C. Scot Stene | Staff Writer
Dota 2 – A-
One of the fastest growing genres in video games today is the multiplayer-online-battle-arena game, or MOBA. The most popular entry in the genre is the wildly successful League of Legends from Riot Games. All of these games, however, are based off a map modification for Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft III, the third entry in that studio’s popular Warcraft RTS (real-time-strategy) series, the precursor to the popular online game World of Warcraft. The map was called Defense of the Ancients.
A few years ago Valve, the creators of games such as Half-Life, Portal, and Left 4 Dead, hired the guy who had been running the map, a man known only as Icefrog, and secured the rights to the map’s popular nickname, DotA. A few months ago Valve officially released the free to play product of those acquisitions, Dota 2. It is an incredibly deep and immensely satisfying multiplayer strategy game with only one major drawback; the required time investment.
Dota 2, like most MOBA games, puts two teams of five on a map, each with their own base in a corner. Within the base is the structure that must be destroyed to win the game; here it is called the Ancient. Each team must defend their own ancient while working together to destroy the one on the other side of the map.
While that premise may seem simple the map is more than a chessboard with trees. Divided in two by a river, the map is filled with structures to help each team defend their ancient. There are also non-playable characters called creeps that march down lanes to the fight. These creeps can be killed for experience points and gold, which can be used by players to level up their characters and buy items. There are neutral creep camps in the spaces between lanes that can be killed for even more experience and gold. The goal of all this is to be stronger than the enemy team by the time the fights start breaking out.
Players pick their characters from a pool of over 100 heroes, each with their own set of abilities and stats. Heroes are controlled similar to an RTS or action RPG (role-playing-game) with indirect control. For those unfamiliar, this works by right-clicking on the screen to lead the character in the desired direction. Attacks are initiated by right-clicking on the enemy target and allowing the attack animation to occur. Abilities are activated from a toolbar at the bottom of the screen, or assigned to hotkeys on the keyboard. Items with active abilities are used in the same way.
Different heroes fill different roles for the team, allowing players to find a hero that fits their desired play style; whether that’s playing cautiously and supporting your teammates, or throwing caution to the wind and going for the kill. Calling MOBAs something like wizard battle simulations is not far off the mark, and Valve has balanced theirs meticulously. Whenever a particular hero proves too powerful the developers find inventive ways to compensate.
While that may seem like a lot to take in, it barely scratches the surface. That is Dota 2’s biggest asset, and also its biggest flaw. It is a deep game with a lot to learn, and can be very intimidating to new players. The fact that it’s an online game played with real people against real people only adds to that intimidation. Many who try the game may quit in frustration before discovering just how sweet all that depth can be once enough time is invested.
Dota 2 is one of the latest iterations on the idea that a video game can be as endlessly re-playable and competitive as a traditional sport like baseball or football. Though the rule set remains consistent from match to match, each plays out differently based on a combination of player skill, expertise, and experience.
Typically, professional players in traditional sports invest years into perfecting their game, and it’s not much different with Dota 2. There is a healthy professional scene surrounding the game with dozens of teams competing in tournaments all over the world. Valve hosts their own annual tournament, The International, each year near its offices in Seattle, Washington. In 2013 the player base helped push the prize pool for The International to $2.8 million, with over $1.4 million going to the winning team (see the video below for the final game). Several other organizations also host tournaments or leagues that allow professional Dota players to earn a living from playing the game. All of this is supported from within the client as well, meaning players can buy tickets to watch professional matches within the game, and potentially win items for doing so.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Dota 2 is the fact that it’s free to play. Players can download the whole game for free using a Steam account, Valve’s digital distribution platform that is also free (www.steampowered.com). The game is 100% supported from the sale of items within the client; from cosmetic items for heroes like gear and weapons to new skins for the toolbar. None of this is required to play the game. All of the game’s 100+ heroes are free, and players can get hundreds of hours of entertainment without ever spending a cent.
This is integral to keeping the game completely balanced and fair. No player can gain an advantage over another that isn’t entirely based off skill. It is this level playing field that allows the depth that Dota 2 provides to shine. Success in Dota is all about time spent, not money. The only remaining question, is there enough time?
All non-credited images captured by the reviewer using Steam.