Efficient Gaming Preview: Hand of the Gods Alpha

It’s similar, but different, but also similar, but also different.
Hi-Rez Studios has taken a page from the Blizzard playbook and expanded their Smite property into a collectible card game: Hand of the Gods: SMITE Tactics.  It takes the idea of the card deck from Hearthstone and merges it with an XCOM-like tactical aspect where you can position and attack with your units each turn.  In other words, it’s just like Duelyst with Smite units.  I play Hearthstone regularly, Duelyst previously, and I love tactical games (#FFT) so I decided to try my hand at the latest “It’s-Like-Hearthstone-But-Different” game.  [Now available on Windows (as EA), Xbox One (as alpha), and PS4 (as alpha).]

First Impressions

Much like the mouthful of a title, HotG:ST feels like various components were strung together to form a game that – to be honest – has already been done multiple times before. You’re greeted with a series of tutorial quests and cinematics involving some “plot” with Zeus and Athena (who has a Russian accent because…reasons).  The overall concept is straightforward, especially if you play Hearthstone (or Duelyst):

  • Decks are comprised of 25 cards (max two per card) and based around a Pantheon, each with a leader ability you can use once per turn
  • The objective is to destroy the enemy Summoning Stone by reducing its health to zero.
  • Your cards can cast spells or summon units onto the battlefield which can then be positioned to attack enemy units.  
  • You get new cards from opening Card Packs or crafting them using “Dust” from disenchanting duplicates.
  • Additional card packs can be purchased with Runes (real-life currency) or the in-game currency: Favor
  • Favor is earned from winning matches and completing daily quests (bankable up to 3 at a time, and you can re-roll one per day).

Gameplay

Overall, HotG executes very well on the tactical aspect.  Summoning units is fairly easy and dynamic – point and click for deployment, same with movement and attack  The Summoning Stones are structure-type unit on the board, so it can be buffed, debuffed, and healed like other units (with some exceptions).  You can deploy supporting units behind the Stone to minimize risk to the units, or deploy tank-type units to form a blockade in front.  Unit combat mechanics are varied and interesting, with differing movement and range attributes beyond their attack and health values.  Damage resolution is not simultaneous; attacking units deal damage first, then defending units deal “Return Damage” if the attacker is in range and not immune to return damage.    

Hand of the Gods Game Board
The game board allows for unit movement and attacking on both the X and Y coordinate.

Aesthetic and Other Features

The graphics range from good (acceptable) to “rough” but that is to be expected for an Alpha (Early Access) title.  The summon and ability animations for the Gods are unique and fun to watch while the match environments are clean and provide a nice backdrop for the action.  Hi-Rez has also implemented some niceties and conveniences to HotG which I quite enjoy.  Specifically, there is a Deck Tracker feature to conveniently view the cards in your your deck, hand, and both graveyards in-match (taking a page from Hearthstone Deck Tracker).  Rounding out the “features” is a daily login bonus and the ability to join a clan (it depends on where they ultimately go with these to determine if there will actually be any real benefit).

Development Needed

The game is still in Alpha/Beta and there are a number of notable improvements needed to make the game successful:  

  • There is no indication of a unit’s attack range or movement range, seriously hampering tactical decisions.
  • There’s no way to search the collection for cards or their abilities while constructing decks.
  • The UI need a lot of refinement, especially on the PC, where the important things like the leader ability are obstructed depending on your resolution or window size.  
  • Resource utilization is high compared to similar games.  This may need adjustment if they want an mobile option.

Summary

Bottom line – HotG:ST needs a shorter name, better acronym, a mobile release, a UI clean-up, and I’ll play it when it launches.  Play it now and tell us what you think.  Will it be successful in a virtual card game world ruled by Hearthstone?  (We will publish an official release review at launch time.)

JoeThreeZero: Based on our time with the game so far, HotG will likely fall into the efficient gaming list.  We don’t want to put it there until we get a chance to play the full release version.  My biggest concerns are market based.  Valve is coming out with a card game soon and given what happened to LawBreakers recently, can the market support two more virtual CCGs?

 

 

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