Rory O’ Connor
“Solo mid or I feed” are the welcoming words of Pudge as our team leaves the hero selection. Clinkz is soon to retort, arguing that should he go middle the game is ours to win. Pudge proceeds to call him noob trash, and thus the battle begins. This is Dota 2, the long anticipated sequel to the mod that got the ARTS genre rolling. Though still in development, I decided to have a gander at the current beta and see how it was coming along.
So far I’ve played around 70 games and watched untold hours of professional play, so hopefully I can give a decent critique of the beta without being too unaware of other aspects found within the game.
Criticizing Dota 2 is difficult, especially when gameplay is nearly no different from the original mod. Being a “state of the game” I can’t just pass judgement on a beta (nor would I want to), but I can show the merits and flaws the current build possesses. So for both my and the readers sake, I’ll go through the good and the bad of Dota 2 as per my viewing. It won’t be an actual analysis of the ARTS playstyle, rather a look at what is built upon the foundations which are the original Dota.
- First things first, graphics and style live up to the bar you expect from a Valve title. On max settings Dota 2 looks great, frame rate running smoothly on the average desktop and laptop alike. Heroes look great, each one sporting a signature shape, silhouette and style making them much more discernible in team fights when compared to the Dota mod of old. They sound amazing too, many holding voice acting that fits the hero perfectly (even if the dialogue is an endless stream of bad puns).
- The news that all heroes will be free on release comes as a great relief. Pay-to-win has become the biggest cancer to the genre, especially when it holds an immense competitive scene with each game requiring at least half an hour of the players time. The decision made by Valve couldn’t be more welcomed, but it also brings with it a lingering fear of the cash shop. Already we’ve witnessed the aesthetic torture of TF2, and it would be an immense shame if Dota 2 were to take the same route. Valve recently spoke out saying that the cash shop will be entirely cosmetic holding no effect on in-game player performance. While this is all well and good, keep in mind the same was expected with TF2 and look at it today, a mess of game-breaking weapons and cross promotions which deviate entirely from the stylized world set some time in the 50′s. That being said, I may be overly pessimistic. Valve have always stated that TF2 was their “test lab” for future titles, and looking at the cash-shop models found by Cyborgmatt I believe they’ll actually be more conservative with their new title.
- Newly implemented A.I is a great addition to the game. Bots are a great resource for newer players, turning private games into safe areas of practice without having the fear you’ll ruin someone else’s game. The A.I. can work effectively when paired together, but place them with a human teammate and you’re bound to see some terrible decision making. It lacks the simulation of an actual player, but I’ve noticed it getting better and better with each update. Their soon to be place in pub games will be valuable for players who experience regular connection problems, preventing it from ruining the game.
- Perhaps the best addition to Dota 2 is the in-game replay and spectator mode. With such an immense learning curve many new players experience what some experts call “pre-game ladder anxiety” as seen in competitive games such as StarCraft. The ability to spectate higher level games gives newcomers a great resource to learn and embrace the current metagame. With time it also becomes a new entertainment medium with an endless stream of drama, big plays and bad manners; letting you spectate in a way much akin to British tourists on the African plains. The only difference being the lions pause and say hi before murdering the opposing team. One great bonus of spectator mode is the constant feeling or presence of the professional scene. The fact that persistent players with decent skill are watched by hundreds and ranked with the top players in the world really adds incentive to further and better yourself, indeed to play more.
- There’s an obvious imbalance when it comes to heroes. Anyone whose paid attention to the competitive scene will know every team’s motive is to secure and ban the heroes with the most overpowered skill/spell sets. Take Anti-Mage for example, should he be fed or left to free-farm then he can practically carry the entire game by himself, not to mention that any ganking attempt usually end with him blinking away. It’s reasonable to expect any professional team to counter-act this, now try and apply the same situation to a pub team of different backgrounds/languages. Many would take this to be just the way Dota was and always will be. However that doesn’t detract from the fact that some of the hero’s skill-sets are anti-fun to play against, especially when you’re teamed against the same heroes game after game.
- My biggest, absolutely number one pet peeve with Dota 2 is the input delay. There’s a good fraction of a second delay in the interface and issuing commands. Turn rate has always been a big part of Dota, as any player of Batrider will tell you, but input delay is quite a problem in the current beta. During my time in the beta I have noticed it getting better, but as of now it’s nowhere near the standard found in other games like HoN.
- As I stated earlier, Dota 2 is the exact same game from 10 years ago. Though this is likely to change given time after the games release, as of now the beta is just a sexed up version of Dota with an in-built spectator system. I find it hard to agree with the statement “Valve is making the sequel Dota deserved all along” when gameplay is the exact same as the original mod. I understand that the goal so far is to give Dota an official standing as a game rather than a mod, but many long-time players are tired of the same old thing every time they look for a match. The biggest worry on the minds of many a veteran player is whether Dota’s so called successor will be grounded in the same stasis seen in the current mod. What Valve does with the title remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, all eyes are on Icefrog to innovate and add to the universe which has entertained, enthralled and in some cases inspired so many people.
