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"We created a new game mode in a day!" How staying faithful is the key to Smite 2's success

After a decade working on Smite, the team believes that improving on the original is all the fans want.

Cross generation skin for Smite 1 and Smite 2
Image credit: Titan Forge Games / Hi Rez

If you've got a successful live service game on your hands these days, I can only imagine how careful you'd be to make sure to not mess it up. The best free-to-play games are crumbling en masse like houses on the Norfolk coastline. This perilous environment adds a burden of risk to any significant update, let alone a full on sequel like Smite 2.

Nonetheless, the trio of Alex Cantatore, Travis Brown, and Daniel Cooper appear confident with the prospect. Speaking to me at the Smite World Championships only a day following the Smite 2 reveal, I was curious how the Smite 2 ship will fare in far choppier waters than the virgin F2P sea where Smite first set sail.

"Smite was one of the first free-to-play games, right? Now there are a lot out there!" Cantatore passionately states. "There are a lot of live service games, and lots of fighting for people’s time and attention. Being the sequel to Smite, we're not trying to find a new place in the world and speak to people that never heard of it necessarily. First and foremost, we’re focused on how to make the best game for all the people who have loved Smite over the years.

If you've watched the Smite 2 reveal yourself, but aren't too familiar with the intricacies of how the game is played, Smite 2 may very well just look like Smite, but shinier. This is, indeed, the point; rather than re-invent Ixion's burning wheel, Cantatore and co. explain that the most impactful changes come via quality of life improvements - both technologically and in gameplay.

"As far as the god gameplay that we created in Smite, making enhancements to your gameplay so that an ability is just going to be improved from a quality-of-life standpoint [is key]," Brown explains, before following up with an example. "Like the Ymir wall: players could place that behind them if they were fast enough in Smite, but we know players would love to do that all the time if they could. That’s just frustrating for them if they wall themselves off.

Smite 1 Ymir wall
We will never forget you, old school Ymir wall. | Image credit: Titan Forge Games / Hi Rez

"So staying true to Smite 1 means we want to make sure it feels the same to play as Ymir, but quality-of-life changes are embraced. Let them place the wall behind them! We want to stay consistent and not just change entire god kits, just improve the gameplay in Smite 2".

That's not to say this decsion to stay true to the Smite MOBA mindset was always there. Quite the opposite! Smite 2 was once called 'Smite Next' internally, as the team was keen to find "the next thing we could do to enhance the IP", according to Brown.

While the trio joked that this meant a long-awaited return of Smite Kart could have been (and may still be) on the cards, brown explains that it was experimenting with Unreal Engine 5 that solidified their ultimate decision.

Brown elaborates: "When we started to use Unreal Engine 5 at the end of 2022, we quickly created a game mode using the Smite IP that was very interesting, but it wasn’t what we were looking for. We pivoted, and using Unreal Engine 5 created a new game mode in a day. We were surprised at how our development process had accelerated! So we went ahead and created Smite in UE5 using five people from the dev team, working squarely on the game. It took us like four weeks to do that."

Apollo's Racing Rumble art, better known as Smite Kart
With how fast UE5 sounds when it comes to the dev pipeline, maybe we will see Smite Kart again? | Image credit: Titan Forge Games / Hi Rez

It is also worth noting that Smite 2 is not Hi Rez's sole attempt at making a new game using the Smite IP. DKO - or Divine knockout - was a 3rd-person Smash-like where you could use a variety of Smite gods to bash heads against other players. It was colourful, entertaining, and ultimately dead in the water when it launched in December 2022.

"Even so, the Smite 2 team are firm that the performance of DKO didn't impact their decision to stay true to the action MOBA genre Smite is known for. I don’t think it was too directly related to DKO’s performance," explains Cantatore. "Hi-Rez was hopeful that DKO would perform better than it did, but unfortunately it kinda failed to find an audience.

He continues: "We’ve been gamers forever, and we’ve seen sequels that try and drastically change what the game is trying to be. Asheron's Call – great game. Asheron's Call 2 is very different. There's definitely the temptation when you’re making a sequel to reinvent the whole thing.

"But we really looked at what makes Smite great, and decided not to touch that. The combat still feels great, moments of team fighting are amazing, the depth of a MOBA. But everything around that? That’s where we put our time and effort."

If you enjoyed that interview, and are somewhat of a Smite enjoyer yourself, why not check out our article on the best free-to-play games to enjoy in 2024. You can also check out an interview we published back during the Smite World Championships on why some of the game's rarest skins aren't coming to Smite 2 (for now).

(This interview was conducted at the Smite World Tour. Travel to this event was handled by Hi Rez Studios).

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