Platform Xbox One (played on), PC Genre Third-person action MOBA
Publisher Hi-Rez Studios Developer Hi-Rez Studios
The multiplayer online battle arena genre (I didn’t choose the name), commonly abbreviated as just MOBA, has traditionally been a PC only affair. League of Legends and DOTA 2 dominate the market share, but SMITE released last year on PC, offering a different experience. The MOBA genre has tried to make its way to consoles, with notable attempts being the Lord of the Rings themed Guardians of Middle-earth, and the 2D Awesomenauts. However, neither title really took off. SMITE is different though; it bridges the gap between consoles (specifically Xbox One) and PC by offering the most accessible version of the genre that works with a controller.
For the uninitiated, the MOBA genre is usually associated with a few features. Firstly, class based gameplay. Every character, or God in SMITE’s case, belongs to a certain class. SMITE has five different classes, each with different roles, strengths and weaknesses. For example, the hunter class has a higher attack speed so it can destroy enemy towers faster. Meanwhile, the guardian is a tank class whose job it is to protect the hunter by absorbing attacks and disabling enemies. All of the classes are fun to play in SMITE, with different Gods in each class offering different playstyles so anyone can find their role in a team.
Secondly, traditional MOBA gameplay involves moving down three lanes pushing your own non-controllable minions along them, destroying enemy towers that stand in the way. Once enough towers have been destroyed, your team will be able to destroy a final tower in the lane – in this case a phoenix – which spawns more powerful minions for you. To claim victory, a final tower must be destroyed. However, in SMITE’s case, this final tower is more like a boss battle against a giant Titan.
Aside from this traditional MOBA gametype, SMITE has four other game modes that are all enjoyable. There are two single lane game types, one which gives all ten players a random God of the 60 plus available. The other is a three versus three game mode. But wait, there’s more. A four versus four, two lane game sees teams battling over a siege minion which pushes the other team’s lane faster. The final game type does away with the MOBA conventions and turns it into a straight out death match mode. It’s a great way to introduce players to new gods they want to try because of the shorter game times, and it’s a fun break if you tire from the longer lane pushing gameplay of other modes.
For more variety, each different game type is set in a different arena. The death match Arena mode is set in a colosseum, while the three versus three game type, called Joust, has a medieval theme. It keeps the maps feeling fresh and varied.
SMITE turns the traditional MOBA gameplay on its head, too. Rather than the traditional top-down view, gameplay takes place from a third-person perspective. It’s perfect for console gameplay, with a familiar camera angle making an unfamiliar genre look less daunting. Hi-Rez Studios has done a fine job translating the controls from keyboard and mouse to controller, with some smart workarounds considering the reduction in input buttons. The face buttons (A,B, X, Y) are used to activate the different mana costing abilities of your God, while holding the left trigger with any of the face buttons activates active items. It’s a very intuitive system, especially considering there was no previous game to draw from.
All of this is well and good, but without great gameplay, none of it matters. Thankfully, SMITE is loads of fun. Whether I was playing alone or with friends, there was always a one-more-game attitude. Most of the time, trying not to die is harder than making kills, but it’s extremely satisfying when you achieve both.
Gameplay is action based, meaning every attack has to be aimed and timed for it to hit your target, rather than just activating an ability and watching it track to its target. This is yet another reason why SMITE is an accessible game for first time MOBA players on consoles; the gameplay, while unique, is somewhat familiar to anyone who has played a third-person action game. Of course, it’s also just a really fun game in general, no matter what level of experience you have in the genre.
One of the best accessibility implementations in SMITE is the option to let the game level up your skills automatically as you level up, and buy items from the shop automatically. It’s great for beginners because it removes an extra layer of depth, while still keeping them competitive as the game progresses. Even for experienced players, being able to pick up a new God and have the skills levelled up in the order the developers think is best makes learning more enjoyable.
On the other hand, SMITE could be a bit more accessible being the first mainstream game of its genre to hit consoles. The MOBA genre has evolved to be a very class focused game, but there isn’t anywhere in the game tutorials that tells you which class should be used in each lane. This is not an issue exclusive to SMITE, but extra consideration should have been taken considering the unfamiliarity of the genre on Xbox One. There is a hint system which tells new players about different aspects of the game such as the aforementioned towers, phoenix and pushing minions along lanes, but nothing about suggested class types for each lane. This only really applies to the three lane, five versus five game type, because it’s the traditional MOBA game type, but it’s a game mode that will probably be a staple part of a majority of player’s playing time.
Secondly, it can be difficult to communicate specific instructions to your team mates. Of course, every Xbox One user is given a chat headset with their Xbox One, but to expect players to use them every time they play is unrealistic. SMITE does have pre-set communication commands such as telling team mates to attack a certain lane or to retreat, but half of the commands are associated with other celebratory commands or gestures such as laughing, or four different ways to say good job. Positive reinforcement is great, but commands encouraging team work and strategy should have been a greater priority. Unfortunately, some of these gesture commands are only accessible through real money purchases so I doubt they’ll be switched out. It would be helpful to be able to address commands to individual team mates, because it helps out new players who may not be sure of where they should be on the map, and it makes matches more even when everyone knows where they should be.
SMITE is a free-to-play experience, but it is chock full of quality, and it’s definitely not a pay-to-win affair by any account. SMITE is a great game, and a wonderful console introduction to a genre with its origins on keyboard and mouse. The third-person, action based gameplay is a natural fit for consoles, and it’s also extremely satisfying. The variety of game modes keep matches from feeling repetitive, but then again, it’s the repetitive nature of starting all over again each new match that produces that “just one more match” mind set.
- Accessible gameplay and design elements
- Third-person action gameplay
- one-more-game mentality
- Controls translate well to the Xbox One
- Limited pre-set communication options
- Expects players to know how to play a MOBA