SMITE is an interesting new take on the moba genre, which has grown stagnate, design wise, over the past few years. Is SMITE a breath of fresh air that the genre, presumably, needs? Or is it still more of the same, under the guise of a new perspective?
The moba genre was born as a mod to real time strategy games. As such, they were limited to the isometric view that rts games are designed around. It was with this thought, that Hi-Rez Studios sought out to add a different perspective, for the moba genre.
SMITE forgoes the isometric view that its brethren use, and opted for the third person view point. After playing SMITE, I was surprised by how natural the transition was. I’ve always thought that, playing a match of DotA, has always felt like a micro mmo session.
Starting from nothing, gaining levels, upgrading abilities, and acquiring a slew of legendary weapons, by the end of each match, has always felt like months of playing an mmo, boiled down into one 40 minute match. So, returning to that third person view, that most mmo games use, felt like coming home.
One of the things that I liked the most, about this change of perspective, is how it forced the players to constantly check their minimap. Because you simply can’t navigate the entire field of play, with some quick cursor swipes, a deep sense of paranoia washes over you.
At any moment, several people could be coming out of one of the many labyrinth’s exits, to gank you from behind, and you won’t even know about it, until a large chunk of your health is already gone. To alleviate this paranoia, I constantly found myself checking the minimap, to take count of all the players and trying to monitor their positions.
If all of a sudden I no longer saw an enemy hero icon in the middle lane, it was time to play extra passive. Or, in circumstances in which I felt overly confident, I would try to ambush mid lane, as they attempted to gank me.
As someone who mostly plays assassins in the moba genre, I felt a new sense of satisfaction in coming up from behind someone and unloading my abilities onto them. While I watch them panic from the sheer surprise of not being able to detect me, because they had their back to me.
SMITE’s mythological setting, really came into its own, not with the heroes, but with the map. As an assassin, I tend to spend a lot of time, traversing uncontested land in these types of games. So, having a massive labyrinth to navigate through, with its thick mist and winding corridors, was an absolute treat.
Not only did it prevent so many ways to ambush people, it also brought with it, a permanent sense of dread. Anyone could pop out from any direction, and about half of which would lead to a massive disadvantage for you, due to your limited field of view.
SMITE’s mythological setting provides for a great atmosphere. However, it does seem to come with a price, the character design is seemingly very limited. There are only so many mythological figures, and even fewer that are interesting.
But beyond that, these figures are relatively straight forward and are presented as such in their character design. While a very large percentage of the playable cast is up to standards and functional, for their intended role, I find them to be very bland and uninspired.
I believe this is mostly a result of having rigged pre-set personas that the designers have to make skills for, that make sense to their lore. You can’t have Zeus don power armor and shoot lots and lots of rockets at people. Because, then, he wouldn’t be Zeus anymore. But maybe that would have been a cool skill set to have. Which is why games like League of Legends, work.
Having followed the design philosophy of many, many developers, most of them say that a great deal of their heroes are a result of wanting to put a particular skill, skill set, or unique mechanic into the game. With SMITE, I see this creativity easily being restricted.
Where SMITE really gets it right, is in how it handles items and assigning skill points. While it’s becoming standard among most moba games to have some sort of in game guide on how to play your character, SMITE takes it a step further by automatically buying items and upgrading abilities, for you.
At any point in time, you can turn this on or off. If you do turn it off, you’ll be met with a simplistic list of items to choose from. In stead of elaborate item combinations and recipe purchases, SMITE give you singular items that can be upgraded multiple times.
As you upgrade them, their stats increase. In some cases, they obtain unique effects at their final rank. In general, I found myself really liking the items, irregardless of which hero I played.
The only thing that kept me from truly enjoying this game, was the art design. The engine Hi-Rez Studios is using for this game, is a great engine.
Comparable games have done more, with less. Perhaps this is simply a case of personal preference and opinion, for indeed, taste is subjective. Since the game is using the free to play model, I implore you to try it out for yourself. Maybe you’ll feel more at home with the art design, than I did.