At long last, my final thoughts on SMITE: Battleground of the Gods. Thank you for reading.
This was another epically long review and I’m really happy with how it turned out. There’s a special idea that I’m working on in relation to this review so keep your eyes out for it. Otherwise, I have nothing more to add. Other than this trailer is exactly what I feel like after hitting the publishing post. Please, enjoy my review.
Update: I now have an audio version of this review as a sort of test. I’m curious if there’s any demand for this in the future. Please feel free to add your comments about it.
A Paladin’s Review: SMITE: Battleground of the Gods. An Epic Firestorm of an Experience.
- Genre: 3rd Person Multiplayer Online Battle Arena With Multiple Casual and Ranked Modes and Multiple Characters to Choose From.
- Developed & Published by: Hi-Rez Studios
- Platform: Windows, Mac, Xbox One and PS4.
- DRM: Free Hi-Rez Player Account Required. Steam is optional.
- Business Model: Free to Play. Premium currency used only for cosmetic items.
- Paid quite a bit of money on premium currency and some gifted by friends. I’ve played over 1,300+ hours combined in both the Steam and Non-Steam client.
We’re getting into the third season of SMITE and I’m ready to share my thoughts on the game as a whole. Though really, this review could have been written months ago had I not decided to make some pretty big changes in my life. So, let’s take it from the beginning. It’s been at least three years since I started playing the Beta of SMITE. I came in towards the end of that BETA period, even though I knew about the game long before then. I was still a little bitter with Hi-Rez after the mishandling of Tribes: Ascend. While I have since forgiven them and wrote my final thoughts on that game, I was still a little gun shy of SMITE after having been burned by previous games in the genre. League of Legend’s toxic community is legendary and I had a terrible first hand experience with it. I tried DOTA 2 but that wasn’t much better either with its community or its finicky mechanics. That all aside, I was willing to give Hi-Rez another shot and pick up this new game. It also helped that I had friends playing it as well. It was quite the experience to get into.
Three years since and my interest has cooled off. Those were three crazy years. SMITE is now the most played game for me even after my years in WOW and EVE. Something that surprises even myself. There’s a lot of emotions tied to this game. It had dips and peaks, anger, disappointment, love, exaltation, irritation at balance problems, thrill of a hard earned victory, rage and self-recriminations for playing terribly. How does one sum up all of that into a review? Well, as best as they can. So let’s get on with it and talk about SMITE: Battleground of the Gods by Hi-Rez studios.
Overall Gameplay Thoughts
SMITE is a 3rd person multiplayer online battle arena where teams of up to five players fight each other over a large map filled with objectives. They must work together to contest those objectives, obtain buffs, kill minions all in the name of defeating the enemy team’s Titan. It’s a combination of PVE farming and PVP fighting that reward good teamplay, positioning, timing/reflexes and usage of skill shot abilities. There are seven unique modes, as of this review, that change how the game is played from the usual MOBA format. Add on over 70 gods to choose from, each containing their own unique playstyles, a wealth of items that allow players to counter build or change how they play along with seven unique modes and SMITE allows for a lot of different ways to play.
In SMITE, the player controls a God or Goddess over the shoulder. Giving them a plentiful view to cast their spells up close. These characters are based on the beliefs of ancient or current religions including the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Norse, Mayans, Hindus, Chinese and Japanese Pantheons. These myths and beliefs form the basis of the lore, look, capabilities and personality quirks of every character. Allowing for a big range of personalities and ideas. The lore reason for why these gods are fighting is that essentially gods are fighting over the last remnants of human worship and the power that worship gives them. While many gods fight for whether humanity should be free or controlled, other gods join the fight for their own personal goals. As such, it’s creating a conflict that threatens to destroy everything that the gods and goddesses hold dear.
