December 28, 2011
Thoughts from the Dota 2 Beta
Hello, everyone. It’s been a good while since my last posting. Again, same old excuses- social life, college finals, mandatory holiday family time, and all of that good stuff. However, I’ve definitely not let my gaming slip. Far from it- I got the invite I had been praying for, and have spent the last week or so enthralled with Dota 2. While I’m definitely not experienced enough to put out a full review yet (not even considering the fact that the game is still technically in beta), I can surely provide some perspective for those of you waiting who haven’t received invites yet.
Dota 2 is, unsurprisingly, an incredibly good and challenging tactical experience. It takes some drive and desire to play, however; for newcomers, DotA has always been more of a learning cliff than a learning curve. Dota 2 eases much of the pain that was caused by the limitations of the original DotA without changing the game too terribly much at all. The graphics are excellent, and it’s far easier to distinguish between heroes and creeps (a common novice complaint from the original) than it was previously. All of your abilities follow the new “industry standard” setup of QWER, rather than the previous Warcraft 3 system of “some random letter from the spell name”. The shops are amazingly improved, streamlined, and user-friendly (thank God, because DotA’s shop system left a LOT to be desired), and you can buy items into your stash from anywhere on the map with just a few simple clicks.
Rest assured, though, the challenge is not gone. Last-hitting and denying with most casters requires impeccable timing because they wind up their shots like a Looney Tunes character playing baseball, and animation cancelling is an absolute must for chasing. Quarter-second reactions can decide entire teamfights, which in turn can decide entire games. If you don’t know what you’re doing (and unless you played DotA a LOT, you don’t), you will die at any given opportunity until you get the basics down. Playing LoL does NOT translate into Dota 2 skill AT ALL.
I’ll speak to the LoL players specifically for a moment. In Dota 2, you don’t get your convenient cast range circles, skillshot markers, or any of that good stuff. With the exception of AOE spells, everything is targeted with a simple cursor, and you have to know how your spells work. Last hitting is WAY harder due to the aforementioned animations, and denying is a thing. A couple of spells can kill you even at level one, and everything (except the laning phase) moves a whole lot faster. Your health and mana are greatly reduced, so every shot counts. Turrets can’t save you. Flash can’t save you. God can’t save you, because he’s Zeus, he’s on the enemy team, and he’s going to kill you with his instant Karthus-like ult from across the map when you thought you got away. Playing Dota 2 will make you quite paranoid if you’re used to LoL. Learn the difference quickly.
However, even with its staggering challenge level and excellent user interface, Dota 2 is still in beta and as such, there are a few faults. The lack of an obvious “invite to game” or “join game” option makes finding games an interesting task. Matchmaking search times range from the fairly instantaneous to the unbelievably slow. Yesterday I waited a full fifteen minutes in game search before giving up and playing with bots. On that note, the bot games are oftentimes more challenging than playing against real people; the enemy team is a tactical hivemind, and yours sometimes has trouble acknowledging your existence. To the bots on your own team, you’re the babbling, unpredictable foreigner who’s off doing your own thing and ignoring commands. They gank seemingly arbitrarily, and you have no real way of requesting assistance other than diving headlong in and praying that they follow you (which is typically NOT a good strategy in Dota). Other than these inconveniences, everything seems to work fine. The game hiccups and lags during game start and character selection (which makes the sounds hang up and repeat to form a slammin’ three-second techno beat), but this really has no effect on the overall game.
There ARE many things that Valve has gotten very right with this game, though. The spectator feature is INCREDIBLY helpful, as you can watch the pros (or your friends, or just random people) play and view their actions right down to each individual click of their mouse. This works pretty much flawlessly, and is easy to jump into. Watching a number of other people play a certain hero is an amazing way to learn, and you don’t have to worry about bias, tracking down VODs, or patches making metas outdated: you see everything in real time, and you get the kind of variety you don’t find in online text guides. Doing just about anything I’ve not already mentioned is pretty easy, because the menu construction is incredibly intuitive. You’ll rarely having trouble looking for an implemented feature.
That’s about all I have to say right now, as I still technically qualify as a “noob”. I’ll be sure to post back more frequently with details on the beta and the competitive scene, and I look forward to doing an official review upon the game’s release. Until then, keep enjoying your games, and remember: ALWAYS have a Scroll of Town Portal handy.