MOBAs are very much a PC thing. Alongside RTS games, it’s one of those genres that rarely leaves its preferred platform. SMITE, a MOBA currently available on PC from Hi-Rez Studios, is crossing uncharted territory when it releases on Xbox One sometime later this year.
I grew up primarily on console games, and while I do dabble with PC as well I tend to stick to RTS games as my PC genre of choice. There are many people, like myself, that are primary console gamers and have probably have never played a MOBA. If they were giving SMITE a glance on the Xbox Live Marketplace, they may not even know exactly what kind of game it is.
SMITE has developed an aesthetic though that seems tailor-made to make console gamers feel right at home. Instead of the traditional isometric view of MOBAs found in League of Legends, SMITE zooms the camera right behind your hero – something akin to MMOs and most third-person games. The abilities are kept to a manageable number so that they can be easily mapped on the Xbox One’s main face buttons. While I liked them the way that they were, I was told they could be reassigned to whatever buttons you please.
Game modes range from the more casual and newcomer friendly such as Arena to the more hardcore and old school such as conquest. Conquest features the familiar three lane battles and jungles, and other game types such as Joust and Siege are similar to that but with tweaks to the classic formula to mix things up.
At PAX East 2015 I was able to play the game mode that was seemingly tailor made for newcomer console gamers: Arena. Arena pits two teams of heroes in a free for all of sorts. There’s no lanes or jungles, just 10 heroes and their minions slugging it out in a big room. While this might sound blasphemous to MOBA purists keep in mind that I’ve never touched a MOBA before in my life. Arena was a very approachable game mode that let me wrap my head around the genre’s basic mechanics.
Even after just one round (roughly 20 minutes), I started getting the hang of leveling up, protecting/killing minions, and learning how to approach different hero types. The only thing that seemed odd (and this isn’t a criticism, rather just a MOBA thing I’m not yet used to), was having to stop to buy equipment while the action is going on elsewhere. Luckily, SMITE allows you to just let the AI level up and equip your hero for you, which allows newcomers like myself to stay focused on gameplay until they get the hang of it.
Because of its simplicity and familiarity to game types from other more console friendly genres, Arena will likely be the first and last stop for casual fans. It offers a quick, enjoyable, and easy-to-play experience. More seasoned videogame players and, of course, MOBA fans will probably graduate quickly to the more involved game types.
If I wasn’t someone who pays close attention to the video game world, I would have never known that SMITE was the first of its kind and that it came from a genre that has yet to warm up to consoles. It’s a testament to how well Hi-Rez Studios carried its game over and didn’t stop at just making it work on a controller. Hi-Rez Studios was clearly mindful of what kinds of games console owners were used to playing and what would appeal to them. I’d be shocked if SMITE wouldn’t be a smash hit on Xbox One, and that we didn’t see more MOBAs make a similar jump to consoles in the future.