Release Date: July 9, 2013
Developer: Valve Corporation
Publisher: Valve Corporation
DOTA 2, the sequel to 2002’s Defense of the Ancients mod for Warcraft 3, released this month under a generous free-to-play model. It is one of the best games ever created, but you might not realize that until you’ve played it for more than a few hours.
DOTA 2 is the latest MOBA to hit the market. The original DOTA is often credited for creating the entire MOBA genre that has given us games like League of Legends in recent years. DOTA 2 is essentially an enhanced version of the original massive game, using Valve’s Source engine. In other words, it’s the return of the king.
Gameplay seems like a simple concept on paper. Distilled down to its core, you control one character or “Hero” on a team of five. Then, your team’s five Heroes are pitted against the five on the other team. First group to destroy the other team’s “Ancient”, located at the center of the opposing team’s base gets the win. Along the way, your Hero will navigate the map, level up by killing opponents, and collect gold to buy powerful upgrades from a gigantic list of items. At the end of the match, loot will drop and maybe you can unlock a new vanity item for your character. Then, you do it again, only with every new match, it’s back to level one where you’ll start from scratch.
Sounds easy, right? It’s not. If you’re reading this review, I’m assuming you’re somewhat new to the DOTA 2 scene and didn’t play in the beta, which lasted for years. Those occasional matches you played while bored with Warcraft 3 back in the day haven’t prepared you either. Valve has implemented Hero tweaks across the board that will cause even the most seasoned veteran of the first DOTA to reassess his or her strategy. Anyone who thinks they can just jump in and start blowing people up is in for a rude reality check.
During my first week playing DOTA 2, here’s how a typical match went. I would select a character at random, jump in, say hello to my teammates, and then with a big smile on my face I would blaze into battle… and get curb stomped into the ground. Into. The. Ground. During some matches, my teammates would offer helpful suggestions to me after I had face planted yet again. For example, one gentleman, who I will paraphrase, remarked that I would play better if I just started ‘banging my penis against the keyboard.’ Oh really, bro? Do you even know how to bang with your penis? But I digress.
The point is, DOTA 2 knows you are new to this game, but it doesn’t care. The learning curve is as forgiving to a newcomer as a New Jersey mob boss is to an FBI informant. Sure, there is a tutorial in place, but it’s not even close to enough. To win at DOTA 2, you must do more than just master your character’s skills. You must memorize the correct situations to use those skills and also learn how your teammates’ characters compliment your own. You’ll have to experiment with many different skill builds for the optimal way to level up your character. It will take the average player a dozen matches or more with the same character before things start to click. Each match can last up to an hour.
But once you understand? It’s like that scene at the end of The Lion King after the gloomy darkness and the hyenas are vanquished and you see the Pride Lands transformed back into a beautiful oasis. (I like Disney movies. Deal with it.) For those who put in the time, DOTA 2 is an exciting skill-based game with incredible depth that will reward you with hundreds of hours of quality gaming. You just have to be willing to push through to that point. DOTA 2 is one of the best games available today, and easily takes the crown as the best MOBA game for eSports.
Every League of Legends fan just went to the shed to dust off their pitchfork after reading that last sentence but let me explain. What makes this game so great for competitive play or your local gaming club is that the result of each match depends 100 percent on the skill level and teamwork of the players and nothing else. LoL fans can try and claim the same thing, but the truth is there are small benefits (runes) for the characters in League of Legends that can be unlocked through gameplay. Unlocking every LoL character and maxing all runes takes a long time. With DOTA 2, everything that can benefit your character’s power is unlocked as soon as you download the game, including more than 100 characters. The only items you can buy in the Valve store are vanity-based or cosmetic, like new skins for your Hero. This creates a level playing field for everyone from the start, even if DOTA 2’s playing field is initially harder to understand.
DOTA 2 abilities are also generally more powerful than those in League of Legends. This means players have less reaction time to respond and counter. There’s no running away and regrouping in most fights, you have to have the knowledge and the skill to respond quickly or you’re toast.
DOTA 2 offers a number of cool features that help round out the experience, one of the most important being the reporting system. MOBAs are notorious for having players with bad tempers and potty mouths (like the player who had some unique advice for my play style, earlier). The reporting system allows the players to moderate themselves. It flags users who frequently curse in chat or cause problems and can lead to the player’s communication rights being taken away for a time. There’s also a commendation system where a player can reward others for being civil human beings.
Valve also created a match viewing system that is very easy to use. You can pop in and watch some of the best players in the world play a match live. This is a great way to learn the game without getting slaughtered yourself.
The graphics and audio are also top-notch. Valve is continuously adding higher resolutions to the models and textures. The voice acting is excellent and even the one-liners shouted out by the Heroes are well-written and will bring a smile to your face.
There are occasional bugs but that is to be expected with a constantly evolving game of this size. New patches release every Thursday. Valve still isn’t done patching over all of the Heroes from the original game. But perhaps this would be a good time to again point out that this game is free. Kind of makes it harder to complain.
DOTA 2 can be a rough trek for the uninitiated but once you get your feet under you, it’s a compelling experience that will keep you coming back. It’s a worthy successor to the original that should remain on the agenda at eSports tournaments for many years to come.
Story – 9/10
Gameplay – 10/10
Graphics – 9/10
Soundtrack – 9/10
Multiplayer – 10/10
Replay value: – 10/10