PAX East Preview
I had the good fortune of finally getting some hands-on time with Hi-Rez Studios’ SMITE last weekend during PAX East 2012. For those unfamiliar with the forthcoming third-person MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) from the developers of Tribes Universe and Global Agenda, SMITE is akin to League of Legends or DOTA but with the MMO combat that most of us here have come to know and love over the years. In this way, it’s not an ARTS (Action-RTS), but rather an MMO-ified version of one of the world’s most popular new game types. In short, it’s the MOBA that Hi-Rez hopes will really draw in MMO gamers more than any before it. In my half-hour match with the Egyptian cat-god Bastet, I leveled to 17, killed countless minions, took out some Cyclops, destroyed a few towers, and helped my teammates destroy the Minotaur and win the Battle of the Gods. In short: SMITE is everything that makes an MMORPG great in little half-hour chunks of awesome.
THE METHOD OF SMITING
So, for those of you who may still be unacquainted with the DOTA game-type that was spawned so many years ago in Starcraft: what is SMITE all about? Basically, the game is a never-ending series of 5v5 PVP matches on a large and very detailed and varied game-map. There are three lanes (left, middle, and right in SMITE’s case) all leading across to the other team’s base. Along the way are scattered defensive towers that can truly ruin a player if they’re not approached with the help of a stream of minions that slowly stream from your base to aid you in the battle. One team is red, and one team is blue. Both have towers, and both have a stream of AI-controlled minions to aid in the fight. But the real work is done by the cooperation of the 5-person teams against each other.
There are smaller, but potentially dangerous objectives hidden in the middling areas on the map. Killing Cyclops and the like will serve to help your team, but you have to know when to go after such objectives and when to skip them. You also have to know when to push forward with your minions, or to run backward and wait for their help as charging in to a tower and enemies without them spells certain death. When you die, you have to wait a certain amount of time (which lengthens the longer the match goes on) before re-spawning and joining the fray again. Dying at the wrong time can also mean destruction for your team.
In short, SMITE will be all about coordination and teamwork. Folks looking to sign up and just do their thing will quickly find themselves at odds with the competitive nature of such games. But throughout the entire process you’ll level your chosen god (1 of 15 available currently) from 1 to 20, buy and equip gear back at your home base, and level your skills and abilities to make your god more powerful. Matches usually take between 20 and 30 minutes to reach completion, and a victor is only decided when the opposing team’s base is captured by defeating the boss Minotaur that is housed within. Oh, and did we mention the Phoenixes that serve not only to spawn the minions but also defend the minotaur at the base? As you can tell, there’s a lot to learn about SMITE, and it would be safe to say that it’s a bite-sized PVP MMORPG, complete with character building, inventory management, leveling, mob hunting, base-taking, and boss-fights.
And it’s a ridiculous amount of fun.
HOW DOES IT PLAY?
In my match I was given control of Bastet by the helpful community person on duty during the show. Bastet is the Egyptian goddess of cats, and as such she does a lot of feline-crazy things and focuses on high mobility and damage dealing as her modus operandi. Like all MMOs, there are healing classes, ranged classes, and tanks too though I didn’t get to play any of them during the show. Bastet’s all about moving in, hitting hard against a bevy of minions and foes, and dodging out when the action gets too hot for her. Best wielded when she has a pocket healer or a tanky character to take the focus off of her, Bastet can be really fun when used right. Sadly, it took me a good 15 minutes to know what to do with her.
She has a few skills at her disposal (all gods have 5, but begin with 1 and then can spend points to acquire and strengthen the others). One of my favorites was the fact that she could leap into the fray and do a bit of AOE damage (denoted by a circle on the ground where you aim it). But if this wasn’t cool enough for taking on the minions, it worked really well as a getaway tactic too. Clicking it once would thrust you into the action, and then clicking again would jump you back to your original leap point. Go in, kill stuff, hop out before they knew you were there. She also had the ability to summon three ravenous panthers at once to go in and cause some havoc, a whip ability that hits anything in a direct line in front of her for about 30 feet, and a couple others I didn’t really use enough to comment on.
Take a look at the game footage at 2:45 in.
I found out quickly that just like League of Legends, you don’t charge in without minion support, and you don’t try to take on two other players at once as you would in a normal MMO. By all accounts SMITE moves way faster than LoL, but it still requires teamwork, coordination, and strategy. You need to know when to charge and when to hold ground. You need to know when it’s safe to “jungle” and when it’s best to retreat. It’s very well-polished, even at this pre-closed beta stage, and I couldn’t believe just how pretty the whole thing looked. Some obvious changes that come with the MMO view, as opposed to the top-down look of ARTS games are that you no longer can view the whole map at any time, and instead must rely on the mini-map and your teammates’ communications to know what’s happening. However the store in SMITE seems better implemented, as does the character progression system. It’s quick to grasp and doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a lot of time to figure out what pieces and skills are worth it for your play-style.
By the end, though I died more than I should have, my team still won. We took the middle and right lane completely while the other team struggled to take the left (thanks to my annoying cats), and eventually downed the minotaur to claim victory with the cheers of onlookers rallying behind us. While I had to rush and leave for my next appointment, I was told by the folks at Hi-Rez that beta is coming soon and official launch is still on target for later this year.
I’m sure we’ll have keys to giveaway at some point, and if you’re the type of person who usually snorts at the mention of a MOBA… please don’t with this one. It really is a ton of fun, and I used to be right there with you. It won’t replace your normal MMORPG, but it just might convince you that this genre of game is the real deal. I can’t wait to host our first official MMORPG.com tournament… that’s right, I said it.
I got to check out SMITE this year at PAX East 2012 and I will say that, at first, I was quite skeptical of the game. I love me some League of Legends and I've tried out HoN and DotA2 briefly, but I didn't quite know if SMITE would be able to quench the thirst for MOBA gaming that these other fulfill.
After playing a match on the convention floor, I was definitely impressed with what I had seen. The combat was very engaging, the graphics looked great, the shop was easy to sort, and the map was still that very familiar DotA map that a lot of MOBA players have come to love.
The combat was basically like taking your WoW (or other MMORPG) toon, giving him or her a few abilities, and taking it into this epic PVP match. Basically the characters you get to choose from are gods drawn from different cultures. I played Bastet, the goddess of cats, who would slash, pounce, and do pretty much everything you'd expect a goddess of cats to do. The animations were smooth, the abilities were easy to get used to, and engaging enemies was definitely a lot of fun.
Enemies would often come in for ganks through the jungle and, one thing SMITE does, is make the gameplay harder by limiting where your camera can go. From what I noticed, the only access you have to seeing the other lanes is by looking at the minimap or actually going to the other lanes. Unlike in regular MOBA games, you cannot just pan your camera to different spots on the map, it is locked on your god.
Creating limited camera movement made up for other aspects that the game didn't have, like last hitting and denying. I asked, and they said, you do get a small bonus for last hitting, but not enough to make it as essential as it is in games like League of Legends and HoN. You still have to farm, it's just a little more friendly and forgiving. Besides, half the time I found myself engaged with an enemy, rather than worrying about creeps.
I do think this game will appeal to players, like me, whose main games are MMORPGs like WoW, RIFT, SWTOR, GW, etc because it brings together a fun new way to play in a style they are used to, to a map they are not used to. I don't think the more "hardcore" moba players will enjoy this game as much, but it doesn't really seem to be geared towards them.
I definitely recommend this game, as it's free-to-play, looks great, plays well, and is a lot of fun. Whether it is for you or not, I'll let you be the judge of that when it hits beta later this year.