Based on the extremely popular mod for Warcraft III – called Defense of the Ancients – Valve has updated and revamped the game on the all-powerful Source engine. While the game has been in closed beta for about two years now, the full release of Dota 2 has finally come. Although it was a closed beta, access keys were passed out like they were going out of style; the only way to not have gotten in was to have no friends at the time, which is just sad.
For those that have never played a MOBA in their lives, the basic layout is that there are two bases on the playing field, and each spawns small, non-controllable units called creeps at each other. The entire map’s shape resembles a square, and the creeps travel along each of the three lanes which stretch across the perimeter and diagonally across middle. Each team of five chooses one of the many characters – referred to as heroes – each to control and battles against the enemy team with the ultimate goal of destroying each other’s ancients, which are giant structures nestled in each team’s bases. Choosing heroes is one of the most exciting parts of the early game, as each champion can only be chosen by one person per game. While this can be annoying for slow pickers, it is in my opinion an ingenious implementation, thus eliminating annoying mirror matches that plague other MOBA’s.
An extremely hand-holding training mode is available for play, taking the player through the basics of gameplay in the form of short, quest-like missions. While this is great for those who are completely new to MOBA’s, the lessons taught in its current iteration still overlook other crucial and fundamental strategies such as denying creeps and the concept of laning. The experience is rounded out by being thrown to the wolves as players are pitted against other, hopefully low-level, players. Although the training mode is not enough to ensure complete competency, which is an oversight by Valve, several skilled players have released guides for the game that cover everything that it has missed. This means that there is absolutely no good reason not to know how to play.
As the saying goes, “Welcome to Dota, you suck.” This rings true to every new player or even those that have converted from other MOBA’s (myself included). Learning Dota takes diligence and patience, so this game isn’t for short-tempered individuals though it is fun to stomp a team of raging noobs for those of us who know how to play. One issue that new players struggle with is the length of each game (they can take anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour and a half) which is off-putting at first. However, when you overcome the initial slump, the game turns out to be one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences to be had in a MOBA game.
With such a large roster of unique heroes to choose from and several more on the way, it is surprising how each one still manages to be unique in play style and appearance. The greatest example of which is probably Invoker. His three skills serve as components, when put in the correct combination, to create one of ten spells at his disposal. However, not every spell will fit every situation, forcing the player to memorize each combination to utilize him to his full potential. Although this may sound overpowered, the game is actually balanced in that all heroes are very powerful in their own ways, not to mention any outstanding exploit or general balance issue is usually resolved through one of the many patches pushed out by the diligent development team.
The game’s visuals and art direction look superb, as the graphics are still impressive even on low settings. This is great news for those with subpar setups, meaning an enjoyable experience with few hindrances, unless if your internet connection is slow. Each hero model stays relatively faithful to the original version, if not better. The reason for the differences is that Blizzard holds the rights to certain names and character models, such as the Murloc model for Slark. Though the heroes have their own lore and are part of a giant universe that I could talk for hours and hours about, nobody really knows why the heroes are in the arena. However, much like any game of this genre, the lore doesn’t really matter so long as the gameplay is enjoyable – which it is.
Players whose money burns a hole in their pockets beware: there are microtransactions ahead. Cosmetic items are available for most characters with new content constantly released from community members through the Steam Workshop. Eventually, there will be items for all heroes so those who play characters without any equips currently shouldn’t lose hope. Ways that players can get their hands on equipment are through mystery chests, which need purchasable keys to unlock, random drops after each game, or buying them straight from the in-game store. Holiday game modes are also present in the game such as Halloween’s Diretide and Christmas’s Greevling events, which are sources of new themed chests. Also up for purchase in the shop are premier streaming passes for the many upcoming pro tournaments.
With many different MOBA-styled games out there, it may seem hard to choose between them. However, Dota 2 takes its predecessor’s formula and not only updates the graphics but also made the game one of the most exciting – and more importantly – balanced multiplayer games available for free on the PC.
Available on: PC; Publisher: Valve; Developer: Valve; Players: 1, 10 (online multiplayer); Released: July 9, 2013; ESRB: T; MSRP: Free; Official Site