SMITE: How Small Changes Can Affect a Genre

E-sports have been hitting an all-time high in the last year or two. Whether it’s a huge fighting game tournament like EVO or just competitive Call of Duty, multiple genres are being played to their best for money and glory. However, the one that’s grown the most and may be the most important e-sports genre is one that is virtually unknown to hardcore gamers and casual players alike. MOBAs, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas, have absolutely exploded. Last year’s Dota 2 tournament The International 4 had the largest total prize pool ever for a gaming tournament of $10 million. Dota 2 is one of the most-played games on Steam, and League of Legends is one of the most popular video games, competitive or not right now, rarely leaving the top spot on video game streaming service Twitch.tv and boasting 27 million players per day and 67 million players per month. The MOBAs are dominating e-sports and gaming alike, but personally I never got into them. However, there is one game that has changed my perspective about this genre, and that game is the bridging concoction Hi-Rez Studios has created, called SMITE.

As I just said, I’ve never really been a fan of MOBAs. There were so many daunting things at both face value and deep into the game that makes it hard to jump into at first. The games require a ton of skill, memorization, quick-thinking, patience, and time to even consider yourself reasonably good at it. I’ve personally tried getting into League of Legends on multiple occasions, only to be pushed back out by my lack of ability to comprehend everything going on. I swore off MOBAs as a genre I’d never play because I didn’t have the motivation to learn everything necessary to be good. That changed in 2012 when I received a beta code for a game called SMITE. After being intrigued by the concept itself, I decided to try it out. After playing a few rounds, I was very surprised to learn that this game was a MOBA. It felt like an action game mixed with deep strategy and cooperative play, but I was pleasantly shocked to learn that that’s exactly what a MOBA is. This game introduced me to the MOBA genre and made it easy to get into, making it the exact gateway necessary to thrust me into a fantastic game because of a few small changes that made all the difference.

Before I continue, let me go into the basic gameplay of a MOBA. This explanation may be tough to follow, so it may be easier to watch this longer tutorial (start at around 3 minutes, it’ll explain the gist of the game, too). If you understand MOBAs already, skip this paragraph. The Conquest mode in SMITE is similar to the standard game mode in MOBAs. Two teams of 5 characters face off on a large map. The goal of the game is to reach the other team’s temple, or base, and defeat their Titan. The map consists of two main sections: the lanes and the jungle. The lanes are three open roads on the sides and through the middle of the map. Each team has two towers and a Phoenix on their side of each lane that will shoot at any enemy within its range but can be destroyed with enough damage. Computer-controlled minions spawn on each lane to attack enemy minions, gods, and towers. A Phoenix will respawn after some time, while towers will not. The jungle is the area between the three lanes which hold winding paths to multiple points in each lane. The jungle also houses multiple monsters that, when defeated, will give buffs such as attack speed and magic power. Each character is given a passive ability, which will always be in effect, as well as three other abilities and an ultimate ability. Abilities can range from damage dealing to adding effects to opponents or healing yourself or teammates. Items can be purchased to buff your character permanently, as well as add special timed abilities, such as more defense or a faster sprint, and consumables like health and mana potions.

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Gods from different mythologies battle in SMITE. The goddess of revenge Nemesis defeats a foe here.

Sorry for that lengthy paragraph, back to the topic at hand. A few key changes and additions from the traditional MOBA formula make SMITE very accessible and fresh when compared to games like Dota 2 and League of Legends. The most prominent change is the control scheme and camera placement. Traditionally in MOBAs, the camera is placed overhead of the game map, allowing for an omniscient point of view. Controlling characters is done via mouse clicks. SMITE‘s approach is slightly different, but makes a drastic change to the game as a whole. The camera is placed in a third-person view behind the player’s character, which is controlled with the WASD keys for movement. This gives the game a more action-oriented feel, making the transition from more casual action games to the MOBA scene that much easier. Attacks feel dynamic and quick, and the action feels right in your face, giving a different sense of action than other MOBAs. Players can sneak up behind you, keeping you on your toes. It all feels smoother and more personifying than the godlike point of view normally used, allowing new players to get in and feel at home with a camera and controls they’re used to. All of the mechanics and ideas are basically the same as a normal MOBA.

