Smite’s Great Xbox One Port Paves the Way for Console MOBAs

Isn’t it bizarre that what is essentially the biggest genre in gaming is basically nowhere to be found on consoles? With apologies to Awesomenauts Assemble!, traditional MOBAs have always been relegated to the PC audience…until now. With Hi-Rez Studios’ third-person multiplayer online battle arena title Smite making its way to the Xbox One as a (presumably timed) exclusive, we could be on the advent of a full-blown revolution. Heck, I already have Xbox Live friends who play Smite more than any other game on their relatively new current generation console. Hi-Rez is in the midst of one of the most brilliant business decisions we’ve seen a developer/publisher make in quite some time, and it’s a shame that more people aren’t talking about it. Think about it: MOBAs are absolutely massive, and the first major title to dive into this space is going to find themselves capturing the console audience (and their wallets).

Smite was actually the first MOBA that I ever dove into, and it opened up my mind in a way that paved my love for both Dota 2 and Heroes of the Storm. After spending numerous hours with the PC version, which officially launched last spring, the thought of playing the Xbox One version was immediately intriguing. While there is a certain contingent of hardcore MOBA players that firmly believe that the genre can’t properly translate to consoles, I’ve never truly seen any reason why they couldn’t. Sure, the level of competition wouldn’t be as high if titles like League of Legends found their way onto consoles, but it’s not like we’re putting Civilization V on a 3DS here. Sure, you could make the admittedly viable argument that traditional top-down MOBAs with free cameras wouldn’t work on a controller, though a great deal of people said the same thing about Diablo. One of two things is going to happen as a result of Smite making its way to Xbox One: either it’ll be a relative failure, or, more likely, it’ll open the floodgates for other MOBAs to try and take a new audience by storm. If you think Blizzard isn’t watching Smite like a hawk right now to see if Heroes of the Storm would be commercially viable on consoles, you’re out of your mind. If the money is there, remapping controls is not going to be some massive barrier.

Take this next statement as nothing short of a massive compliment: Smite on Xbox One isn’t some watered-down baby version of the PC version, it’s the real deal. Because of its third-person perspective, every command maps perfectly to a controller, and while a great deal of the current Smite player-base (including myself) is going to prefer mouse and keyboard for MOBAs, there’s no denying that this is absolutely Smite, through and through.

That last sentence might seem a bit ridiculous, but when you consider that a hardcore MOBA with an in-game item store and individual character levels is set to thrive on consoles, that’s a huge deal. In fact, there are only three problems I have with the Xbox One version of Smite, and any other issues that may arise are problems with Smite itself rather than this particular port. There are occasional technical issues with the Smite Beta as it currently stands, namely framerate drops and the occasional full game freeze. In the week I spend playing, I was subject to a bizarre freeze that forced me to manually restart my Xbox One and sign into Smite twice before I was suddenly dropped back into the match I was playing without warning. Being that the Xbox One iteration was, at the time of the crash, in a pre-release version of its Closed Beta, this can likely be chalked up to ongoing development.

The other two noticeable problems feel more like design decisions, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see one or both of them fixed before launch. One of my favorite features of the Smite in-game item store is that you’re able to check different categorical boxes to quickly find items that fit your needs. Want an item that increases your damage and attack speed, simply check those boxes. Want to raise your health and mana? Check away. The in-game store on the Xbox One version doesn’t contain this feature, which makes scrolling through the dozens of items a bit of a drag. What’s worse is that the “Popular” section is completely empty, though this could be because no item is popular enough on the Xbox One version to actually show up.

Other than these minor gripes, Smite on Xbox One is the same multi-mode, skill-based MOBA that PC players have come to love. All of the sixty-plus gods from the PC version are playable, and the in-game economy and god-rotation system are both present (though at the Beta’s launch, this rotation is absolutely abysmal). It’s shocking how well Smite works with a controller, and there’s something oddly hypnotic about the relaxing nature of playing such a hardcore title with joysticks and triggers. It’s hard to see Smite failing on the Xbox One, especially when you consider that anyone can download it for free. If Hi-Rez is able to capture the console audience, something that it’s banking on, it could separate itself from the likes of Valve and Riot, catapulting it into first place in a new sector, rather than fighting for scraps in another.

The floodgates are about to open folks. Are you ready for MOBA Fever to spread its way to consoles?