After applying for a place in the partially-closed beta a few months ago, me and my cabal of renegades, or “friends” if you’re boring like that, finally had a chance to play SMITE, a MOBA from Hi-Rez Studios. More than that though, it was a chance to actually play a “proper” MOBA, and get an idea of what the term actually friggin’ meant. Apparently seizing random passers-by and blurting “MOBA!” in their faces yields very little in the way of answers.
As it turns out, MOBA actually stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, and it’s a genre based around online multiplayer matches in a battle arena… Well that was easy! Specifically an off-shoot of the RTS genre, this particular style of gaming was popularised by Warcraft III mod Defense of the Ancients. You may know it better as DotA. The idea of the mod was to control a single, powerful hero on team of heroes, pitting them against another team of heroes, and using them to dictate the ebb and flow of the battle with the ultimate goal to destroy your opponent’s base. However, it wasn’t until League of Legends dropped in 2009 that the term MOBA actually began to gain any traction. Skip to now, and we have DotA 2, League of Legends is still as popular as ever, Heroes of the Storm has just been released from Blizzard, and we also have SMITE.
Released last year for the PC/Steam, SMITE sees you control one of a variety of Gods from various world mythologies including Norse, Greek, Egyptian, Roman, Chinese and more. Nowhere else, other than maybe DeviantArt, will you see Cupid going toe-to-toe with Thor, or Medusa. Played from a third person perspective, you work together with your team to attack/defend each other’s bases, controlling the different “lanes” that the minions travel down. A better way of describing a lane would be the direct path between one base and another, with defense towers that need to be destroyed to progress.
That’s not all, as the bases are typically defended by a phoenix for each lane on the map, followed by a Titan. Destroying the Titan is usually the endgame, unless you’re playing Arena which is more typical of a God Brawl than anything else. Those of you who think that all this game takes is a simple trip to the enemy base, smack the Titan about a bit and then revel in the victory will be sorely mistaken. Oh no, you’ve got to work for your wins!
Outside of the lanes are additional paths, colloquially referred to as the “Jungle”, which contain camps of enemies. Defeating this camp offers a buff such as an XP boost, quick mana recovery, damage boosts and more. Typical gameplay sees you killing minions, camps and the occasional player to earn gold and XP in a bid to increase your God’s level, with the cap at 20. On top of that, you can buy additional items which can further increase your combat ability. Only once you have a team of fully equipped deities can you truly begin to push for the win.
And this is where I fall out of favour with the game: I regularly seem to be coming up short when levelling up. I’ve had matches with my friends where I’m already behind by a level or two after a few minutes, and deficits like that are hard to overcome. Conversely, the gap only seems to extend further, to the point where one particular game saw me 8 levels behind before I could even say “Hey guys, do you want to play some Halo instead?”
Maybe I don’t know proper SMITE strategy, which is a valid claim. There’s no real indication on how you should devote your time between taking out camps and playing attack/defend. The tutorial that the game offers is so paper-thin at best, and covers the gameplay aspects of one character: Neith, a ranged God that can be a real pain to deal with online. Of course, Gods like Thor rely more on the tried and true mentality of “pound thing in face until death”. Coincidentally, that’s also my style of play in most games, and I feel like that’s disappointing here. Often times, I don’t feel like I’m doing damage to my enemies, and that’s usually because I’m not. Remember: under-levelled at the best of times.
So maybe I’m using the wrong character? Perhaps, but the problem is that the selection of characters for those who choose not to pay actual money is rather slim. I could save up my in game credits and put them towards a new God, but money is earned so slowly that you could be stuck with poor characters for a while before you have enough for another choice. Or worse still, I could actually spend money on the Founder’s pack to unlock all the Gods, to then find I actually just don’t like the game.
It’s a little bit of shame, really, because there were times when I was playing where I had fun. Sometimes, me and the game just clicked, and I would pull a move out of my arse that would earn the adoration of all my peers… Alright, let’s not go mad; they were mildly impressed at best, but being the one who turns the game around for your team is a pretty sweet feeling. It’s just one moment of glory in a sea of demoralising defeats that drained me of any desire to continue playing.
I could blame it my lack of enthusiasm on SMITE being a bad game, but I doubt that’s true. Of my three friends, two of them are pretty addicted to the game, whilst the third, like me, doesn’t care for it. On top of that, I think over a million active accounts would disagree with my opinion, but I imagine there’s also people who agree with what I’m saying. I guess the best way of describing SMITE, and if I dare to generalise, MOBA’s in general, is to compare them to Marmite. MarSMITE, if you will. If the MOBA scene is something you’re interested in, give SMITE a go. It seems like a good staple of the genre. You might love it, you might not. Unfortunately, I didn’t love it.