Following its success with Paladins: Champions of the Realm – which brought the team-based shooter genre to Switch with platform parity and solid performance – developer Hi-Rez Studios has now given its other big online hit the same handheld-friendly treatment. While Paladins has proved itself to be Overwatch’s only real competition, Smite’s MOBA-style has been giving the likes of League of Legends and Dota 2 a good run for their money. But can this god-battling multiplayer brawler bring its full experience to Nintendo’s hardware without too much concession?
Thankfully, we’re not getting another Fight of Gods. While its roster of armoured deities is very much a recognisable bunch, you won’t have to worry about battling a steroid-addled Jesus (well, technically you can play as the Hindu god Ganesha, but at least they're treated with a little more creative respect). Of course, if you do happen to find using Norse gods or Arthurian legends offensive on a spiritual level, then perhaps this isn’t the game for you. For everyone else, you’ll have access to over 90 gods and goddesses from across history – with more no doubt due to arrive in future updates.
While still in something of a beta phase on Nintendo Switch at the moment, Smite is nevertheless another prime example – at least from a technical standpoint – of how to port an online-focused experience to a handheld-friendly console. With support for cross-play (a feature that was also patched into Paladins at the end of last year), new adopters on Switch can start playing right away with Smite’s mix of team and objective based modes. Of course, this being a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), gameplay boils down to the same simple set of rules.
Two teams of gods need to reach a certain score, and can rack up tickets by either killing other player-controlled deities, slaying various minions (controlled by the CPU) or guiding their own team’s minions to a portal on the other side of the map. Much like Paladins, Smite’s roster is divided into classes that each offer a different set of core skills and loadouts. Hunters are good for griefing others from range; Mages are ideal for taking out lots of foes at once with AOE attacks; Assassins are all about speed and quick kills; Guardians are slow but dole out lots of damage and Warriors are your classic all-rounder.
Much like Paladins and other MOBAs, the key is finding the right balance of classes. Too many Assassins and Warriors and there’s very little room for manoeuvre when things go wrong. Too many Hunters and you’ll be too weak to hold back enemies that try and blitz you with sheer might. Each character has their own set of core skills that can be upgraded with gold earned during a match, and you can also buy items to help restore health or buff your stats. Every arena has a safe zone where you can return to refill your health, but doing so will take you out of the action, potentially allowing the enemy side to push forwards. It’s a far more tactical experience than Hi-Rez’s other franchise and one that takes a little longer to master as a result.
The need to rush down lanes (every map is divided into a series of open-ended corridors) is still there, but by pulling the camera away from the top-down view that’s become so synonymous with the genre (even on Switch with the likes of Arena of Valor) and placing it behind your chosen holy avatar, every battle is that bit more intense as a result. It places a greater onus on communication between players as you no longer have the advantage of seeing further into the area. Even ranged players need to be within a certain distance to make their hits land. Ambushes and sneak attacks can be the act that often turns the tide of a match, if pulled off right.
As we mentioned earlier, Smite is a fine example of how to port an existing title with serious graphical and processing demands to Switch. Character models and arenas all look remarkably close to their iterations on other platforms, and we experienced very little lag when playing online (less than we experienced when reviewing Paladins during its launch week). There’s a noticeable wait for characters to load in the pre-game lobby and the roster screens, but it’s a small price to pay considering there’s full support for all the themed skins and items found elsewhere. We did experience some issues connecting to matches – with more failed connections that we’d prefer – but we’ll chalk that up to early release server jitters for now.
Smite is a free-to-play game, but it isn’t free-to-play right now on Nintendo Switch. It’s currently in a closed beta, so the only way you can play right now is to pay for a bundle that includes the free game and the paid-for Founder’s Pack. This is DLC that’s bundled with Smite, and will set you back just under £25. If you’re a current Smite player, such a paywall will be a real roadblock, but if you’re new to the game and you’re sold on the idea of a meatier MOBA on Switch, then you do get quite a lot in the Founder’s Pack.
Every god is available from the off, and you’ll have access to every new one that’s released in the future. You get some gems to spend on skins or items, as well as some skins unlocked from the start (one of which is exclusive to Switch). It’s frustrating because Smite is a great game, and Switch players are getting access to a version that’s been refined and carefully calibrated through years of support, but its Switch install base will likely expand at a much slower rate until Hi-Rez makes it fully free-to-play at a later date.
Smite was a great and fresh take on the MOBA formula back in 2014, and it’s only gotten better thanks to a consistent amount of new gods, themed events and eSports support. So Switch players are getting this game in its most evolved form, with a roster that's pushing three figures and a vast number of modes to unlock and enjoy. It does have a higher difficulty curve than the likes of Arena of Valor, and there’s a slow grind to earn skins via the Season Pass, but the game itself is one of the best entries in the genre and it’s right here on Switch – a cause for celebration and no mistake. However, until the game goes to free-to-play for all users, that paywall is going to hamper its chances of online success.