I’d argue that SMITE is the ugly sister of the MOBA world. It isn’t big budget, it doesn’t look as pretty as League of Legends or DOTA 2 and its overall art direction leaves much to be desired. Its also bucks the trend of the top-down view for a more traditional third person. In comparison to its nearest rivals, it’s also pretty unpopular. That isn’t to say SMITE doesn’t have a large community because it absolutely does, but it doesn’t yet attract millions upon millions of players. I think that’s a real shame.
Part of the reason why I love SMITE so much is the fact that Hi-Rez Studios chose to do something drastically different with the genre. Instead of slapping a God theme onto the typical MOBA, they ripped up the rulebook and did things their own way. It’s risky and it’s likely the reason why SMITE isn’t as popular as it could be, but I think it’s a risk that has paid off.
Part of the reason why I’ve never liked traditional MOBA’s is the fact that the communities are often awful but the click-clicking of the mouse feels totally at odds with a game that requires such a high level of skill. Controlling my character through repeated mouse-clicks just feels too slow and while DOTA 2 and League of Legends are certainly fast games, the pace at which your character moves and it being determined by rapid clicks was never a comfortable experience. Where SMITE is concerned, choosing to make the game third person and with heavy reliance on telegraphs is a breath of fresh air.
The third person viewpoint makes combat feel much more weighty and it also provides a sense of speed, feedback and control that the overhead view simply can’t offer. It’s incredibly tense to be running through the jungle knowing that another player might leap out from one of the lanes. I never had this when playing League of Legends or DOTA 2 because it felt like I was a commander of my Hero rather than being my Hero. Having the ability to control your character fluidly combined with the requirement to aim telegraphs lifts the genre to where I felt it needed to be as a competitive game.
Something as simple as requiring the player to aim has made an enormous difference to the way that SMITE plays as a MOBA. Not only is positioning still incredibly important, but it’s evident who is a great shot. Some of the telegraphs are incredibly narrow and when combined with how fast Gods can move, makes for fast and twitch based combat. With cooldowns for all God skills being fairly lengthy, missing your target can also spell life or death for you and your team mates. As someone who plays either Anubis or Ullr, I know all too well how skill mismanagement and poor aiming can cause instant death or worse, failing to kill someone and seeing them skip away with a slither of health.
One of my favourite modes in SMITE (I love Hi-Rez’s willingness to add new ones) is unquestionably Arena. It’s super simple, still uses Creeps and matches don’t take forever to build up your power. Admittedly it does cut out some of the fun of utilising Lanes as well as effectively playing them to snowball your opponents, but it’s still a rewarding game mode. Even if it’s a cluster of telegraphs at times, it’s still incredibly tentative at first before teams break the deadlock and claim their first scalp. Even with the fact there’s no physical reward for winning, it’s so fun you don’t really care.
What I’d have liked to have seen from Hi-Rez is to develop an art style and overall aesthetic that suits their ambition. The premise of Gods going toe to toe is awesome and while some of them look brilliant, others look pretty poor. I’d also go as far as to say that it seems evident not every model is made by the same person. I also think that Hi-Rez could undertake significant work on their installer for the game as it’s pretty clunky in its current form: I’ve had it bug out a fair few times.
Overall though, I really can’t recommend SMITE enough. It’s free to play, polished, its Gods are very satisfying to use and there’s guaranteed to be at least one game mode that appeals. Best of all, the community is actually super nice. I’ve only ever been called a douchebag once and by MOBA standards, that’s quite extraordinary. When I first played DOTA 2 I was told by multiple people to “go and die”.