Each God is given four different abilities, a variety of different stats and a predefined role. This generally dictates the class and intended role but there is some flexibility with some which lets you put them in a different role than normal. In SMITE there are five different classes: Assassins, Warriors, Guardians, Mages and Hunters. Assassins are generally high burst and high mobility melee gods who specialize in strafing the back lines, ganking players who are alone and other general mayhem. Warriors are your all purpose class, a caste of characters who can fit a variety of different roles ranging from burst damage to tanky frontlines. They also generally have very teamfights oriented kits with very debilitating ultimates including anti-healing, anti-movement and more. Guardians are your frontline, tanky characters that tend to have the best crowd control, the highest health and best defensive stats of any class. They generally work to keep teammates alive and initiate team fights though some can also be effective damage dealers in their own way. Mages are your burst or sustain classes with AOE abilities. There are also some healing characters among their ranks as well who can help a team sustain and do less damage over time. Mages tends to focus on optimal positioning and unleashing devastating amounts of damage at the right time. Last, but not least, are the hunters. This class tends to have very powerful basic attacks and kits designed for dueling or teamfights. Their general objective is to be positioned correctly to contest objectives and farm up to late game to be effective damage dealers.
Generally speaking you’re going to aim for a very well-balanced team with one character from each class. Typically this means you setup a team comp with: a frontline, a main teamfight damage dealer, a late game damage dealer, a ganker and either an off-tank or extra damage depending on the strategy the team goes with. In Conquest, the main game mode of SMITE, this typically looks like a Guardian and Hunter in the “long lane”, a Mage damage dealer in mid, a Jungler who roams and ganks lanes and either an offtank, healer or extra damage dealer in the “solo” lane. However, while there is a generally accepted way of picking gods in SMITE, there are some characters who break ranks and can be used in different roles. Some assassins can be used in a guardian role while some mages can be used in the late game hunter role and so on. It all just comes down to whether the character has that potential and whether the player can bring it out.
Assassins, Warriors, Hunters and map objectives deal physical damage while Mages and Guardians deal out magical damage. This means that tanky characters have to prioritize which damage source they’re going to be building against. They can’t just build one item to protect themselves from all damage and call it a day. The item system is more split up than that. Other classes have to determine whether they’re going for greedy or safe item builds. Do they go for a greedy early game, a power spike in mid game or build up stacks until they’ve farmed enough to be a late-game powerhouse? This is where SMITE’s item system comes in. There’s a wide variety of items to choose from that I won’t go into detail on. But suffice it to say, that it allows players a good variety of playstyles even with a single god. I think the item balance is mostly in the right place, there are still fringe items that are too strong or too situational to be worth it. There aren’t any really problematic items that are must-buy anymore like it used to be in previous seasons but its possible that I forgot some.
Various Modes of Play
As of this review, there are seven modes for players to choose from. Arena, Assault, Joust, Clash, Siege, Mode of the Day and Conquest. Arena, Roman inspired, is generally considered the easiest mode to approach in Smite. It’s a 5v5 gameplay mode focused around constant team fights. Each team is given 500 tickets that they have to spend before the other team by killing minions and gods or pushing the minions into the opposing team’s portal. First team to 0 tickets wins the game. It’s one of the more popular modes in the game and I’ve usually enjoyed playing it. It’s the right mix of elements that make it fun. There’s Assault, a Norse inspired single lane map where the two teams have their gods randomly picked for them. They can trade or reroll (at a gold or gem loss) the god they get but chances are you’ll get stuck with a god you may not play that well with. Since players can’t return to the well until they die, the team with the best sustain generally has a better time. This is why teams can only have the same number of healers as the other side. Due to the random pick and the single lane not allowing for a lot of flanking, this mode is definitely not balanced. But it can be quite a bit of fun and one of my more favorite modes to play.
