[Post updated with quote from the game designer]
As the old saying goes, a god up a tree is worth two in a bush. Which is just as well because Hi-Rez have now added god-up-a-tree Sylvanus, Keeper of the Wild to Smite, their god brawler/MOBA/whatever we're calling them currently.
Sylvanus (not to be confused with Sylvanas from the Warcraftiverse) stems* from the Roman god of the same name who protected the woods and flocks. In Smite he's a support-type character capable of healing and regenerating mana for allies as well as rooting and repositioning enemies. He also rides about on a big old tree (not to be confused with Treant Protector from Dota 2).
His backstory is actually pretty dark as it takes on part of the Roman mythology where Sylvanus' actions lead to the death of a child's pet and subsequently the death of said child. He turns the child into a cypress and the weeping sap is an ongoing expression of the child's grief. But the dissonant perils of an entertainment product rooted** in complex literary and religious history mean that's told as a by-the-by before launching into an explanation of the god's abilities.
Authoring a sad cypress aside***, what can Sylvanus actually do, then?
One of his abilities is Verdant Growth. If you skillshot that and hit an enemy hero you've rooted them and done damage, if you just plonk it on the ground you'll eventually get a mana-regenning little pod for your allies to benefit from. He also has wisps which seek out gods to heal or harm them depending on whether they're allies or foes. I found that one to be rather useful in turning the tide of a close scuffle to favour my team.
There's also Nature's grasp where the treant hooks the first opponent it hits and brings them back to you. You might want to have a strategy for what to do once you've dragged them back into range, though. If you're on your own and dealing no damage you've just given the most needy and desperate digital "DON'T LEAVE ME" of your life.
Wrath of Terra is his ult. If you're a Dota player it's visually similar to Tidehunter's ravage but the actual effect is perhaps closer to Venomancer's poison nova as all the units hit by these thorny roots end up poisoned.
"Sylvanus has a couple of things in his kit that bring something new to the table for Smite," game designer Kevin Powell told me in an email. "He's the first god that has a ranged AOE basic attack and he's also the first Guardian that can heal teammates. I really wanted him to be a extreme support god. A lot of people noticed he didn't do much damage and that was definitely intended.
"He has a lot of crowd control and sustain which allows him to provide a lot of utility in team fights. I'm really excited to see how our players end up playing him, I think he'll definitely have a presence in the duo lane and I'm not really sure if he'll perform well in the solo lane or the jungle, I guess we'll find out soon enough!"
I've just taken him and Grover (for that is the name of the treant) for a spin in a bot game and I'm actually really enjoying him so far. Now to hope that Hi-Rez's irreverent attitude to their pantheon means a Christmas skin with fairy lights on Grover isn't out of the question...
*I'm not sorry
**Still not sorry
***AGATHA CHRISTIE REFERENCE KLAXON