Dota 2 – Preview
by Adam B
If you have a moment I’d like to pitch you an idea for a game: it’s an unofficial remake of a community mod for a ten-year old RTS, it has over one-hundred characters, each with different skills which you will have to memorise fully, at the start of each game your character’s progression is reset to zero, it has one map, its difficulty curve is very nearly a vertical line and every time you make the tiniest error, somewhere between one and nine people will hurl verbal and textual abuse at you – often in a foreign language – suggesting that you are a failure in life and should uninstall the game. So, what do you think?
The game I’ve just described is Dota 2, Valve’s foray into the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre – incidentally, I hate the name MOBA but the only other real option is DotA-Like, and that’s just as dumb – which is currently in an “invitational sort-of-beta, we’re not really sure exactly when it’ll be released but you can pay to play it now if you don’t want to wait for an invite, even though it’s going to be free-to-play in the end” state and yet has already managed to accumulate nearly quarter of a million concurrent players at peak times.
The basic concept is pretty simple: you have two teams of five Heroes (players) on a map with three lanes connecting their bases; along each lane are three towers, which are static defensive structures. The objective of each team is to push along these lanes to the opposing team’s base with the aid of waves of mindless AI-controlled units called “creeps”, destroying their towers on the way and finally destroying their Ancient (which is really just another building) to win the game. At the same time, they need to defend their own towers and prevent the enemy from reaching their Ancient. Games typically last 40-60 minutes, although getting steamrollered after 20 is a possibility if your team plays badly enough. The actual game is about a million times more complicated than that description makes it seem.
At the start of a game, you pick a Hero to play from a selection of nearly one-hundred (the exact number keeps growing as Valve adds more every few weeks), which are split into three main categories of Strength, Agility or Intelligence-based, and then further divided by their role such as Carry, Support, Pusher, and Nuker; as the match progresses you gain XP and Gold for killing enemies – both creeps and heroes – which are used to level up your hero and buy items respectively. Levelling up allows you to unlock and upgrade your hero’s abilities, of which most have three (plus a fourth “ultimate” ability) as well as their basic stats, and maintaining level parity with the other team is the absolute minimum required in order to avoid losing the game. Items vary from simple health potions through stat boosts, status effects, team buffs, life-steal, damage bonuses and more, and buying the right items will make huge differences to the efficacy of your hero as the battle progresses.
Teamwork is fundamental, as unlike many other team games, one player really cannot win on their own against similarly skilled opponents, and although certain classes of hero are designed to “carry” their team in the latter stages, they can only do so if suitably supported early on. As you level up, your respawn timer also increases, meaning that wandering off alone and getting yourself killed not only gives the other team free gold and XP but also deprives your team of a hero for upwards of 60 seconds, which can be an eternity towards the end of a game. Dota 2 matches are a lot like synchronised swimming; when everyone is working together as a team it’s a beautifully choreographed, smooth-flowing joy to behold, but when they’re not it’s like watching three people dick around in a swimming pool while a fourth keeps yelling at them to pay attention and the fifth is quietly drowning in the shallow end.
This being Valve there are – of course – hats. Actually there are more than just hats, there are full outfits along with different couriers, wards, announcer voices and so forth. As with Team Fortress 2, these items can be purchased from the in-game store or will drop randomly at the end of matches, along with chests full of random items, which can be unlocked by buying keys. Unlike TF2, however, all of the items in Dota 2 with the exception of Battle Point bonuses (Battle Points increase your Battle Rank, which is used to establish your level for matchmaking and doesn’t affect anything gameplay-wise) are entirely cosmetic and have no impact on your hero’s abilities. A large part of Dota 2 is about you knowing exactly how all the heroes work and TF2-style items would make that all but impossible.
Make no mistake… as fun as it is to play, Dota 2 can be brutal to new players – both in terms of its difficulty and the overly-harsh way that established players will often respond to your mistakes – and its unconventional gameplay mechanics like killing your own units to deny the enemy XP, or the fact that not dying is much more important than killing the enemy, mixed with the tens of thousands of Hero/Ability/Item combinations to know about gives it one hell of a learning curve. I’ve played it for about 600 hours now and I’m still only just pushing above a fifty/fity win ratio, yet I keep going back to it time and time again. After five crushing defeats in a row I still want to play a sixth game because if you can look past the initial complexity, this title has something about it that just pulls you in and makes you want to keep playing and learning and improving.
While Valve have yet to set a release date for Dota 2, I would say that Q3 or Q4 this year is probably a good bet based on their progress so far. If you don’t want to pay £23 for what is ostensibly a free game (and who can blame you?) then you can either apply for an invite via the Dota 2 website, or if you know somebody who’s already playing they’ll probably have a couple of spare invites lying around as Valve hand them out on a fairly regular basis. I have no doubt that it is going to become even more ludicrously popular following its formal release, so I’d strongly advise you to get your foot in the door now and learn to play so that you can be the one calling all your friends n00bs when they keep auto-attacking and don’t know how to deny properly.
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