For those into 3v3 content, the Chinese Joust map has you covered. This single lane mode has an intertwining jungle that contains a jungle boss with a potent buff for those that kill it. Though it’s risky to take on said boss, especially in the early game. I’ve had a mixed opinion of this mode, mostly because I’ve never felt they got the balance of it just right. Further, certain team comps just feel far too strong to be enjoyable to fight. But, we’ve still had fun when running this mode. Clash is the newest game mode in SMITE and looks and plays fairly similar to Conquest. This two lane map mixes mechanics from Conquest with the team fight intensity from Arena. There’s the two objective bosses, buffs in jungles and XP camps. It’s meant to be the bridge between Arena and Conquest. I’ve also been on the fence with this mode. There can be some really great games but often times there can be some one sided fights that you can’t do anything about. If your team isn’t paying attention to what’s going on, you’re going to have a miserable time.
Siege is a different beast of a mode. This two lane Mayan mode features intense 4v4 lane fighting that with four jungle buff camps and a center boss. After a 100 points are accumulated, through minion/god kills, a siege minion spawns. A minion that’s effective at breaking towers. There’s also a siege minion in the center that can killed for another one to put on your team. I’ve usually enjoyed this mode but it has a weird meta that can be hard to get into the right mindset for. It does require some dedication to picking up when the right time to be aggressive/defensive in lane. And while games are only supposed to run about 20 minutes, I would frequently have 40-45 min games due to late game deadlocks that would happen. That can make the mode a bit frustrating to play. Then we have Conquest, featuring the impressive Olympus overlooking a Greek designed map, the traditional MOBA map with three lanes, multiple XP/buff camps and two jungle bosses that give team wide benefits. This is the hardest mode to learn due to the evolving gameplay meta, complex mechanics, jungle invades and rotating lanes. It still remains my favorite mode of the game but it can be so hard to get good games in it. These games can range anywhere from 5-60+ minutes depending on the team composition.
The seventh is Mode of the Day. This mode has a scheduled format that takes the pre-existing maps and changes the rules up. Some are pretty fun like 2v2 Joust, others are incredibly annoying like Cooldown Runneth Over which reduces cooldowns, randomizes the god you get and gives everyone infinite gold and mana. These modes are entirely for goofing around and can lead to some hilarious if not broken combinations. It’s hard for me to say which mode is my favorite. It keeps changing with every new patch. Some weeks I’ll really love Assault where others I’ll want to do nothing but Conquest. The nice thing about SMITE is that it has all of these modes so you can’t get too easily bored with the same map over and over again. The SMITE team has done a really fantastic job at bringing the lore of the pantheons to life in these maps. The visual design for Siege with its Mayan architecture and ominous forests just works so well. The epic scale of Greek Conquest really cements how important the mode is. Even the recent Chinese Joust map is quite spectacular to look at.
Game Balance and Fairness
As far as how the balance is in general, that’s a tricky thing to answer. I think in the long haul, Hi-Rez has always done a good job of keeping the game balanced and enjoyable. They make sure to get community feedback on a regular basis. I’d like to say that Hi-Rez is unafraid to tweak the balance of gods and the game in general but it does feel like sometimes Hi-Rez has become more skittish of balancing some of the more problematic characters as time goes on. I don’t know, I’m really conflicted on this point because on the one hand they’ll have gods like Ratatoskr, an Assassin, go from pretty much worthless to overpowered. On the other hand, they’ll have a god like Bakasura or Artemis only receive minor buffs over a very long period of time. It can lead to a lot of frustration with the balance. Granted we are talking about 70+ gods and I can only really think of about five to ten at any one time time that were problematic. That all said, every single season has seen sweeping changes that have shaken up the META and brought some of SMITE’s most problematic balance problems to heel. The biggest problem with SMITE’s balance in general right now is that all gods and items are balanced entirely around Conquest. Which is great for Conquest but not so much for other modes where a god’s weaknesses may not be as crippling. Joust and Assault show this weakness off quite distinctly, with some like Ah Puch being incredibly difficult to deal with. To the point that gods like him were creating quite a bit of irritation in the group of friends I play with. Even I can’t deny that I get tired of it too and I wish SMITE could figure out a better balance point for all of its gods. But at the same point, I’m not sure what they can do about it right now.
