I'm walking through the throngs of people at PAX East, taking in the sights and trying to find something that I may have missed in the booth list, when I spot what looks like an MMO's PvP battleground happening on a giant monitor in front of me. Intrigued, I step closer, and spot the rather large sign above the booth announcing the game's title: Smite. But it's not an MMO: rushing back and forth across the screen are various gods from different mythologies battling for supremacy in a DotA-style game. I snuck onto a machine and played a few rounds, before grabbing Hi-Rez Studios COO Todd Harris to talk about their upcoming third-person MOBA Smite to find out what makes it different from the rest.
We start off by talking about the obvious difference: its third-person perspective, which is quite different from the traditional isometric perspective used in most MOBAs like League of Legends. Harris told me that while this design decision originally started out as a hook to make this game different, it's turned into a major boon for designers that lends itself very well to the skill shots that permeate the game. Most MOBAs have some skill shots, but because you're in complete control of the direction your character is facing in the 3D world of Smite, every attack and ability requires you to aim it correctly if you hope to hit anything. There's no such thing as an auto-attack here. I found that this added a fair bit of excitement to the game—I wasn't just clicking on the screen, but actively utilizing WASD to point my character in certain directions so that I could land my abilities.
The other interesting side effect of the third person view was that I immediately felt a much stronger connection to my character than I ever did in LoL. It's almost as if the closer perspective imparted some sort of psychic connection to my character. I found myself leaping back in my chair as I tried to dodge the attacks of my foes, and leaning ever so closely to the person beside me while trying to get into the jungle before a group of foes defeated me.
As is typical with many games at launch, they're limiting the scope of the game by only having one game mode at launch. The map's typical three-lane mode will be familiar to anyone who's ever played DotA, LoL, or Heroes of Newerth and will make it easy to jump right in and get familliar with the setting of Smite. On top of that, many other MOBA favorites show up as well, including upgradable skills (including an ultimate), item purchasing in-game as you earn coin from kills, and a return to base teleport.
I asked Harris what they're doing with Smite to help guide new players into the genre and he told me that their in-game voice chat system will be a great positive for new players. While they won't have a full voice system in the game (noobs rejoice!), it will allow players to bind pre-generated voiced commands. This means that no-one will be getting an ear full from an experienced player who's frustrated with the slow pace of the new player. Additionally, you won't need to take your fingers away from your attack keys to let you group know that you need help, making it easier to play as a team with strangers.
With 15 gods at launch, players will have plenty of variety to choose from. I played as Odin, one of the tank-y gods, and enjoyed his ultimate skill tremendously. Calling down a ring on spears, I was able to trap foes near me and beat 'em down while they tried to escape my deathtrap.
Harris confirmed that Smite is still planned to be a free-to-play game with a cash shop, selling both skins and new gods. I was really glad to see that they've altered the direction they're taking with in-game conveniences though. They've recently removed the ability to pay your way to a quicker respawn when you die, as they rightfully found it unbalanced the game far too much.
A MOBA smack down amongst the gods? Color me interested. I know I'll be keeping an eye on this, as it builds upon traditional MOBA goodness with enough added emphasis on an RPG PvP feel to keep me intrigued.