Smite has a pretty simple premise: It's a Defense of the Ancients -style game played from the third person instead of the top-down perspective. That shift doesn't seem like that big of a change on the surface, but the zoomed-in perspective has some interesting impacts on the gameplay. The game is still in beta and there's definitely room for improvement, but Smite is shaping up to deliver on the gameplay that fans of this genre enjoy in a new and interesting way.
Smite pits two teams of players against each other and each side is trying to kill the guardian of the opposing team's temple. In addition to the other players getting in their way, there are also continuously respawning NPCs and powerful defensive towers. Each player controls a character that - similar to an RPG - will start off relatively weak; towers or NPCs can make short work of you early on. However, you grow stronger by unlocking new skills and purchasing items. Like most DOTA games, Smite has an emphasis on teamwork, and a slow buildup with your team's characters.
In Smite, everyone takes on the role of a specific deity. The Pantheon currently draws upon Greek, Egyptian, Norse, Chinese and Hindu faiths. At release there will be roughly 30 Gods and these stretch from Anubis, the jackal-headed God of The Dead, to Odin, the Norse Allfather. The developers have done a great job, for the most part, of matching these Gods to specific skillsets and styles. For instance, Ra feels right at home under your command as ranged magical damage caster calling down searing heat and blinding light on your foes. A few of the deities are however less compelling to play, the appeal of calling down lightning with Zeus is easy to grasp, but less so for playing as say Vamana, Fifth Avatar of Vishnu, whose appearance is sort of that of a small fat baby with an umbrella. I don't doubt the challenge of incorporating so many different appearances into a single unified aesthetic, but currently a few of the gods seem out of place.
Building your character is much the same as other games in the genre. You level up, assign skill points and buy items. Currently there isn't any kind of persistent customization systems, which limits variety some, but it does keep everything wrapped into each match. In Smite every god has four abilities and a passive skill. Throughout the course of the match you'll level up all the way to the maximum of 20 and assign points to your abilities. You'll also accrue gold by killing NPCs and enemy players. Gold is primarily used to purchase items. The wide variety of items gives you a lot of choices. Some of the really interesting ones are those that have a risk/reward attached to them, like getting stronger as you make kills but loosing those stats if you die. Another major aspect to the items is not only knowing what you should build, but learning how to counter what someone else is buying. If you see someone getting a lot of armor you'll probably want to build an item with armor penetration. In Smite you can also use gold to purchase extra abilities. These extra abilities tend to have long cooldown timers, but they can tip the balance at a key moment. If you're feeling a bit overwhelmed by that those choices Smite does include an option to automatically purchases recommended items and assign ability points, it might not always be the best choice for the situation but it will keep it easy for new players.