Ultimately, Smite is a team-based game. Even if you have the “best” gods possible, it won’t matter if one or more of your teammates aren’t pulling his weight and the other team is on point. This is where you can run into the biggest frustration with SMITE. There will be matches where there is nothing you can do to win. Where the matchmaking will put you with a team that is clearly way below your skill level up against a team much better than you. Or even vice versa. Then there’s the other problems including you not playing well to someone disconnected from the match. I’m not going to lie, there will be plenty of those matches in SMITE and it will be frustrating. It can also make game balance very difficult to figure out when you’ve got all of these various elements in play. Even if you’re the best player in Smite, if you’re stuck with some of the worst players you’re going to lose. Something I want to expand upon in the next section. But for now, you’ll have to accept that there are some people that just suck. In-game, you’re fortunate in that there’s a mute button and report feature to deal with the toxic individuals. (The report system does now let you know if a report has been acted on). Even so, those sucky people are far outweighed by good people. SMITE’s community is rich with creators and good people to discuss the game with and watch play. A community with a plethora of YouTubers and Twitch streamers, artists and parody people. But it’s also a big community which means you get a vocal minority of asshats that can be annoying to deal with. Running with your own friends is probably the best way to go or assembling a bunch of people throughout playing it because running on your own will get tiresome in the long run.
League Playing Thoughts
League Conquest, Joust and Duel are 5v5, 3v3 and 1v1 modes that are supposed to provide a challenge for experienced players of the respective game modes. These modes feature a god picking and banning stage where teams must choose their gods one by one while banning the gods they don’t wish to deal with. These modes also come with requirements that you’re level 30 with a certain amount of gods at mastery level one. Though I will say that these requirements are simply not good enough. I’d often be running with people who knew absolutely nothing about Conquest, and were trying to learn about it in the middle of a match. Which is one of the most irritating things to deal with when you’re trying to play a mode for experienced people. It’s of my opinion that getting into League Conquest should require a minimum amount of casual games of Conquest and have a certain proven mastery over SMITE before being able to queue up.
The truth of the matter is that I feel like League Conquest is not about skill anymore. It’s a mode whose ranking system doesn’t really take skill into account to rise the ranks. The picking and banning phase has become about banning the eight most overpowered gods and hoping that your team comp is more overpowered than theirs. It’s about praying for a team that will work together long enough before someone gets salty enough to drown us in an ocean of tears. The League community is by far more toxic and elitist than the regular community members. Blame will get thrown around, you can get BMed for not picking the right god or for not following the gameplay meta to the letter. A meta based on the US/EU Pro League’s meta, which we shouldn’t be following because we’re only kidding ourselves if we think we’re as good as those teams. It all combines into a spiteful and draining experience that lacks the enjoyment I have with the more casual modes. One that I began to dread towards the end of my League run last year. I’d always have that week of resurgence, saying that I’d really try to strive for gold rank but I’d end up getting beaten down and lose interest in dealing with it.
When I stop and think about it, League Conquest is nothing more than grinding 15 hours a week playing game after game. It lacks the variety in strategy that initially attracted me to the mode as we all stick to a single meta and hope to do the best we can. There’s little talk of strategy or even changing things up. That’s of course if we can avoid afkers, disconnections, awful teammates or an over skilled enemy team. So, as you can imagine, there’s a lot of nonsense to deal with if you have any hopes of reaching gold or diamond ranks. Your individual skill means very little in the grand scheme of things. Largely because it doesn’t matter how good you as an individual are. You can be the best player in the world and still lose the game because of one other person on your team or maybe you have an off-game. This doesn’t really encourage me to try and get better, I just keep pushing forward hoping I win the next game. If you main as support, well, expect to lose a lot of games due to your dependence upon the entire team actually playing well. What should be fun is just a chore when I get right down to it. When I consider rising through the ranks for fun, I just can’t stand the thought of it.
