Why I love Smite's 4v4 Siege mode
A month ago, Smite introduced a new game mode to stand beside Conquest, its traditional 5v5 three-lane battleground. Siege cuts the three lanes down to two and adds lumbering siege tower minions, earned through kills and clearing jungle camps, that can quickly knock down towers by themselves. The smaller map and siege tower minions make for a shorter, faster-paced game, and I was still trying to decide how I liked it compared to Conquest when Hi-Rez added another wrinkle. In the latest patch, they cut Siege down to a 4v4 mode, and now Siege produces some of the most fun, fast-paced lane-pushing matches I've ever played.
Siege reminds me of Riot Games' attempt to differentiate League of Legends with Dominion. No one's playing Dominion now—the shallowness of its node-control gameplay sent most players straight back to Summoner's Rift with a shrug of disinterest. With Siege, Hi-Rez Studios has wisely kept the lane-pushing gameplay intact but incorporated elements of the combat-focused Arena mode. Lanes are such a fundamental piece of the genre; I don't think Siege would have a chance of becoming a popular competitive mode without them.
In Arena, killing gods and minions causes the enemy's "ticket pool" to drop, and when it hits zero, you win. In Siege, killing enemy gods, minions, and jungle buffs earns tickets, and your team spawns a siege minion every time that pool hits 100. Arena's fun, but lightweight and throwaway. Siege is fun and incorporates the deeper strategy of lanes and towers and jungles. There's a pivotal neutral camp in the center of the map called the Silver Fury that rewards an extra siege minion. If your team doesn't ward and kill Silver Fury, you're probably going to lose.
With 10 players, Siege felt chaotic, even sloppy. Sloppy was fun, and 5v5 Siege did introduce some interesting asymmetrical elements between the two lanes. Sometimes you'd end up with a 3v2 lane, with one player roaming the map hunting for ganks. 4v4 is more restrictive, but those restrictions actually make the mode shine.
A smarter foursome
Team composition becomes hugely important before the game even begins. Who's going to lane with who? If we put two melee champions together, will they get pushed out of lane? Do we have an okay balance of magic damage and physical damage? If we need a carry, a tank, and a mage, what role gets the fourth slot? Assassin? Support? Warrior?
Siege mode is now more punishing of poor team compositions or mistakes in battles, because there's one less person involved to get a couple cleanup kills or pull of a clutch base defense. My favorite thing about 4v4 Siege is how quickly matches go by—and how dramatically they can turn around with a couple smart plays.
In the best match I've played so far, my team was losing badly talking about surrendering 15 minutes in. When we had a hunch that the enemy team was taking Silver Fury, we rushed into the jungle and managed to steal it. We also killed a couple enemy Gods in the scuffle, then started pushing up a lane with a siege minion. They were overconfident, since they'd been crushing us the entire game, so we aggressively dove on a couple more under their tower as they tried to defend 2v4. Then they got rattled and kept coming at us one by one as they respawned. In less than five minutes, we went from talking about quitting to winning the game.
A dramatic turnaround like that can happen in a game of Conquest, but it's not going to happen until near the 40 minute mark when everyone is level 20 and respawn times are 60+ seconds. In Siege, we ended a dramatic match in 20 minutes.
There's one other thing that I really like about Siege mode as a 4v4 game: it lets me play premade matches with a smaller group of friends. It's hard for me to put together a team of five players, and Smite doesn't allow you to queue in Conquest mode with a team of four. It's an understandable matchmaking restriction—I wouldn't want to solo queue and fight a four-man premade team, so it's nice to have 4v4 Siege as an option.
I don't think Siege will ever have the same competitive pull as Conquest, because its matches are too short to develop the same tense narrative arc as a great 45 minute lane-pushing slugfest. But it's a fun middle ground between the throwaway nature of Arena and the serious investment of Conquest. With 4v4 Siege, Hi-Rez is onto something that Riot Games and Valve should pay attention to.
It's hard to tell if the Smite community agrees. Posters on the Smite subreddit largely seem to agree that 4v4 is more competitive and 5v5 is more casual, but are split on whether that's good or bad. The community's divided on how how restrictive the 4v4 metagame is and how it affects God picks and lane compositions.
I say 4v4 improves the meta. The lane-pushing genre thrives on deep, tactical competitive play. Smite's first 4v4 Siege tournament, between the two best Smite teams in the world, will be a great litmus test for Siege's competitive future.