Although SMITE Tactics is currently in a very early alpha, there’s no denying that Hi-Rez has hit upon a winning formula. Combining the addictive deck building and card collecting of HearthStone with the strategy and forward thinking of titles like Fire Emblem and XCOM is a stroke of genius.
Playing SMITE Tactics, players are presented with an isometric field with their Champion at one end and their opponent’s at the other. Like other tactics titles, the Champions can move a certain number of spaces and attack with either a ranged or melee weapon. To summon other units, rather than spend resources or place each unit prior to battle, players draw cards from their deck.
Cards include minions, Gods and instants which each have a cost to play and each feature different outcomes. Players can recover health or buff minions, but there are many other cards to play. Players can send enemy minions back to their opponent’s hand, destroy them outright, add status effects and more. A good hand can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
This emphasis on cards means that deck building is incredibly important in SMITE Tactics. At this early stage of development cards are limited, but I’ve still been able to tinker with a few different decks and create some pretty epic combos. Every deck must include a Champion and at the moment the three available are Zeus, Odin and Ra. Whomever you choose provides the basis for your deck.
Choosing Zeus means you’re able to use cards from the Greek Pantheon, Odin grants access to Norse and Ra to Egyptian. Players can also use cards without any specific allegiance to fill out their decks.Think colourless cards in Magic: The Gathering or neutral cards in HearthStone.
Decks must include at least 20 cards and the makeup and total cost of the deck is at the player’s discretion. In my time with it, I’ve found that it’s imperative to get minions and other Gods onto the board as quickly as possible. Otherwise, the enemy God and its minions just shred you.
Normally, when I play Magic or HearthStone, my only concern is making sure the right cards appear so I’m able to throw out the best combos. In SMITE Tactics, I still have to make sure I’m getting and using my best cards, but at the same time, I’ve also got a physical board laid out in front of me. I need to make sure I’m keeping my Champion safe while chipping away at the enemy’s health.
It’s a tricky balance. But it’s one that is incredibly moreish.
Even in this early stage, SMITE Tactics is gorgeous. It retains the cartoony, oversized visual aesthetic of SMITE, but takes the animations of characters to a whole new level. At Hi-Rez’s Oceanic Championship 2016 in Sydney, I spoke with Kevin ‘Adanas’ Myer, Caster and Manager of SMITE’s Pro-League who told me how excited the animators were to work on Tactics.
Our animators loved working on Tactics, because it was the first time they really got to let loose. In SMITE they have to fit everything into a couple of frames, because it’s a multiplayer game right? So, with Tactics, there’s none of that. They can make Odin do these big flourishes with his spear and there’s no restrictions on timing.
It’s not just additional animation time or care that’s gone into Tactics though. Gods and minions will attack based on context. If Odin is facing away from his target, often he’ll thrust his spear backwards without looking and then bring it forwards to attack the enemy in front. It’s little touches like this that bring the board-game elements to life.
Like SMITE itself, Tactics hides an incredible layer of depth and complexity beneath a colourful, cartoony exterior. It’s a tactic that has worked incredibly well for SMITE and HearthStone and should serve Tactics just as well.
Coming up with a well-rounded deck and winning a game gives you a sense of accomplishment not easily matched in other games. Having control of not just which spells to cast and which minions to summon, but their actual movements too, is a dream come true for card-game, strategy and tactics fans.
It’s a long way off, but so far, SMITE Tactics looks like a winner.
To sign up for the closed beta head to the official website.
SMITE Tactics closed alpha is being played on PC with a downloadable code provided to PowerUp! by Hi-Rez Studios.