One controversial solution I thought of was to simply allow five-man premades in League Conquest. So that there’s a reason for friends to group up and work together as a team, constantly getting better as a whole. I never really understood why a team-playing mode like Conquest was based solely on individual skill and the ability for random strangers to try and work together. League is far too concerned with individual skill over how the team works as a whole and doesn’t encourage strategic thinking that much. Because in less than an hour, we’ll be done with that game and move on. And it’s not like we don’t have a mode for individuals that want to league up. It’s called Duel. That works “perfectly” fine for those that want to solo-queue. (It has some pretty big balance problems with gods simply being too ridiculous because they’re balanced for Conquest. Largely I have the same problems with 3v3/Duel Ranked.). Furthermore, why is it that five man teams that are interested in Conquest have to go to an unranked mode that doesn’t matter or give you a fair place to figure out how you really work as a team? That’s my question in all of this.
As it currently stands, I don’t recommend SMITE for its League Play. It doesn’t help that there are few rewards for rising through the ranks. The best that you might get are avatar icons, a skin for one god and a fancy border. So unless you want to deal with an endless, painful grind with the worst community SMITE has to offer, I’d avoid it.
Business Model Thoughts
Smite is still a free-to-play game. There aren’t any pay-to-win elements and I have to give kudos to Hi-Rez for keeping it that way. Every account gets a collection of permanently free gods as well as a rotation of free gods to play around with. The rest can be rented or bought individually with in-game/premium currency. If you don’t want to grind the god unlocks, then I’d say purchasing the Ultimate God Pack is the best way to go. This pack unlocks all of the gods and goddesses in the game for $30 now and forever. When Smite originally came out this was one of the best deals for any MOBA game on the market and still is. With the exception of DOTA 2’s all heroes unlocked for free. This pack does go on sale from time to time and makes for an even better purchase. If there was one reason not to get it, it would be that having access to 70+ gods may be overwhelming to new players. Other than that, it’s a really great deal.
The remaining unlockables in SMITE are skins, voice packs and vanity items for your profile. All of which are entirely cosmetic and have little, if any, impact on the gameplay. Skins can be unlocked in one of three ways. Some allow for premium/in-game currency purchases such as recolor skins (of the default look for gods) and mastery skins that show off how much you’ve played a particular god. A lot of the Skins will require premium currency (gems) in order to purchase them. As far as what skins cost, they range from 250 to 600 gems depending on how much work went into them. This is ~$8-15 per skin if you bought a gem pack for each skin, though you’re way better off buying the bigger gem packs. It’s a pretty reasonable value for money but then again that’s going to come down to your own personal values. Finally, some skins are unlocked either through chests or special events. Special event cosmetics are usually only acquirable at a specific time so if you missed it, it’s probably locked forever. But as for chest skins, well, let’s talk about them next.
Smite uses treasure chests that players can pay 200-400 gems to get a shot at unlocking the skin that’s in a chest with a bunch of other skins. This is essentially gambling to get a skin. Each chance to play will give you a skin/item that’s worth the same or more value for the amount you spend, it just might not be the skin you want or will use. While the odds aren’t that bad and have been balanced in favor of the player recently, there’s still a chance of getting the skin you want last. Thus spending way more gems than you might have wanted to for it in the first place. I’ve been debating more and more over the use of chests in free to play games. I haven’t come to a final conclusion but right now, I can’t really say that it’s a completely pro-consumer model due to the whole gaming aspect of it. I realize it’s a growing trend in free-to-play games but that doesn’t make it right. I’m considering doing an entirely separate post on the subject at a later date.
There are an additional seven types of cosmetic items that can be used to customize your profile. Avatars, ward skins, announcer packs, loading frames, pedestals, global emotes and music themes. Out of these, only two are directly purchasable at any one time: avatars and ward skins. The rest are acquired through in-game events as a bonus reward for participating. Ward skins just add a little flavor on top of the ward when you place it in-game. They’re usually pretty cute or allow you to show your support for your favorite team. Avatars are much the same, changing your “profile” picture to a god, event or favorite personality streamer. I’ve never been convinced that ward skins or avatars are worth the asking price despite my rather large collection of them. Still, they give a little bit of uniqueness to your profile if you want them.
