By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), The Kumbhakarna of Jetlag
As promised Ragachak and myself are on site at the Season 2 SMITE World Championships! But yesterday before the buzz of the tournament began, we paid a visit to the new expanded offices of Hirez where I had a chance to discuss upcoming Season 3 features and gameplay changes with SMITE lead developer Scott Zier! And the details given are sure to shake up the way we play SMITE entirely.
From Actives to Trinkets
The biggest bombshell, even overshadowing the Japanese pantheon, is their decision to rework the system for actives into something more similar to the League of Legends Summoner Abilities, while still retaining the uniqueness that actives bring to SMITE. How so? And why?
As a hardcore arena player, actives always stood as my massive advantage over the masses of casuals coming to the game. For reasons unknown to myself, and even Scott, the bulk of players simply do not prioritize purchasing actives, especially when they are behind. The psychology seems to stem from MOBA mentality that the reason they are falling behind is because of a power gap, and the active not directly providing stats makes it a waste of gold in overcoming their disadvantage. Rather than launching a more intensive education campaign, Scott’s team decided this pattern of behavior was better addressed in a way that may help alleviate a bit of snowballing in the game.
The new system forces the actives on players, first at level 1, and then again at level 12. Free of charge. And far more powerful than initial tier 1 forms you might expect! All the actives will be available to players in the current system, so it’s totally up to you which active you feel will be more important in the early game, and which will help turn the tide based on how the game has progressed to the mid-game. Now while this is a boon to player’s purchasing power, it also comes at a cost. Most actives new form falls somewhere between tier 2 and 3, meaning key powers needed to address certain in-game mechanics like Ares’ pull (beads) or Bastet’s cats (sprint) will now feel underpowered in addressing them.
CC and Quality of Life UI Changes
This leads me into the next major change – Season 3 will be slightly toning down CC, adding new itemization to address the above challenges that actives will no longer offer a quick fix for, and making CC in general far easier to understand and react to.
See for those just getting into SMITE or just unobservant in the chaos of battle, the current CC system showcases the ability icon of the CC you’re experiencing. This is rather counter-intuitive versus a simpler icon designed to represent the CC type itself. Combined with very subtle animations pointing to the CC, and an ever growing CC-type list as new gods are revealed, Hirez recognized they were quickly building their game into a corner in terms of viability for new players to learn, as well as animators to properly animate.
The solution is obvious and a long time coming. But at least its now coming! Generic icons are being designed to represent each CC, and quality of life improvements to both God outlines and animations representing active CC on them are coming with it. This will make it so easy to identify CC on a god that even your enemies should be able to recognize what ails you at close to medium range. This will coincide with other side improvements such as the outline of a god brightening if you see their outline through a wall via a ward and have an ability chosen that is capable of hitting them through a wall. Small tweaks like that which may be second nature to the pros, but are probably a surprise to new players picking up an unfamiliar god for the first time.
Now that Hirez has expanded their team so much, we can expect more improvements in old god models as well to catch up to the quality we see from more recent gods. It seems something related to Arachne may be teased later this weekend, with another 5 gods on the chopping block after her to receive at least visual overhauls.
The final QoL change coming is a tweak to daily rewards, following the Heroes of the Storm pattern. Rather than a boring button click to claim rewards that you lose the stacking bonus to if you miss a single day, you will now have a full week to bust through daily quests involving systems that make you play outside your comfort zone. This means playing as certain pantheons or as certain archetypes, sometimes requiring you to win with them for the higher rewards. As players level, new harder quests will unlock in addition to the simpler ones, giving players with lots of a time on their hands a chance to wrack up some free gems for their dedication!
Changes are coming to wards. Though it almost seemed like a slip up that the design team mentioned this. What changes are still a secret, though I managed to get Scott to slip that they are considering uniting wards and sentry wards to all act as sentry wards to make the warding game far more competitive and active. On that note they may bring back the active Eye of Providence which acted similar to League of Legends warding trinkets as a trinket under the new system. All of this is speculation and half teased truths, but we are excited to see the real results.
Reworked 3v3 and Ranked Changes
That’s enough about helping casual players. Let’s get into what the battle hardened veterans can look forward to! For starters, we’ll be seeing an overhaul to how the “Masters” ranked league works. The current problem in season 2 is once players qualify from Diamond 1 into masters, they tend to build up this infallible chunk of MMR to the point that a demotion is a pipe dream. At this point they tend to go on to troll build, not take rank seriously, and screw around for the enjoyment of the streamers as they have nothing to really lose or gain.
