SMITE 2 devs on why a sequel is necessary after a decade
At long last, and a decade after its first release, the battleground of the Gods is getting one almighty makeover.
The little island in the skies, which allows the dance of beings more powerful than humans, is getting a sequel. SMITE 2 is here, and with it comes a whole new realm of possibilities.
Ahead of SMITE 2, GGRecon had the chance to sit down with Titan Forge Games to discuss just what the sequel title intends to achieve, including answering the "why now?" question, explaining the God pool, and outlining their main goals.
SMITE 2 devs reveal why a sequel was needed, and why now
Only a handful of MOBA's have stayed active for as long as SMITE, and even live-service games fail to make the decade mark. This begs the question, knowing SMITE's robustness, why is a sequel necessary?
But the Titan Forge Games developers Travis Brown and Alex Cantatore believe a sequel is now needed as SMITE has reached a point where new content isn't enough to really push the title on, and an overhaul to its engine, gameplay, and God pool is now required to bring the console MOBA into the modern era.
"I think we've reached a point in SMITE where there's a lot of content. We've got 130 gods. We are very aggressive in updating our conquest map. We've reached a point where just doing more and more, while it's still fun, wasn't going to get us to the next level because we're so constrained by the foundation that SMITE is built on," Cantatore, Titan Forge Games' Executive Producer, told GGRecon in an exclusive interview.
"It was only by starting from scratch and taking the time to build another strong foundation, that we could really do something amazing and get SMITE to the level that we know it can be," he added. But what will a sequel actually achieve that an update couldn't get done?
"The core gameplay is so fun in SMITE, but so many of the little edges around it are just that rough, right?" Cantatore continued. "The graphics aren't great, there are matchmaking issues, there are some issues with the servers, and there are some issues with the UI, which runs on Flash. There are so many things that hold us back.
"To make a new God, it takes several programmers working full-time for a month because everything has to be done manually. It's just a challenge, and we reached a point where we couldn't keep going with that and get it to where we wanted it to be."
SMITE also appears to have gotten to a place where the player counts have plateaued. Attracting a bigger audience is difficult, given the sheer volume of characters, and even re-attracting older players is a struggle as new Gods just aren't gripping anymore.
"What is it going to take to get you back into the game, adding another God to the 130-God roster? No," Cantatore said, citing that there needs to be more SMITE can do, and now is the time to pull the trigger on a massive overhaul.
SMITE 2 devs on God oversaturation and a limited reintroduction
SMITE's Gods are extremely fun. Compared to other games where the characters are made up, and the lore opens new realms of fiction, SMITE opted for a different approach, ringing around all the different pantheons and seeing who fancied a good old argy-bargy.
Whether it is Norse, Egyptian, Greek, Chinese, Mayan, or more, the God pool now sits at 130 characters large, and however cool it is to see more added, it's gotten to a place where maybe there are too many chefs in the kitchen.
"It's tough because for the people who play SMITE every day of their lives, we could ship a new God every week and they would be really excited. They know everything, they're so into it," said Cantatore
"But for people who have even dipped out for just a month or two, it's really hard to come back because the meta has changed, you build different items, and there's at least one new God now, and I think we're kind of hitting that point of there being too many," he added.
So, SMITE 2 will not have all the Gods seen in the original game. Upon the first launch of the Alpha Test, Titan Forge predicts there will be a pool of just 20-30 Gods, some classic, some new.
Fan favourites such as Kukulkan, Chaac, Ymir, Anubis, Zeus, and Anhur have all featured in promo art so far, indicating they will arrive, while Titan Forge Games also revealed Hecate (the Greek Goddess of Witchcraft and Sorcery) will be the first exclusive SMITE 2 god to arrive.
Over the Alpha testing stage, SMITE 2 will edge towards 50 Gods in time for its full release, adding one God per week. They will then slow that down to one God every two weeks until there is a pool of 100 Gods by 2026/7.
"We thought that if we migrated all the gods at once, is that a game that's overwhelming for players to get involved with? So we deliberated as to what is the number of characters that we can reintroduce the game to players where they don't feel overwhelmed," Cantatore continued.
"That's where we are now. Because we do want to recapture players that have played before. Unfortunately, if we're only starting with 30 gods, then their favourite is potentially not in that initial list.
"But, I think that players will appreciate the simplicity of the new experience. We will get a lot more players who are older SMITE fans who will come back to it because it's a lot easier to digest now."
What will moving to Unreal Engine 5 achieve for SMITE 2?
For the nitty-gritty SMITE fans out there, the move to Unreal Engine 5 will be music to your ears, but what does it actually achieve?
Well, for starters, SMITE 2 will have a much more seamless gameplay, where the new engine allows for smoother character movements, especially when jumping, and allows effects to shine. Already, Titan Forge Games has showed that the sequel will have a fancier UI, with tracers coming from weapons.
"We are taking advantage of the visual effects system," said Brown. "We do have lumen lighting available for higher-end PCs, and you can fall back to dynamic lighting if you don't have a faster PC to run it."
It also goes hand-in-hand with some other map features, where SMITE 2 will take advantage of the League of Legends-inspired "sneak zones," allowing characters to hide in long grass, only to jump out and surprise any unaware opponents - an absolute playground for any Loki fans out there...
"In Unreal Engine 5, there's a basic gameplay ability system that allows you to basically blueprint a lot of functional characters," Cantatore then continued.
"We've taken that foundation and built upon it to where designers can basically create a kit in an afternoon without programmer involvement. That is one of the things that I think allows us to do quicker iterations and make faster progress on updates than we've been able to in the past.
"I'm excited about that because we can try new gameplay features, add new items, and add new characters, all without programmers ever having to touch it."
What are Titan Forge Games' goals for SMITE 2?
SMITE 2 is already nearing its initial release phase, with the sequel planning to air in "Spring 2024" with Alpha testing. So, with the time nearing before we step off the pantheon plates again into a new generation of SMITE, Titan Forge Games has outlined just what they want to achieve.
"For me," started Brown, "It's setting us up for the next decade of SMITE. It's a game that you can play. I played it almost every day for 10 years and we reached a point where the foundation needed to be rebuilt.
"I think it's going to hopefully reach a lot of people who used to play SMITE or never played SMITE. We're ready for another 10-plus years of SMITE because, man, I love SMITE."
Cantatore has a similar sentiment, adding, "It is the opportunity to capture new players. We've had 40 million players play the game, and it would be great to get all 40 million of the people who have tried SMITE before to come back and try SMITE 2. This is an opportunity to not only capture those players and ease them into experience but capture new players as well."
AJ "Ajax" Walker, Titan Forge Games Design Director, also chimed in here, adding, "It's really about building our community, building our new foundation, and, linking back to your first question, it's about doing all of the things that we couldn't do just by operating SMITE 1.
"By doing those things we think people are going to be excited about it. Those are the things we are most excited about. Those are the goals we want to realise."