PC Settings and Audio/Video
|Game Options||What Users Can Configure|
|Graphical options: Extensive Menu.||Optimization is good though running everything on high or maximum will require a lot of power.|
|Resolution Options: Included||All resolutions are supported.|
|Screen Type: Windowed, Borderless WIndow and Fullscreen.||User definable.|
|World, Texture, Shadow and Particle Detail.||Custom/Minimal/Low/Medium/High/Maximum|
|Anti-Aliasing and Shader Quality.||Low/Medium/High. Uncertain what AA it is.|
|Auto Graphical Configuration.||It’s ok in my experience.|
|Effects that can be toggled: V-Sync & Ragdoll Physics||On/Off. 120+ Framerate supported.|
|UI Options: Extensive. Very well done job Hi-Rez.||User can enable and disable a lot of the UI elements, customize the interface to their liking, enable colorblind mode, and much more. Targeting UI can also be changed.|
|Controls/Keybindings: Included.||Keybinding options are extensive and allow for an alternative binding. Default is pretty good.|
|Audio options: Main, SFX, Music, Voice and Notification can be changed.||Each one has a separate slider and an individual mute button. Chat notifications can also be muted. Audio devices can also be changed separate from Windows setting.|
It’s a little difficult to get the best bang for performance and visuals out of SMITE. It’s pretty taxing when you start turning up the special effects and objects going on in the world. So you’ll have to play around with them until you find the right settings for yourself. Maintaining a high 60 FPS while running a lot of the graphical options will be difficult especially if your CPU isn’t powerful. If you’re running a Logitech mouse/keyboard with backlights, SMITE can trigger the them for in-game notifications/events. It’s extremely cool if I do say so myself. SMITE’s UI itself is getting more accessible these days and allow for a wide range of customization in-game.
SMITE’s overall visual style has become refined over the years. Each god and goddess have had incredible attention to detail to make them both distinctive yet attached to the lore and pantheon they come from. I really enjoy the amount of visual design depth SMITE has now and it makes seeing every new god or skin a treat. While this is a super serious game about gods in an eternal battlefield, Hi-Rez always makes sure to mix in their sense of humor and corny puns to keep it lighthearted. The skins especially allow them to explore their sense of humor. SFX has come a long way, making abilities and maps pop. Then there’s the animation quality which has also gotten incredibly impressive. It really helps make characters come to life. Then there’s the music, an epic orchestral selection that has remixes for each pantheon depending on the latest god release and it’s great to listen to, though you may be get tired of it the more you play SMITE. It does help that they’ve added in different variants of the SMITE theme now to the game to mix things up.
After 3 years of playing SMITE, it’s daunting to come to your final thoughts. Especially when this game will change in the coming years as Hi-Rez continues to add and change its content. This is what I can say about SMITE. I got sucked into it and played it for over 1,300 hours. There is a real sense of accomplishment when games are won and frustration when games are lost. The emotional rollercoaster SMITE has taken me on has had its ups and downs. But I have no regrets. For new players, the learning curve may be daunting despite an improved tutorial system with the various gods to learn about and complex, if hidden, mechanics therein. There’s plenty of casual modes for someone to play and enjoy. As far as League is concerned, I don’t think its worth playing due to a general lack of reward or need to work together. After all, why bother when you can simply grind your way to Platinum ranks. The business model is still free to play and everything you can pay for are cosmetic items that don’t affect gameplay. Though I don’t like the exclusive skin chests that Hi-Rez has been running for a while. While I am taking a break for an undetermined amount of time, I can’t deny that I’ve had a lot of fun with SMITE. Is it perfect? No, but Hi-Rez keeps on trying. Even if the current state of balance is probably the most contentious it has ever been. Is it worth getting into? Well, yes, I do think it’s worth getting into.
Thanks for reading this review. If you enjoyed it, feel free to check out my other reviews on the site or share this post around!