At this point, MOBAs have dethroned MMOs as the go-to online gaming experiences, with titles like League of Legends and Dota dominating the online gaming community and the world of eSports. As far as this genre goes, you’d be hard pressed to find a community more involved than the Smite scene. Developed by Hi-Rez Studios in 2014, Smite has grown exponentially to the point that its tournament is the highlight of HRX, the developer’s own expo. Much like any studio’s flagship title, there are bound to be spin offs, which is why it only makes sense that at HRX 2017, Hi-Rez Studios showed off Smite Rivals; a collectable card arena game in the vein of Castle Crashers.
Don’t take that description as a knock on Smite Rivals though. While Hi-Rez Studios doesn’t have a firm release date for it yet, there was enough of a build for curious players to try out at HRX 2017, and it’s crazy addictive. Building on the lore Smite has already created, Smite Rivals takes players into a completely different play style. The goal is to build a deck to utilize in an attack and defend gameplay style with PVP elements.
Players can choose a god, just like Smite, but then things change. There are three lanes to flood. At the end of each lane is a “tower” that can withstand damage. While the gameplay is as simple as dragging and dropping a card in a lane, doing this involves a hint of strategy mixed with a bit of luck. Both tactical manoeuvring and chance fall on your deck. Now, the build I played at HRX only featured a selection of gods— I played as Hades and Neith— and the decks were random, but players can build their own decks, and even transfer them from mobile to PC. That cross platform sharing actually extends to gameplay as well. Players using PC would face off against someone playing on a mobile device and vice versa. In the primary game mode, players pick eight cards; of those eight, one is to be a god. The other cards are a mix of minions, structures, and spells.
“We’ve always wanted to figure out how to bring that to mobile,” says Brian Grayson, Project Lead for Smite Rivals. “We knew we didn’t want to make a MOBA… and we finally fell on this tug of war kind of gameplay.”
Regardless of what platform users choose, they’ll feel the sense of urgency when playing Smite Rivals. Every game I played against CGM’s Editor in Chief Brendan Frye went to overtime, and it got pretty heated. In order to come out on top, players need to keep an eye on their rival’s habits and openings. The other thing players will have to keep an eye on is their mana. There’s no card spamming in Smite Rivals. Instead, different cards take up different amounts of mana. Managing that aspect of the game can be the difference between a well-timed placement and waiting on a hero to save your tower.
One difference (aside from gameplay) fans of Smite will notice with Smite Rivals is the art style. While the MOBA features more detailed character modes, Smite Rivals is home to more light-hearted, cute, and almost chibi characters. They’re all still the same gods you know and love from the MOBA and comics, but they’re presented in a completely different way.
“The models in Smite are awesome but they’re really detailed; they’re too detailed for mobile,” says Grayson, adding that they decided to take a poll throughout the studio to decide on an art style. “Surprisingly, people decided on chibi.”
This art style is an alternative to the more realistic character models of the original Smite, but it also works better on mobile devices. The proportions of the characters lend themselves better the top down visual style of Smite Rivals while still allowing players to see some of the details that go into each model. While these new takes on old characters won’t be as realistic as Smite, they definitely suit the aesthetic used in Rivals.
It goes without saying Smite Rivals is a step into uncharted territory for Hi-Rez Studios. Taking a beloved franchise and transforming it into a completely new genre is taking a risk. But for what it is, Smite Rivals is really fun, and cross-platform connectivity makes for interesting match ups. For those afraid of dropping into a series with deep-rooted lore, it’s simple enough to pop into, and for long time fans, it’s a treat. This could be the next “must play” free-to-play mobile title.