Testing out Smite's new Journey to the West-themed 3v3 map

Concept art for Smite's new Joust map.

It’s the middle of Smite’s Super Regionals, a six day LAN event that will determine which of the five best pro teams from North America and Europe will go to the world championship. But at the moment, I’m not watching those teams duke it out: I’m playing Smite on its new 3v3 Joust map, which is still in development at Hi-Rez. It’s immediately obvious that the new map, modeled after the Cloud Palace from Chinese fable Journey to the West, is more lush and ornate than its two-year-old predecessor. Even unfinished, it’s full of unique flourishes. New phoenix models. Towers encircled by Chinese dragons. A natural side and a side packed with intricate Chinese architecture, to make each team’s base visually distinct.

It’s going to be Smite’s prettiest map when it’s all finished, but more importantly, I think it’s going to make players want to Joust. There’s now only one “side” of jungle on the map, following along beside a single wavy lane, which houses two mana buffs and a new Fire Giant-esque neutral monster, who will grant your entire team a powerful buff. At the centerpoint of the lane across from the jungle is a damage buff, which is close enough to the lane to be a risky grab when the enemy team is pushing past up.

Not only are there fewer buffs than the six on the old Joust map, the buffs are placed in a way that should make for more frequent and more interesting fights and ganks, especially damage camp and the lesser Fire Giant. The jungle in Smite’s old Joust map has always felt restrictive, to me. The length of each path limits opportunities for jukes and allows a dominant team to bottle you up in your base, trapped by the distance between the entrance by the phoenix and the exit mid-lane.

In just two matches on the new map, I had a range of jungle experiences more typical of a Conquest game. I scored a gank in mid by running out of the jungle and dropping a stun on someone who had overextended. I used Hades’ teleport to go under the jungle wall from the lane into a mana camp, thinking I’d catch someone stealing it (there was no one there, but hey, free mana buff!) I experimented with wards and realized there were at least five intersections where a ward would be useful. I got blocked by a Ymir wall trying to chase through the jungle. I used a few kills as opportunity to grab the power buff for our team’s carry.

Both matches were fun, still fast-paced at about 20 minutes, and felt more varied than the Joust matches I remember, even without much team coordination or strategy around picking up buffs. If that depth holds up under more matches, Joust could easily pull up closer to Conquest as a competitive mode, which would make it a great training ground for anyone without a five-player team at the ready. The mobility alone should make for more interesting matches.

Hi-Rez hasn’t said when the new map will come out, and it’s still clearly a work in progress: the mana buff monsters weren't completely textured, and Gold Fury was used as a stand-in for the new buff camp. They'll be showing off more of the map at the World Championship in January. A release shortly after with the start of season three would be a smart bet.

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Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).