above most of the free-to-play games out there, something the developer, Hi-Rez, seems to have a knack for.
The sound however, needs work. The music itself is fine but the sound design for the Gods are a bit lacklustre. Having all the champions yell their taunts at the same time at the beginning of a match is irritating and apart from this initial taunt the Gods seem relatively quiet.
The designs for the “Gods” are brilliant, the idea to take from the expansive cultural pantheons allows so much creativity and imagination to bleed through into the design. It is unfortunate, however that the “Gods” fail to feel like they have truly unique looks and feels that you won’t see anywhere else. Ymirs ultimate, for instance, bears far too close a resemblance to Galio/Nunu’s ultimates from League of Legends. Again, with this much freedom to create why use design choices that have been coined by your most popular competitors?
Smite’s gameplay, like any MOBA, revolves around the protection and destruction of towers. Players compete to gain money and kill their enemies in order to destroy the defences of the enemy base. They then destroy a key structure in the base, in this case a giant axe-wielding Minotaur.
Despite the change in perspective and control scheme, the gameplay remains largely the same. If you were already especially good at other MOBAs, you won’t find much here that is daunting. There are three lanes, there is a jungle containing various buffs and large, difficult, monsters that give big rewards for killing them and require a team effort. The problem though, as mentioned above, is the MOBA style game requires more strategic capabilities than the third-person view sometimes allows for. For instance, pinging the map should not require me to be unable to move my camera or attack for the brief moment it takes to “unlock” the mouse.
Another element of the gameplay that I see as being flawed is the “Auto Item buy” and “Auto Skill Level” options you can select on the champion select screen. If these two options work perfectly giving you strong items and a universally viable build every game; you remove half of the strategic potential of the game. If it isn’t a viable build and is no better than the recommended items in League of Legends, then the option is rather useless and might as well not be there.
Despite all this, it would be a complete lie to try to say Smite isn’t fun to play. It’s a blast. The combat is exciting and the perspective can really make you feel like a part of the action. The mechanics aside from pinging and map awareness are fluid as can be, with no learning curve for anyone who’s played LoL or even WoW before. Smite may turn out to be more action based then other MOBAs, relying on the thrill of battle to overwrite the current lack of depth and choice.
Then again, this is a beta, so hopefully there will be a more expansive pool of strategic choices to decide from upon the game’s release.
I feel this topic needs its own section as the interface of this game is possibly the biggest thing holding it back. The in-game screen, as mentioned before, is a bit cluttered with related information like character levels, item builds and current money spread around the screen and given huge icons for minor information. For instance, the size of the damage indicators and the clock are huge yet the current gold is tucked away and tiny. Everything feels like it was made with MegaBlocks. The item buying screen is ordered in the most complicated way possible, instead of having sections with clickable sub-sections, they present you with ALL available options at once, making it a little daunting for newer players.
The interface for buying the premium currency resembles the one for Tribes: Ascend, with prices roughly around the same point as its peers, nothing drastic.
The tutorials, however, are fantastic. I have never seen a game explain itself so fluently and concisely within its own client. There are video guides that explain everything from basic controls, laning, jungling, ganking, interface tricks etc. It’s honestly the best thing you can do for new players and I’m glad to see such attention paid to teaching people the potential of the tools you are giving them.
I think Smite is a good game and you can see the potential for scene changing greatness hidden below some of the flaws. It deserves attention for trying something new with a concept that people haven’t really done anything new with for far, far too long.
While the gameplay and presentation have hiccups and the style of gameplay seems to hinder some of the fun you could have with the concept, I think this game will be exciting, addictive and more importantly, really fun.
In its current condition, it isn’t going to become the next big e-sport or crush all competition, but it will be fun. It should be popular and who doesn’t want to fire off lasers while flying around as an Egyptian sun god?!