DOTA 2 is the first Action-RTS that I’ve played seriously. I played League of Legends for about a month in the learning process of the game, but something didn’t quite click with me. After a short playtime, I retained little of the knowledge that I gained. I feel like I came into DOTA 2 as a complete beginner, with none of the knowledge or teamwork skills required to play an ARTS. A few months have passed, and I’ve logged over 250 games played, and I think I’ll be playing a lot more.
The experience wasn’t easy. It took a lot of learning just to get competent enough to even play matchmaking. My only real help came from a few friends, a wiki, YouTube, and of course a lot of reading. The terrible bot AI that only features a few heroes didn’t help much either. None of the bots act like a human player would, instead they have very specific knowledge of when to run, gank, and exactly how much damage they can take and dish out. Somehow allied bots are useless, getting easily killed by the enemy bots. I’m not saying that DOTA 2 should be more beginner friendly, but it would be nice to see those tutorial pages in the client actually do something. DOTA 2 is a game where every match lasts a long time, and you have to constantly deal with people who you may not like. Even your friends can catch the bug of blame-shifting, and generally being a dick when things aren’t going their way.
The gameplay of DOTA and DOTA-like games is essentially an RTS where you control one character. You can choose from [eventually] over 100 heroes, with each hero sporting four or more skills to choose from. This doesn’t sound particularly difficult, but factor in the teamwork required and the sheer amount of combinations that you can do. There are few games with as much depth as DOTA 2, because you can do so much. The heroes you choose, the items you get, the skills you level and even what order you use them in are all important. Then you have to learn about item builds, last hitting, denying, pulling, and more. The goal is to destroy the enemy team’s main structure at the other side of the map. Most people just push as fast as they can to achieve this, but as heroes are added there will be even more strategies that you can use.
Valve recently added in a starter hero recommendation, but when I started learning to play it was a lot more difficult. I had people telling me I shouldn’t play a certain hero, or I should, that some heroes suck, or that I sucked too much to play a certain hero. All of the heroes are viable in a certain team composition, even Alchemist and Batrider. Some of the carry heroes like Ursa and Lycan are unstoppable if you don’t focus your team around them. The problem with DOTA 2’s balancing can be that some heroes are too powerful, not that some heroes are useless. The turn rate issue doesn’t bother me too much, but some slow heroes like Crystal Maiden just turn too slowly. Some heroes feel like a chore to move around until they’re at higher levels. The changing for turn rate is an ongoing process, so hopefully things improve at the final release.
DOTA 2 can be unforgiving when you make a mistake, but I disagree when people say there is no room for comebacks. The first few deaths in early game don’t matter, but if you’re at a disadvantage then your team needs to coordinate themselves. There are no comeback mechanics that can be abused or paid items to improve your game. Everyone is on an equal footing before they pick their hero. This game isn’t like a regular RTS where your own skill is the only factor; you need to work with the other 4 people on your team too. A lot of games are lost when people give up and sit in their base. Since games last so long, there needs to be a concede button when the majority of the team has given up.
What I like about DOTA 2 the most is the seamless cohesion that the game has, to the point where it becomes an experience. You can watch live games, replays, learn about the characters, and chat all within the same client. You can watch a pro game while you wait for a match of your own. It would be great if the DOTA 2 wiki could be incorporated into the game client somehow. The art style and hero characters are all aesthetically consistent. DOTA 1 and League of Legends hurt my eyes to look at (sorry!). With the addition of the cosmetic items, so far the character models have all kept their look as well. I think this is a pretty amazing feat, since Valve didn’t do the same thing with Team Fortress 2 when they added cosmetic items. DOTA 2 just feels like a game where a lot is thought out before an update. The game runs on just about any PC built-in the last few years, but even I have some occasional lag with the game maxed out on my midrange PC. A lot of the lag comes from how much is happening on-screen. Death Prophet’s Ultimate ability or Leshrac’s Split Earth ability causes some slowdown with a lot of units nearby.
The community in DOTA 2 frustrates me the most. Many people are helpful and fun to play with, but the loud minority tends to erode any positive feelings that you have for strangers in the game. The game is free to play and has a very low barrier on PC specifications. So you see all types of idiots, ranging from the child that just discovered Reddit to the know-it-all that has been playing DOTA for six years but is still terrible at the game. And of course, the Brazilian that wants to ruin your day. It’s great to see that people who abandon games are dealt with, but I’d like some kind of region locking as well. I can’t understand why anyone would join a United States server and refuse to speak English. Some of the people who play this game just have an amazingly horrible personality. I can only see this getting worse with the game being F2P, filled with cosmetic items with real money value.
So with over 300 hours played, yes, I love DOTA 2. It’s been challenging, frustrating, mind-numbing, and extremely fun all at the same time. I think Valve is going to have some serious success with this game, and I’m glad to be participating. The game may as well not even be in beta anymore, but hopefully some of my concerns are addressed before the real launch.