Who's better, Zeus or Hercules? Only one way to find out...
If you've every wondered who would win in a fight between Zeus and Odin, SMITE has you covered. The latest title to enter the increasingly crowded MOBA genre, SMITE lets players take the role of a god from various real-world pantheons, then sends them out to punch other gods in the head.
After so many, many painful sessions of DOTA and League Of Legends where I failed to land any of my powers on an enemy, SMITE's new third-person viewpoint is a godsend. It's much easier, much better suited for new players and butterfingered oafs like me. Rather than worrying about sight-lines and the fog of war you can charge straight into the action, relying on the responsive controls and comfortably familiar viewpoint to land your strikes and powers. Of course good players will still trounce you, but SMITE largely removes the initial impenetrability of the MOBA genre. You feel like you can put up a decent fight from the start.
Battles are a colourful riot of special moves and magical attacks
Still, despite the easier learning curve, there's plenty of tactical options that you still have to master, along with the need to buy and equip items to increase your power. SMITE might feel fresh when you're in the thick of combat, but it doesn't stray too far from established genre mechanics. Map layouts will be instantly recognisable to anyone who's played a MOBA before, and the same basic process of whittling down enemy defences while fending off opposing heroes must be followed to earn a victory. Good teamwork and communication is still absolutely vital - interestingly it seems the more satisfying and reactive combat encourages players to charge into battle more rashly, which makes for some truly chaotic matches.
Basic Conquest mode has you destroying enemy towers to open a a path to their titan, the defeat of which signals the end of the match. There's the usual three lane routes to choose from, and both teams spawn minions. You get gold for swatting these minions, with a bonus for getting the final hit, much as you'd expect from a MOBA game. Heroes level up as you play, getting new abilities and eventually a powerful signature move. When the mid-to-late game hits, these special moves start flying.
Melee brutes like Thor leap into combat, swinging away at the enemy while lighter, ranged gods flip and leap around just out of reach, loosing arrow after arrow. Sorcerous heroes cast elemental spells that spark and burn across the ground. SMITE does super-powered punch-ups very well. You can jump to Arena mode if you're just in it for the brawling, which sticks two opposing teams in a coliseum with a whooping crowd cheering every kill. This is actually my favourite mode, and the furthest from traditional MOBA mechanics. It focuses on what the game does best; the gratifying combat, without having to cleave to genre conventions. My advice? Don't be messing with my Poseidon. He'll throw a Kraken at you.
Fear the capricious and mighty god of the sea
There's countless other game modes and limited 'mode of the day ' match ups. High-Rez Studios are working hard to provide variety, which is a good sign going forward. Daily playlists focus on specific gods or themes; maybe there's an all Chinese pantheon brawl, or a battle between several gods of fire. These help to give each hero their time in the spotlight, and encourage you to try out new gods.
The choice to base the whole thing on Earth mythology is a really nice touch. Most of the classical deities are there, from Apollo and Thor to Horus-Re and Hercules, and character designs are, for the most part, colourful and inventive. It's cool to see High-Rez's interpretation of these ancient deities. A couple of the female hero costumes are a little... videogamey, unfortunately. Neith, Egyptian goddess of fate, in particular appears to be wearing two pieces of string and precious little else. It's a bit of a shame that the art team went for lazy design here when there's such creativity on display elsewhere. Aside from the main costumes, you can earn or buy points to unlock alternative outfits. Some of these are particularly amusing. Poseidon dressed in full Summer beach-wear, complete with snorkel and inflatable armbands, is quite a sight.
Each deity operates differently, and has enough cool powers to be memorable. I have a particular soft spot for Poseidon and his water-based powers, but floating around as Zeus hurling thunderbolts, belly-flopping enemies with Roman god of wine Bacchus or utilising Thanatos's assassination skills all feel unique and satisfying in their own way.
Third-person combat is easy to get the hang of, but difficult to master
This is a free-to-play game, so expect to see the usual barrage of new heroes and costumes to buy. You can grab every single god currently in the game, around 60 in total, for $30. Not too bad as F2P pricing goes. Simply playing the game slowly earns you currency as well, so if you spend enough time on the battlefield you'll be able to grab a new costume or two even if you don't want to pay anything. In addition, favouring a particular god earns that deity worshippers, a largely cosmetic resource that serves to show your skill level with that hero. Your account levels from 1 to 30, at which point you can enter ranked play matches. By that point it's assumed you’re ready to get punished by the best of the best. Ready as you'll ever be.
Speaking as someone who’s dabbled around but never really caught the MOBA bug, I think SMITE has the potential to be a real game-changer for the genre. That simple switch to a third-person view completely changes the dynamic, making for a more action-packed and exciting experience that’s welcoming for beginners, but still complex enough for veterans to dig their teeth into. It might not otherwise stray too far from established genre staples, but it’s fun enough that you can forgive some of the game’s safer choices. Even the dreaded free-to-play elements, at least for now, seem very reasonably priced. The fact that you can play as the Mayan god of bees is just the icing on the cake. If you’ve never played a MOBA before, SMITE is an excellent place to start.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Expertly landing a top-tier special move on a particularly troublesome enemy to win the game. This happened… once.