I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games – MOBAs, or “DOTA clones” if you’re feeling flippant. They boast arcane mechanics and difficult-to-use interfaces combined with some of the worst new player experiences in any form of software. What’s more, the community in each and every one of these games is a massive detriment – I can’t think of anyone who likes being ordered around by nerds, and in my experience self-serving bossiness is at the gentle end of the spectrum for the average MOBA player. If you want to learn how to play, it’s going to be a trial by fire each and every time.
When SMITE came into the Popzara office and was delivered straight to me, then, I can’t honestly say I was all that eager. It wasn’t my first rodeo with this sort of game; I’ve tried League of Legends, DOTA 2, the ill-fated Dawngate and a variety of others. Each and every time the verdict ended up being the same: other games will offer more fun for less time and effort, and honestly I’ve got better things to do with my time than deal with screaming dweebs. The massive popularity of the genre, however, suggests that either a lot of people just love dealing with aforementioned dweebs or there’s more to the genre than I’d thought. I persisted. It turned out to be worth it. Who would have thought?
SMITE proudly advertises itself as the #3 MOBA in the world, trailing behind League of Legends and DOTA 2. This might seem like an odd thing to boast about, but look at it this way: I can’t say I’ve personally won a bronze medal in the Olympics, so I guess I’d be proud of that too if it happened, since it’s still a medal after all. Anyway, you control one of a myriad of gods from a myriad of divine pantheons ranging from Hindu to Mayan to Chinese to Greek to Roman, and you proceed to engage in holy war against the opposing team.
There’s an absolutely overwhelming number of gods available to choose from and it’ll take awhile to pick someone you’re really into. Playstyles run the gamut; you’ve got your tanky smashy types like Hercules or Geb, your assassins like Loki or Fenrir, your finger-waggling mages like Ra and your supportive types like Aphrodite and Sylvanus.
If you’re just diving in, you’re safe picking someone that appeals to you alone, but groups of friends might want to do some research on gods that work particularly well together. I was fond of Fenrir when playing by myself, since his massive damage and quick escapes let me sneakily kill the enemy team’s squishy casters then get out alive. When I had some friends along, Aphrodite’s support abilities let me keep them alive and help turn near-kills into points for our team. I had quite a few other gods I was partial to, of course, and trying out the cast was tons of fun. If you’re into hardcore ranked play, there are also plenty of guides out there to help you stop being such a scrub, so feel free to partake.
The gods universally look and sound awesome and they have a lot of charm; if you find one you particularly like, it’s possible to deck them out with skins available via microtransaction. If you stick with a god and learn them especially well, you can level that god up and eventually purchase gold or diamond skins. This makes you look especially ostentatious and ensures everyone wants to kill you. Naturally, it’s irresistible.
As for the holy war, it takes a variety of forms, but the two most popular seemed to be Arena and Conquest. Arena mode ended up being my favorite option, and in fact it’s how most new players will start to learn the game, as Conquest is inaccessible until you’ve played for an hour or two to level your account up. There’s still plenty of obscure nonsense here, but it’s largely diluted; there’s only two towers per side directly next to each team’s base and they don’t need to be destroyed. Instead, it plays as more of a deathmatch mode. Since SMITE feels a bit more like a third-person shooter than the RTS-lite of traditional MOBAs, this suits the game just fine.
Conquest mode, meanwhile, is your more traditional DOTA clone. You’ve got lanes, towers, jungle and a whole lot to learn before you get anywhere. I wasn’t especially in love with this, though I think it might grow on me over time as I learn more about the game. One interesting point is that gods who perform well in Arena might not do as well in Conquest or vice-versa, which adds a little more color to each god.
Other modes include Assault, which is basically Conquest trimmed down to a single lane. You’ve still got to push towers but there’s only one set to worry about; what’s more, nobody can leave to return to the shop until they’re dead, meaning that it’s much more difficult to upgrade stats, heal or restore mana than other modes. This sort of scarcity requires a much more conservative playstyle than other modes, which can make for some tense games.
You can’t have a free-to-play game without a store, of course. SMITE shows some divine mercy on this front. You can buy gods individually using Favor (earned at an extremely slow trickle from matches, account levels and daily login rewads) or real money. Alternatively, you can pay around $30 to just unlock all the gods including any future gods, which is an amazingly good deal matched only by DOTA 2 and Sins of a Dark Age’s “everyone is already unlocked and free.” Each account also comes with five free gods and there’s a rotation of five others that changes every so often; this allows you to get a taste for what’s available, though it also means you’ll see tons of those same gods as you play. Finally, you can rent gods with Favor, though you earn that currency at such a slow rate that it seems much more worthwhile to save it.
Skins and cosmetic items are also available for largely reasonable prices; one little irritation is that not all skins are available at all times, and the game will cheerily inform you when you’ve missed a skin forever while leaving it on the menu. These, naturally, are often the coolest skins. Rub it in, why don’t you?
Every MOBA out there has its own big speech to make about how it’s going to “deal with toxic players,” usually using those exact words. I couldn’t find any crazy systems for dealing with the Toxic Avenger in SMITE, and they seem pretty low-key about the whole thing. There’s a report button. If someone’s acting like a jackass, you push it. I typically didn’t find myself playing with people I reported again. That’s good enough for me, really.
In SMITE, I felt like more was done to keep assholes out of my game than in any other MOBA I’ve tried that made big promises about how it’s all sunshine and rainbows. Much like Troma’s crusty hero, though, the Toxic Avenger just wouldn’t stay down; I would estimate one out of every five games had a “toxic” player that spammed, berated teammates or just AFKed the whole match. It’s telling about the genre as a whole that a paragraph needs to be included about the game’s systems that keep jerks from ruining the fun, particularly when there’s still jerks and they still ruin the fun, but such is life.
Oh, and we should probably talk about the fact that you’re playing this on Xbox One. It’s a MOBA. They’re not designed to be played on controllers, so it feels a little weird and that comes up when you’re playing. Fortunately, everyone else is also using a controller, so any clunky weirdness that comes from that is going to affect everyone. In all seriousness, Hi-Rez did the best they could with what they’re given here. With some practice, it’s not too difficult to reach a decent level of mastery with the controller, though if you’re used to playing SMITE on PC I doubt it’ll ever feel like second nature.
When the MOBA fad dies down in a couple years – and a genre known for alienating new players and being full of jerks will die sooner or later, as we’re seeing with the collapse of games like Dawngate – I’m sure we’re going to have a couple outliers sticking around while the rest of the bubble pops violently and collapses in on itself. My votes are for League of Legends and SMITE; the former for its popularity and the latter because it’s actually a pretty good time. SMITE’s hands-on approach to combat is refreshing in this genre and makes it a MOBA I can see myself coming back to. Yeah, I’m as shocked as you are.