What we now know as the Masters league is getting downgraded to Diamond 1 in Season 3. However the top 100 Diamond 1 players will now be automatically promoted to “Grandmasters.” This is a fluid system that will not involve promotion matches or anything like that and can change daily. You could be offline for a week and drop from the Grandmasters simply because more active players are winning games and surpassing you. But what it does bring is a much simpler list of awe for aspiring rank players to look at and dream of reaching.
What’s more, we’ll be seeing a new 3v3 ranked system that allows full 3 player teams to queue together! Long has the duo queue limit on conquest ranked held back professional teams from testing their skill on the wider scale. But starting soon on the PTS, and likely going live sometime in February (all ranked changes are currently scheduled for February 2nd, aka soonTM), players will be able to start qualifying for ranked joust 3v3 under the new Chinese themed rework map!
Wukong Strikes the Jade Emperor’s Heavens – Joust 3v3
I had a chance to go hands on with the first Japanese goddess Amaterasu, Goddess of the Rising Sun, on the new Journey to the West themed Chinese joust map! This new joust map is far longer than the previous map, though the jungle has been simplified to 3 jungle mobs plus a new watered down version of the fire giant. The jungle mobs consist of two mana buff camps that are far safer to claim on your side than previous, as well as a single red buff camp on the central opposite side of the map from the rest of the jungle that will be intensely fought over.
For League of Legends players, the layout is akin to the 3v3 map present there, if the two lanes were merged into one, and the jungle was compressed into a tiny part being on the top of the map, and the rest being a twisted fan shape heading far off to the other side culminating in a small arena where the new fire bull awaits challengers. Mechanically they’ve reduced the defenses down to a single tower followed by the phoenix from the previous two tower system, meaning the region in central lane for battle has expanded quite a bit!
Now for the real twist on things… in the current test version the fire bull is far easier to deal with than the fire giant. It makes sense that its designed around being taken down around level 10 by 2 players if not interrupted, but I actually managed to defeat it on OP Amaterasu at level 8 in a near death experience. While they are intending to tone down the buff to not be as blisteringly strong as the fire giant buff, defeating this monster is crucial to your success as it stands as the counter to joust players that pick gods set to come online in late game by sending out blue wisps that disable enemy tower fire and phoenix fire for a set time. Ouch! As such you better believe wards are coming back into style in a big way on this new map.
Finally it would be a crime to not touch on the amazing job Hirez has done on the visuals and theming of the new map. Taking from Journey to the West, the base of one side of the map represents the massive peach trees of Wukong’s monkey base, complete with matching monkey minions marching to stand against the ever infuriating cock blocking nature of the Jade Emperor. The other side of the map rises well into the heavens with pagodas stacked on pagodas like a drunken game of Chinese Jenga gone terribly wrong. Marching from its red and golden gates are the Heaven’s Guards, ready to pound some monkeys into the sand for dirtying their heavenly tiles.
The new towers are immaculate; large red lighthouse looking towards powered by some sort of paper fan mechanism that empowers a golden dragon wrapped around it to shoot bolts of fire down at invaders. The phoenixes as well have been reworked into a shiny blue Articuno on Wukong’s side, and a vicious wily Moltres representing the Jade Emperor. Even the jungle minions got a rework, with blue buff camp now guarded by armored purple turtles with spirit snakes for tails. Of course you can expect to see SMITE mascot cyclops Denton returning in Chinese armor as your red buff representative. While I had hoped that the minions would evolve upon defeating the new fire giant, aka Master Storming Ox from Kung Fu Panda, as things stand they only give the minions the flaming weapons to represent their power buff.
Now with the inclusion of full 3 player pre-mades queuing into a rank system alongside solo queue players, I was concerned about match-making. Hirez pointed out that they were as well, and in part of their upcoming quality of life changes, they have new algorithms being tested that would not only balance out team MMR rates to find fair matches, but even take into account past history of players that play together regularly. Teams that tend to stomp the yard with a vengeance when together will have artificially boosted MMR to match them against higher tier players for a more fair gameplay experience.
