SMITE Review – Almost Godly
By Remko Molenaar (Proxzor), OnRPG Journalist
Co-Written by Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), OnRPG Editor-in-Chief
For years the MOBA genre has had this aura of being the new next best thing despite existing in the shadows for so long. It all started in the Warcraft universe with dota; this simple mod was an immense success among the community and this little project started to grow into something so potentially big. Now several years later, we may call it the most popular genre of all time, with numbers that even dwarf the most successful MMO’s of this day. Even though SMITE has been around for a long time now, it’s remained in an odd perpetual closed beta. Now that Hi-Rez had the guts to slap an open beta on the title, I received word to begin the official proper review.
One thing that sets SMITE apart as a MOBA is its one of the few to try a third-person approach. Since I am used to the normal top-down perspective that most of the MOBA games use, playing for the first time in a third person view was really something I had to get used to. Your omniscient overhead view is gone; replaced by a dangerous world where you have to constantly turn your perspective to see if anyone is sneaking up behind you. The concept is still the same, and ganks are king so expect to deal with some serious paranoia as you learn how to play in the conquest mode.
Basic Gameplay and Conquest Mode
The conquest mode offers a map type most familiar to players of previous MOBA games: it has three lanes where teams of 5v5 do battle to take down the opposing team’s Minotaur for the ultimate win. Between these lanes is the ‘jungle’, which you can basically see as a ton of different paths that lead to all the lanes and even have special monsters in them that you can kill for experience, money and even useful buffs. These buffs can boost your damage, regain your mana, offer hp regen, defense, and just about any type of buff you can think of. Some Gods benefit from these buffs more than others so effective counter-jungling can be a deciding factor in conquest mode.
Champions and heroes are common names to name the mighty MOBA gladiators as I like to call them but in SMITE these characters are named gods, and most of these gods are real ones that are named after their iconic historic characters as we know them. One god that I started to play with was Zeus, and as we all know he has the power of lightning. Most of the heroes in these MOBA games are just made up, but they’re all unique with their own abilities and their own story. Something I liked from SMITE is that most, or at least many of the gods are actually known to the general public already. This helps curve the knowledge burden common with starting up a new established MOBA as in SMITE you usually can guess what most of the Gods’ powers will be like prior to even facing them. Seeing Thor throw his hammer at you or Ra call upon the power of the Sun makes for a fun initial experience and unleashing the power of gods you’ve read about in lore feels satisfying. When I played Zeus in my first game, I really felt like I was a god, and oh boy was Zeus strong.
Some of you might be questioning now what the main objective is. Unless you have lived under a rock, you’ll immediately recognize the basic concepts of SMITE such as towers in each lane protecting players from constant ganks or overzealous laning opponents during the first 10 or so minutes. Your main objective in this ‘laning phase’ is to take objectives such as kills and farm minions without getting killed yourself (or having your face melted by a tower). Along with you in a lane will be a set of minions consisting of one big baddy, three melee and three archers. These minions will, without any help from the gods, stay in the middle of each lane unless the gods interfere.
This minions play a unique role in SMITE’s strategy than other games like League of Legends where getting last hits on them is vital or Heroes of Newerth where you can kill your own minions to deny gold. See if you pay attention to the other gods and how many times they are attacking, you can actually control the lane and make it freeze in a special place. You can either do it close to your tower so when they overextend you can kick them back leaving them without any money and experience, or you can punish them heavily when they step over the line. While this tactic might seem familiar to League of Legends players, it’s a bit trickier to pull off since minions in SMITE pack a HUGE punch and will agro you the second you attack an enemy God be it with abilities or melee attacks. Learning to land fast damage and retreat out of range or effectively clear minions right before you strike is a difficult to master but vital skill to have in SMITE and part of what makes the side 2v2 lanes so much fun to learn.
This leads me to the next topic of teamwork and any MOBA’s most dreaded topic, the community. When you are together with someone, learning to manage minion control, skill cooldowns, and synergy between gods is necessary to dominate. Unfortunately more likely than not if you play by yourself you’ll find that your teammate always believes he knows best and expects you to read their mind as they telepathically lead you to victory in every engagement. In my past experience with MOBAs this has led to some of the most bitter community issues as egos crash and matches become 20 minute exercises in name calling tedium, yet SMITE didn’t feel this way. I have no idea why, but somehow I haven’t seen a single problem with the community in my entire time reviewing this title. Maybe it’s the fact that SMITE has a noticably smaller community compared to its rivals in the genre but I feel like the players have mostly been very mature or at the least pretty introverted.
