Despite some valiant (and not-so-valiant) attempts to bring the multiplayer online battle arena genre to consoles, the wildly popular PC genre has failed to gain a foothold on gaming consoles. Thanks to one big difference, the Xbox One version of Smite might be the MOBA's best hope.
While it shares similar trappings with other games in the genre — minions, lanes, jungles, towers to topple, bases to bury — god-battler Smite has one thing going for it console-wise that more traditional MOBA games lack: a third-person perspective.
While games like League of Legends and DOTA 2 present players with the top-down perspective made popular by the real-time strategy games that spawned them, Smite puts the camera over the player avatar's shoulder, creating a view more akin to an action game than a strategy title.
Because of this perspective, Smite's is more action-based than other MOBA games. There's no click-targeting — you point your god in the direction you want to attack and slice/pound/cast/stab away. Special abilities use ground-based targeting indicators that control just as well with a gamepad as they do a mouse. In fact, during a recent media outing at developer Hi-Rez Studios here in Atlanta, I was told that there are already PC players who prefer playing with a gamepad.
I can't say I blame them. I put in a couple of hours on an early build of the Xbox One version of the game at last weekend's Smite World Championship event, and the controls were spot-on. In the default configuration the left analogue stick moves, the right controls the camera and targeting and the face buttons handle each gods four core abilities.
While some visitors to the show opted to switch to a control style that placed the four skills on the triggers of the Xbox One controller, I found the default configuration worked splendidly for my purposes. Having played the PC version of the game for what seems like ages (though in AI practice mode until recently), the transition to gamepad was seamless and intuitive.
The build I played felt like it was fairly far along, the main work remaining for Hi-Rez seeming to be optimising the graphics, minimising slowdown during large battles and dealing with some tearing issues. The developers tell me they're still working on the user interface — I liked what I saw, but it could be much better.
But that's what beta testing is for. Smite for Xbox One is currently accepting sign-ups for its upcoming closed beta, with over a hundred thousand players already vying for position on the testing team.
With multiple game modes and plenty of opportunities to play against bots (hooray for the timid!), Smite has tons of potential as a console title. I played multiple rounds of Arena Mode — a five-on-five battle in a small space without all of that lane nonsense — and could perfectly picture myself losing myself in these less complicated battles on the couch in my living room.
As for the more traditional MOBA modes — well let's just say they played well, even if I didn't.
The only downside I can see to Smite on the Xbox One so far is the account situation. Players of the PC version will be able to initiate a one-time account copy when the console version launches later this year — after that the two carry on separately, so if a new skin is unlocked on PC it won't be on the Xbox One. As a player who hops from PC to console on a regular basis, that's worrisome. I guess I'll have to pick one when the time comes.
As it stands, I'm leaning heavily towards the Xbox One version. If Hi-Rez can get the frame rates smoothed out and nail the interface, Smite could very well be the first truly successful console MOBA.