SMITE Preview

A game smitten with third-person action and MOBA tactics.

I got several chances to play SMITE, the third-person, action-heavy MOBA from Hi-Rez Studios, or more specifically, its upcoming port on Xbox One, with the limited public Beta beginning on March 11th. It was at Microsoft's indie booth, the ID@Xbox indie showcase, and Nick Tan, Jessica Vazquez, and I scored an appointment to see how the game played on the Xbox One in a nearby PR office behind closed doors.

My primary experience with MOBAs up until SMITEhas been with the traditional top-down model, so it was fascinating to play a much more action-oriented iteration. For our experience with the game, we played three short arena mode matches, which took place in a large circular arena and had one embedded lane for creeps down the center. This made for much more rough-and-tumble gameplay, highlighting SMITE's third-person action elements.

In SMITEyou have the option of playing as gods from multiple pantheons of millenia past. I stuck mostly with the Norse and Greek ones myself since I was most familiar with them. Having been slaughtered immediately when trying play ranged characters in MOBAs in the past, I asked which burly god I should play in order to just be able to club the opposing gods and lane units into submission. I settled in to play as Thor after he was recommended, and fired off round after round of hammer area-of-effect attacks before closing in to club people with Mjölnir.

Make no mistake, Smite is still very much a MOBA. Your special abilities, normally mapped to Q, W, and E on a PC keyboard just had to be replaced in a controller configuration for the console release, and Hi Rez's on-hand devs showed us two. One mapped the powers to the face buttons which was alright, but it made more sense to have them mapped to the triggers and bumpers from the second configuration.
For the second match I played as Cupid, whose regular arrow attack was accompanied with a cartoon-y twang and a cloud of little hearts. I figured it'd be a good idea to try a ranged attacker, since in our prior game, I kept hearing Jessica over the headset spend her rage after being killed by the Egyptian archer goddess, Neith, from the other team. SMITEfollows the MOBA tradition of 5-on-5 battles, and the player (or bot?) controlling Neith was particularly good at remaining just out of range and picking off gods where didn't see where the arrows were coming from.

SMITE's third-person action makes it uniquely suited for porting to consoles. While the attack structure remains similar to that of standard MOBAs with special attacks being largely AOE, with in-match purchaseable buffs earned with in-game currency at your team's base, the standard attacks and control scheme are not all dissimilar to the abilities and play style of contemporary action RPGs like Dragon Age: Inquisition (albeit with a far more limited number of special attacks).

Even within the arena mode of the game, which amounts to basically being the game's team deathmatch mode, there was still strategic play around the lane units, who decreased the enemy's number of points—both teams start out with the same points, and points are decreased on the enemy's side when you defeat their lane units (1 point) or gods (5 points)—by getting through to the portal in front of the enemy base. Defending a siege tower your lane units wheeled towards their portal provided options for both killing enemy units and gods, and helping yours get into the portal for added points. So even there, in its most third-person action deathmatch mode, SMITE still strongly matched that third-person action with MOBA flavor.

SMITE's Xbox One's early access Beta starts on March 11th, and players can sign up for the free-to-play MOBA at their portal website.