[This post is still under construction – I’ll be adding screenshots later today]
A bit of background might be appropriate here. I’ve always loved strategy games – I grew up on Age of Empires, C&C games and the original Warcraft (yay pixels). Warcraft 3, despite being too easy and too short, was always one of my favourites as the cartoony graphics and storyline were great and the gameplay gave you lots of options for achieving victory. One of the things that stuck with me was how amazing the ‘The Founding of Durotar’ downloadable campaign was. In FoD you take control of one hero (in a base building game??) and go speak to people (not command them??) and try and sneak/solo the missions your given (where are the giant armies??). It basically turned Warcraft 3 into a top-down rpg and it worked brilliantly. I was always sad this type of rts/rpg/chess was never a bigger thing.
Clearly though I just had my head in the sand. The original DOTA was another Warcraft 3 mod and Valve (after some legal scuffles with Blizzard) have made DOTA2 – the game I’ll be playing in my coffin.
The basic idea is simple: Have a big, base vs. base battle going on like an rts, but give the player control over only one hero, put them on a team and give them a million-and-one options on how to win. The bases are in opposite corners connected by 3 ‘lanes’ down which your soldiers (‘Creeps’) march to smash themselves against the enemy tower. Most of the time heroes such as yourself will be supporting the creeps in and trying to eventually break past all the towers and destroy the enemy’s ‘Ancient’.
Clearly storyline isn’t a big part of this. Sure, Valve have put together some backstory for each of the bajillion heroes you can play as, but since the heroes can play for either side (‘Radiant’ or ‘Dire’) and be allied with any other hero, the story has no effect on the game. It would anyway be hard pressed to explain how two opposing factions built their headquarters on opposite quarters of the same meadow, or why so many neutral merchant decided to set up shop in between them.
What is important is the strategy – you have a bout a hundred choices for heroes and items so your first few attempts are basically guesses (my guy has a pointy hat – I’ll get the thing that buffs intelligence!), but far more of the game comes down to tactics than one might think. If you’re supporting your creeps and manage to kill more of the enemy than the enemy kills you that might sound good, but 2 minutes later when your creeps have pushed all the way up to a tower they aren’t ready to beat yet and are getting slaughtered while the enemy hero sits back comfortably gaining levels and gold you might reconsider. The game has been very carefully balanced so you must think about everything – or at least more than your opponent – in order to win. It is this factor that makes the game so fun since there is little in the game that is truly random. If something goes horribly wrong there will be something you could have done better, or faster, or some item you should have bought. And when you finally do put it all together and kill an enemy hero or destroy a tower there is a genuine feeling you have accomplished something.
Compare it to RTS. I loved the genre, but the matches were basically the same every time on any map. Build some resource gatherer, build some towers, build up enough of an army to beat the other teams towers, rinse, wash, repeat until thoroughly bored. Playing against others was fun and more challenging, but the experiences I had playing online Warcraft 3 seemed to indicate that in many games there isn’t too much tactical thinking – just incredibly fast button clicking and knowing how to get your stuff built first. In DOTA2 even though there is only ever one map, it always feels like a new game.
So a very strong recommendation. But of course, the real question is – should you play it? Normally, i’d compare the benefits with the price and give you a balanced recommendation, but the thing about DOTA2 is it is totally and completely free. Yah. You can buy some funky clothes/weapon graphics for your characters but these are purely aesthetic and make no real difference. So basically there is no reason not to play it – it is infinitely more cost effective than a game that costs 1 penny.
Some criticisms though:
1: The AI sucks. Of course the whole ruddy point is to get into the multiplayer and with a complex game like this perfect team strategy would be very difficult. That doesn’t actually help however when the game is in the final stages and I’ve just torn open a hole in the enemy defences and my team decide to go and protect the most distant tower from a very weak attack.
2: No introduction. This is technically untrue as Valve have just started putting up a tutorial, but the tutorial doesn’t help much with the novel aspects of the game – in fact it looks and plays almost exactly like the original Warcraft3 tutorial. I’d love for some officially released ‘for your first time try this hero, aim to get these items and basically do x y and z’ – the forums are great for this type of thing, but you’ll also find a lot of disagreement and debate.
3: Long wait-times for multiplayer, which actually bugs me far more than it should. SO many times I’ve found a game after 10 minutes in which one person has failed to connect (so 9/10 are present). I then get put back into the search (on high priority) for another 5 minutes to find the next game, which is with totally different people. Why though? Why not keep the original 9 together and just do a quick search for a new no. 10. To be honest, I don’t really mind waiting 15 minutes for a game, but that particular piece of illogic really bugs me.
4: Only one map. I LOVE how much detail has gone into the map, not only in terms of graphics/details etc. but also the fact that I get the impression a great deal of money and processing power was spent making it balanced. I mean perfectly balanced – every path has been taken into account, the length and angle of every road carefully calibrated and as many play styles as possible considered. If the map was unbalanced, the entire game would be pointless! So I’m not saying there should be hundreds of maps, but I certainly hope similar thought is being put into just a couple of other maps with different challenges for the players.
I very much doubt this will be the last post on DOTA2. I’m planning on putting up character assessments, item reviews and maybe even some footage of some good matches. Expect my first character review (on the beautiful brooding Broodmother) very soon.
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