Speaking of godlike, the reason I even considered playing the game in the first place is due to the actual concept of the game. SMITE‘s tagline is “Battleground of the Gods” and that line is earned in its cast of characters and setting. Other MOBAs usually craft casts of avatars to play as to fill roles and to create unique characters. SMITEs decided to take characters already created, and fit them into the roles instead. Hi-Rez Studios pulls from the major mythologies of the world to find gods and goddesses suitable for battle to fill common MOBA roles. The powerful Roman Hercules can come in and decimate as a melee brawler with his club, while someone like the Egyptian sun god Ra works better with light-related powers as a mage. Everyone put into the game has a purpose that fits incredibly well with the real-life lore they’re created from, as well as a gimmick that makes them unique, such as Norse Hel’s light-dark stances determining whether her attacks heal or deal damage, or the new Roman warrior Bellona using a different weapon depending on the last ability she used. So far, the 64 gods and goddesses have been pulled from 7 different mythologies ranging from the common Greek and Norse to the more unknown Mayan and Chinese, and Hi-Rez does a good job of taking characters and making models and attacks that are faithful to the source material, which players can learn about from the god reveal videos. A major factor that pulled me into the game is my affinity for mythology, and I love seeing the gods I knew and love as powerful video game characters, while learning about ones I’d never heard of.

On the topic of the beautiful models, SMITE does a remarkable job at their takes on these well-known deities. The models are detailed and stick to the stories they came from, while also making them appealing and diverse. The gods themselves are beautiful representations of their lore, but are modernized, in a sense, to make them exciting and unique. The menus, while a bit cumbersome to get used to, are slick and stylized. The actual arenas themselves are gorgeous and sometimes it’s hard to resist the urge to sit back and take in your surroundings. The new Conquest map, in particular, is very atmospheric and fits the divine mood of SMITE. If you’re going to be spending close to an hour in a single match, it’s important to have a map you’re not going to get tired of looking at.

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The nighttime Arena is gorgeous to behold during battle.

One of my favorite drawing points of the game is that there’s more than just the normal Conquest mode, which not many MOBAs go for. Hi-Rez clearly wants people to keep playing, and they’ve got variety to make that happen. Besides the classic Conquest, there are slight variants. Assault mode keeps the 5 versus 5 structure but gets rid of the side lanes and jungles, making way for a huge power struggle of pushing and defending. Gods are also randomly selected to keep players on their toes. Joust retains the single lane format in exchange for gaining side jungles and dropping the teams down to 3 players each. If you’re looking for a mode like Conquest but a little less daunting, this is it. Siege brings teams up to 4 players and has two side lanes and lots of jungle. This is a strategic mode where a constant push is necessary for success. If you’re tired of the push and pull and simply want to kill minions and gods, Arena mode is for you as you try and deplete the enemy team’s spawn count. Finally, Match of the Day is a unique game type that changes daily. Matches can take place on any of the previously named modes, but with a daily twist. You might play Conquest with one team playing all gods from Norse mythology while the other team plays only Chinese gods. Another may be all gods chosen have beards. It’s a lot of fun to mix things up. All of these modes are very similar, but each brings enough variety to try to mix things up if you ever decide you’re tired of one.

Probably the most daunting aspect of joining MOBAs was learning the art of builds. Builds are what items you choose to use to boost your character’s stats, as well as how you allocate the leveling of your character’s abilities over the course of the game. Builds are extremely complex to a player new to MOBAs, and SMITE has an option to make this a little easier to get into. If you’re just starting out with MOBAs and know nothing and just think the game looks fun, then SMITE has two very useful tools called auto-buy and auto-level. Each god comes with pre-made builds that Hi-Rez put together to maximize the god for use. If you don’t know what items to get or what abilities you should be powering up first, or you just hate sifting through the menus, then this is the system for you. It makes playing and learning the game accessible and easy before you commit to learning and getting better. Why learn how to play the game fully when you’re just trying to get a taste of it? Once a player gets comfortable buying and leveling their abilities up on their own, they can turn them off and do everything on their own. I recently decided to try to learn the game more, and finding a good build to work with and making it myself has been a great experience. I personally want to better myself, so I’m progressing. However, if I had to do such a thing from the start, I probably wouldn’t still be playing.

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Scylla pushes down a lane with her team.

As I stated before, I started back in the beta in 2012, and it’s been an on again off again affair since. Seeing the cast of gods grow from around 10 to 64 is amazing, and I love learning everything I can about both the myths they originate from, as well as what the characters themselves do in-game. I’ve logged many hours in, but I’m far from good. I find myself wasting away hours, just trying to fit one more match in. I try out new builds, I try out new strategies, and I just try to have fun. I main the Horror of the Deep herself, Scylla, and she’s a blast to play. I love defeating giant gods like Zeus and Thor as this little redheaded monster. From the auto-buy and level systems to the in-depth tutorials and the action-oriented camera, SMITE is just plain fun and easier for noobs to get into when compared to other MOBAs. And I honestly wouldn’t be playing still, 3 years later, without the amazing tools that Hi-Rez Studios set up for new players to utilize and learn the MOBA genre.

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