When the laning phase is over, the team usually comes together to try and make the final push to get the last objective and win the game. In many games, the team has to go through a base and kill off its towers and structures to take the win but SMITE has it done differently and I must say, I enjoy it a lot more. There is a Minotaur in each base, and if this beast is slain, the team has won. Obviously this objective is the hardest of them all and really requires the team to work together to take this beast down. Now rather than inhibitors, the game utilizes huge phoenix as the final stand between the enemy team and their Minotaur and as each phoenix falls, the Minotaur will be weakened. This was a nice touch that allows teams at a slight disadvantage to straight out punish enemy teams that win a team fight early on and push hard down a single lane. The Minotaur will flat stomp out such tactics and push the game into overtime so the unlucky team has a chance to regroup and recover.
Modes Modes Modes
Outside of the relatively generic gameplay of conquest, SMITE offers a surprising number of extra modes including Joust, Domination, and Arena. Arena offers the most frantic team-based gameplay where the entire match is basically just one huge team battle with sporadic minion waves keeping some semblance of organization. It really is amazing seeing huge last minute comebacks in this mode and you never quite know how things will turn out. This game also features almost non-existent respawn timers to keep the action flowing non-stop.
Domination exists for the king of the hill junkies that still want to keep that three lane set-up of Conquest but with a bit more advanced and dynamic tactics. Huge sand genies guard locations forcing players to have to unify to take back points and respawn times are much lower here as well.
I don’t have much to say about Joust other than it being a fun time waster or there for egotists that always wanted to challenge someone into that comical MOBA 1 on 1 challenge. One lane, two opponents. Fight and see who is superior!
Many MOBA games have completely different styles that they use; some of them are cartoony with more shiny colors, and some others prefer to give the game a real jungle effect and thus the majority of colors are grayish green. Since SMITE plays around with the gods from multiple mythologies, I really understand why the game has this roman look to it. Both Minotaurs reside in massive temples with appropriately themed towers that blend flawlessly with the background art to engross you in the world. I have played this game for a long time now, and playing this game more lately I have seen some major improvements in both the interface and graphical part of the game. It’s rare to see a game improve graphically so much so early in its lifespan and I commend them on pushing the envelope more and more. Their work on the Arena creates the feeling of being in an epic coliseum in Rome battling for the roar of the crowds. It’s hard to describe but just trust me when I say it’s quite memorable. My only real complaint is the interface feels a bit messy at first, but functions quite well once you become accustomed to it.
Having played SMITE more regularly the last few weeks, I really must say that I am becoming a big fan of the third person view. Having played many arena games that use this view, I have to give props to Hi-Rez for creating an environment where a niche of action gamers can feel at home in the MOBA setting without spending hours researching each selectable character. As a fan of MMOs offering open pk systems, I love the thrill of never knowing if your enemy is sneaking up on your blind spot. With many unlockable gods through either in-game money or real money, you have a lot of diversity to keep yourself hooked for many years. In the end my complaints really come down to two gripes. The cash shop in this game, while not offering unbalanced power, is still ridiculously expensive if you want to experience a larger diversity of gods. The items also seem a bit random and less thought out than other MOBAs but considering how early SMITE is in its lifespan, this is a necessary evil of the MOBA genre.
Graphics: 4 – Gods are immaculately put together and skill animations are amazing but skins are lacking and dull environmental textures hold it back from a better score.
Controls: 3 - Controls are functional but feel slightly clunky in the heat of battle. The UI can be a bit of a hindrance to newer players. Circle Strafing Battles Incoming!
Features: 5 – Four mode types that all offer fun and decently balanced gameplay is a feat most in the MOBA genre can’t claim.
Customization: 2 – The lack of a talent system and limited/expensive skins holds back your ability to customize yourself from others. Items still feel a bit imbalanced but the ability to purchase 'summoner skills' on the fly is SMITE's saving grace in this category.
Community: 3 – While no MOBA community is perfect, SMITE offers a more stress free environment thanks to its more casual action-oriented playerbase.