SMITE for Xbox is incredibly fun and fluid—a true port. During the Smite World Championship I had the opportunity to spend one on one time with the game. Here are my first impressions of how Smite is on the Xbox One.
For the most part, the button layout is incredibly intuitive. Movement and turning, of course, are controlled by the left and right thumb sticks, respectively. Basic attacks are delivered with the right trigger. Abilities are selected with the A, B, X, and Y buttons and are cast by either tapping the buttons again or pulling the right trigger. Abilities are cancelled with the right bumper. To upgrade abilities, hold the left bumper and select the button (A, B, X, or Y) that corresponds with the spell. Return to base by pressing down on the D pad, and select the shop by pressing left on the D pad. Active items are used by holding the left trigger and selecting the item with the A, B, X, and Y buttons.
Eren Cihangir, one of the analysts in the media room, talked to me at length about the strengths of the game. He was very impressed with the controls. “The controls actually work really well,” he said. “I was expecting them to be more wonky than this. And going from PC to this, it kind of seemed like it would not turn out so good. This is really quite awesome.” Troy Blackwood from Gamebreaker TV disagreed with him. He said, “As far as the use of the controller versus the keyboard, it feels really smooth…selecting the region [an ability] is going to fire off in is a little awkward for me.”
That said, the turning is a little stiff. At the moment, turning with the right thumb stick is much slower than turning with a mouse. As is, it is easy for enemy players to sneak up and attack from behind, and it is difficult for defenders to turn and counter enemy ganks.
Such a major change isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. Slow turning simply changes the meta game. Although it might be a little more difficult for assassins to sneak into team fights, it is now much easier for them to command the pace of skirmishes once they begin. In a conversation with popular Twitch caster fswag, he discussed the ramifications of the Xbox One turning system and its effects on the SMITE meta game. He said:
“If you look at sports, this kind of meta change happens quite frequently. Like in football—the touchback is on the twenty yard line this year and the twenty-five the next. Players have always been adapting to minor shifts and changes in the game. eSports is really awesome for being able to commit these changes fairly often. I mean—look at League of Legends season five. The speed buff next to the dragon and the baron is huge. It changes the way you play the game—and, not to say too much, SMITE is planning similar speed buffs for season two. Turning in SMITE for Xbox is no different. I can’t wait to see how players adapt to it.”
The greatest strengths of the Xbox One control system, in my opinion, are the various custom control set ups available. Control mapping, at this stage of development, is currently unavailable. But the alternate button set ups are all very smooth and easy to play. In one match, I played with abilities mapped to the bumpers and triggers. It was incredibly fun. Quick cast and instant cast abilities are also available, which immensely speed up the casting system.
In short, the controls were Hi Rez's biggest hurdle during the development process, and, for the most part, I think they succeeded. I admire a game that allows players several viable control configurations. Hi Rez, being a PC developer, brings a lot of computer development experience to the Xbox One port, and I think their input is very unique and creative. I love the hot key set up, I love that users can control the sensitivity of the XY axes, and I love having the ability to quick cast. As a DotA 2 and League of Legends player, I was really worried would not be able to quick cast. SMITE not only quick casts--they quick cast well. The QC system translates very well. Again, turning is a little slow, but that is not necessarily a weakness. In all, the controls are mildly successful, and I can’t wait to see how players adapt to and take advantage of them.
The shop has been completely re-imagined for the Xbox One and its controller-based system—which makes sense, given the current PC set up is optimized for mouse and keyboard. The current shop is a tabbed menu system. On the left are tiers of weapons menus: recommended, offense, defense, etc. On the right are the items themselves. Items can be selected and bought by scrolling with the left thumb stick or the D pad and purchasing with the A button. In my discussion with Eren Cihangir, we talked briefly about the new menu system. He said:
“I feel like it could use a little bit of compression to make it easier, but I do think they have a good start. This user interface is rather complex, you know. There’s a lot you can do, so it’s really hard to make it quick and easy.”
Like the PC version, auto-buy can be managed from the settings menu. Auto-buy, as the name suggests, buys items automatically for players. It helps new users wade through the taxing item meta; it gives them an opportunity to enter the action faster. This is not new for SMITE, though. Auto-cast, auto-buy, and auto-upgrade features have been core to the game since its development for the PC. The system feels much more useful here, though. Menus can take crucial seconds away from game play, and time spent in base is time wasted.
Hi Rez has completely streamlined the use interface for Xbox One. And they have done some really incredible things. Abilities and items have been moved to opposing sides of the screen. The health and mana bar still live at the bottom of the screen, but they have been streamlined for aesthetics. In general, everything looks fresh. I would not be surprised to see some big interface changes on the PC version in the coming months.
The third-person over-the-shoulder perspective lends itself very well to SMITE. The Xbox One is currently dominated by first-person shooters and over the shoulder RPGs. SMITE seems to take advantage of both schools of gaming. The skill shot system reminds one of Call of Duty, but the perspective and the character movement is reminiscent of Skyrim.
During my game play sessions I was able to play three Arena games and one Conquest game. In the first game (an Arena match), I played online with other players against bots. In the other games, I competed in practice mode with bots on both sides. Online play against players is not yet available in alpha.
The game play is a lot of fun—especially to co-op Arena match. The game plays very well in team fights; gods’ abilities work together seamlessly on PC, and they are just as fluid on Xbox One. As Thor, I trapped and slowed enemies with my wall ability while Cupid and Neith picked them apart. The enemy AI during the match was a little too dumb. I pulled off a double kill in mid game as two enemy gods tried to run away through a wall.
The practice matches, especially the practice Conquest match, were very easy—too easy, I think. In Arena, I dominated a Ymir with over twenty kills. In Conquest, I carried the left lane and dominated the jungle. In fact, I was the only character that bothered playing in the jungle. I picked up a blue buff and killed three fury camps before attempting the Gold Fury unassisted. No one pursued me, so I managed to give my team an incredible gold lead (10k, I think) in about ten minutes. Laning was also incredibly easy. In the late game, I managed a double kill when two low-health enemies stood idly under tower.
But alI complaints are minor complaints, considering the game is still currently under development. In all, I am really impressed with the game. The button layout and controls are intuitive; the shop, despite its similarities to menus from Call of Duty or Halo 4 load outs, is very well-made, the user interface is sleek, and the game play is fun and exciting. I don't know SMITE for Xbox will gain a similar hardcore following as the PC game, but it will definitely gain a lot of traction with the casual gamer market. I am already addicted. I have complete confidence in Todd Harris and his crew, and I can’t wait to see how Hi Rez develops the game in the coming months.
Check out more of our coverage from the Smite World Championships with our daily roundups of the matches. Follow the links for day one and day two, day three will be added as soon as the day finishes. We also have the trailer for the new conquest map which you can see by following this link. Come back for interviews with competitors, and HiRez officials in the coming days.