The Japanese Pantheon Rises with the Sun
What’s the point of a ballroom when you have no balls? A similar point can be made if you imagined the Land of the Rising Sun entering the pantheon war without a sun goddess representing them. Luckily Amaterasu arrives on the 12th (yes next Tuesday!) bringing her iconic mirror, necklace, and sword, to rise as a dang samurai because if you’re not a samurai in Japan, you aren’t trying hard enough. And guess what you lucky pigs in a blanket, I played her for half an hour and am about to lay the details out on her pug stompiest kit we’ve seen since Nemesis. So please play the PTS and leave feedback before our Japanese overlords arrive!
Akin to Nemesis at launch, Amaterasu is one of those warriors that feels more assassin than warrior in terms of damage and survivability, yet more guardian in terms of ability functions. She’s an odd bird that I would call a jack of all trades if not for that fact that she is a master of all trades she carries.
Illuminating Strike (passive): Her passive as it stands is the truly broken part of her kit that I feel is what will be toned down to bring her in line with other warriors. After auto attacking an enemy, a sun aura erupts from them that makes them 10% more vulnerable to damage. That in itself is fine, until you find out that she can stack it on an enemy god a maximum of 3 times (if anything in this world can actually survive her onslaught for that long). Beyond this, the aura impacts other nearby enemies, and has quite a massive range. Clearly, we’ll be seeing a toned down version of this come next week.
Divine Presence: Her first ability puts her a bit more towards the guardian side of things with an AoE heal over time scaling on physical damage. The odd part about it is she flips a coin each time it’s used, alternative between a bonus movement speed aura and bonus power aura. It’s on super short cooldown so as long as she builds enough mana, you can expect her to give Guan Yu a run for the money as the healingest warrior of the east.
Heavenly Reflection: Once again stealing a page out of the guardian playbook (Cabrakan this time around), Amaterasu charges her mirror for five seconds while taking reduced damage in the process. The more damage she absorbs, OR the more damage she inflicts, the harder a long range straight line attack that goes through gods hits at the end of the 5 seconds. She can even end the ability early for a quick long range shot to finish off a fleeing foe. This ability is downright nasty, and a true signature of her kit.
Glorious Charge: On Amaterasu’s assassin side, she keeps this nasty improve from Nemesis. Her mirror blinds enemies, silencing all foes directly in front of her, before she dashes a long distance through them, cutting all minions in her path until she hits an enemy god or max range. The silence is only one second thankfully, but because this ability makes it all too easy to stack her passive, I still fear this ability’s secondary nature.
Dazzling Offensive (Ultimate): Oh god. OH GOD! Is that the bongos of war I hear? The feared sound of death and destruction often spoken of in hushed whispers from the dark ages of SMITE? Yes launch Guan Yu’s ultimate makes a return in Dazzling Offensive, as Amaterasu jumps and slashes her way through enemy’s with wide cone strikes. If she manages to land her hit, she can hit again, slowing this time, and if that hits, she does a final devastating strike that stuns whatever hapless guardian is still standing at the end of it all. Perhaps the scariest part… she might stack her passive on you while you’re stunned. *faints*
Amaterasu is sure to be a viable and horrifying launch character, even if she receives balance changes before next week’s launch. Coinciding with her terrifying kit is an attitude of condescension that seems to come with it. While we had no audio on the PCs where I play tested her, her current animations seem to involve hyping herself up in her mirror or taunting her foes for looking so awful in her mirror. Next week we meet the counter to Bellona at last, a high damage warrior that will punish any team that doesn’t collapse on her with absolute destruction whenever she’s present.
Bonus tid-bit: This is totally off the cuff, but from my 4 years of covering SMITE as gaming press, I have come to a realization. Scott Zier is not a poker player. His tells are quite obvious, as was the case when they accidentally revealed the info about upcoming ward changes. So I was a been giddy when I threw a curveball at him towards the end of the press tour. See I’ve been pushing a god concept idea at the SMITE team for a while now for DaJi, a Chinese concubine that was possessed by a fox spirit promised immortality by NuWa if she were to corrupt and destroy an evil emperor. However with the arrival of the Japanese pantheon, it seemed likely that if a fox god were to be included in the game, and they had made clear that they would be diving beyond Shintoism and into Japanese folklore, that the far more famous Tamamo-no-Mae would be the chosen fox goddess.
I caught Scott off guard asking if the arrival of the Japanese pantheon meant I should give up on my hopes of seeing DaJi included since Tamamo would be taking the role instead. While his official answer was vague, his poker tell made it very clear that the trickster fox of the Death Stone is likely in the works for an upcoming Japanese pantheon class. We shall see how right I am in the months to come.