From entry level titles such as Ronimo Games’ Awesomenauts to the decidedly more ‘hardcore’ experiences of Riot’s League of Legends and Valve’s DOTA2, it is arguable that the MOBA genre is entering a state of over-saturation. Hi-Rez Studios (the creators of the excellent Tribes: Ascend), it appears, feel differently; having recently launched the open beta for their own take on the genre, SMITE.
And so, given the dominance of titles such as DOTA 2, it may be tempting to pass the experience over in favour of the more established genre entries. This would be a mistake.
SMITE may not look set to turn the MOBA world upside down, but that hardly means that the game is content to march to the same beat set by those games that have gone before.
While the core systems are the same as you would expect to see in most any other MOBA, the switch to a third person point of view is significant. The simple repositioning of the camera makes SMITE a much more intimate affair than, say, an average League of Legends battle. It’s also a means of play that will feel much more natural for many coming to the game new to the genre. It most definitely plays like a MOBA (and fans of other genre entries will find overarching strategies welcomingly familiar) but the control is much more shooter-like and this alone provides a totally different experience.
Aside from its third person perspective, SMITE also makes waves in the way it plans to deliver multiple game modes. Purists may scoff at the notion (League of Legends’ Dominion game mode is still struggling to find traction with regular players, even after over a year in the wild), but there’s certainly a chance that the wider audience SMITE hopes to capture, thanks to its new perspective, may appreciate the chance to mix things up.
There are a variety of game modes such as a one on one mode called Joust, but the biggest changes come in the form of the Arena and Domination modes. Both game types are about reducing the enemy team’s tickets until they hit zero. In Domination, which plays out similarly to League’s Dominion mode, players achieve this by controlling a variety of points around a labyrinthine map. In Arena, two teams of five effectively engage in a form of deathmatch complete with minions and buff camps.
While character mastery will pay dividends across game modes, each specific mode has an entirely different strategy. The risk is that in offering so many game styles, players may find their ability to master each strategy spread too thin. It is early days, but I predict the traditional conquest mode is going to be the stayer with most players aiming for that game.
Hi-Rez has attempted to obviate this risk somewhat by a somewhat unusual approach to finding games. Rather than simply enter a queue for a game, the mode select screen tells you when the next game will be available. It can be a bit frustrating to see a five minute wait until the next Conquest match but it also means that other modes have plenty of players as people run out of patience and just jump into the mode with the lowest wait time.
In spite of these changes, it is clear that Hi-Rez are ultimately banking on the perspective change being the big draw for this game. SMITE may not be as balanced or deep as other MOBA titles at this stage, but it’s a refreshing change of pace from the usual genre style. The current open beta is going to be the litmus test in this scenario; only time will tell if SMITE has got what it takes to carve out its own niche in this increasingly crowded market.