What’s Dota, you ask? Well... as a game, Dota has been around for quite some time now. It began its life as a simple Starcraft map known at the time as Aeon of Strife. However, once the much more advanced Warcraft 3 rolled around, it got rechristened as DotA, or rather, at the time, Defence of the Ancients. It was quite a popular map, owing in no small part to its lack of micro-level strategy and in large part to its similarity to a traditional RPG.
The map got really popular over the years, going as far as creating its own genre. Soon enough, the development team of the original Warcraft 3 DotA split up into several groups—some going on to further refine DotA as a game with Heroes of Newerth, some going on to redefine it with League of Legends and one man staying back to further refine DotA itself. Some time later, Valve decided to pick up the last guy and remake DotA using the Source engine.
Dota originally started its life in StarCraft and Warcraft 3
Dota 2 revolves around teamwork. No, not in the Call of Duty or Battlefield sense where you have teams but go around doing your own thing anyway. Dota 2 *needs* teamwork. One person screwing essentially makes their whole team lose. This isn’t some flaw in the game’s balancing. It’s just how the genre works. Games are played between two teams of five each. They start at opposite corners of the map and must fight their way down one or more of the three corridors. In the beginning, the game seems relatively slow, and in some cases, even downright passive, since players will be concentrating on levelling up their heroes and making money to gear up these heroes.
Speaking of heroes, there’s a large number of them to pick from. Currently, barring a few heroes that will be added in subsequent patches, the game boasts an impressive 101-character roster. One would of course assume that with such a large roster, some of them might be repetitive or too derivative. This isn’t the case. Each hero plays radically different from the others. For example, the Anti Mage relies on surviving up till late in the game to get stronger, whereas Zeus will dominate the early and mid-game phases of any match.
An awesome character roster that's open right from the start
Each hero lays importance on one of three attributes—Strength, Agility and Intelligence. In most cases, Strength heroes are the tanks who start fights and try to convince the other team to attack them first, while Agility heroes sneak in and start their wanton murder. Intelligence heroes all the while support these other types of heroes with spells and items that will either beef up their stats or will adversely affect the enemies’ stats. Not all heroes follow this formula, though. Io, for example, is a Strength hero with pitiful health and armour but amazing support capabilities, while the Silencer is an Intelligence hero who can double as either a support or a full-blown hero-killer.
Despite the basic map being the same three corridor/six tower/two base setup, there is quite a bit of gameplay variation in Dota 2 with all the different game modes. Most of the time, people will stick to the ever-famous All Pick mode. Once in a while, though, you would be remiss to not give modes like Single Draft, All Random, Least Played and Random Draft a shot. These radically change up the game by limiting or shuffling the choice of heroes you have. While All Pick gives every player access to all heroes, All Random gives each player a random hero, Single Draft makes player pick one out of three random characters and Least Played only allows the 20 least played heroes in the game.
The learning curve is a 90-degree cliff face
The biggest problem with Dota 2 is the community. This again isn’t exactly the game’s fault as much as the whole genre’s. The genre essentially requires five random strangers to co-ordinate and play perfectly, lest they waste an hour and end up losing the match. This doesn’t mean that all of the vitriol in the community is just. As with any game, Dota 2 has its fair share of trolls and griefers. Valve has so far been doing a great job of bringing these trolls to justice with the inclusion of the report and commendation system that aims to promote co-operation and discourage trolling.
Besides the community, the only gripe anyone can really have with Dota 2 is the rather steep learning curve. Playing the game competently requires you to not only be good with the hero you are playing, but also to have great spatial awareness, the ability to guess what your enemy might be doing and at least primitive knowledge of all the characters in the game, just so you aren’t completely clueless when, for example, a Bloodseeker casts Rupture on you when you were fleeing, causing you to drain your health and die.
Each hero has his own distinct play style
Luckily, Valve is well aware of the steep learning curve of the game and has created a tutorial that should introduce you to the basics of the game quite easily. While it won’t teach you more advanced techniques such as jungling and pulling, by the time you finish the entire tutorial, you will be last hitting and casting abilities like a total pro.
Dota 2 is free-to-play, and I know what you’re thinking. “Obviously, people will be able to buy overpowered items with real money and this will end up making actual gameplay skill inconsequential.” Wrong. Dota 2 has a microtransaction store that sells nothing but aesthetic items that don’t affect the gameplay in any way. If you are so inclined, you can shell out cash to make your favourite characters look better with either individual pieces of armour and equipment or entire sets. Most of these sets have been created by other players, so buying these essentially rewards the community for their creativity. Clothes aren’t all you can buy; better skins for the HUD and announcer packs are available too. You can actually have the narrator from Bastion giving commentary for your game!
Learning the game is a highly rewarding experience
Graphically, even though it's running on the quite aged Source engine, Dota 2 looks gorgeous. Every hero has his or her own personality, which can be seen in even the way they simply walk around. Animation is amazing with lots of minor touches that make it even better, like the walking animation actually being different for when a character is wounded and when they have a Haste rune. Despite the abundance of aesthetic items, the art style does a wonderful job of letting you know at a glance which hero you’re up against.
Valve wasn’t a slouch in the sound department either. The procedural music appropriately ramps up its tempo and epicness when a team fight happens, giving you the perfect feeling for those tense moments. Voice acting is brilliant, with some of the highlights being the voices for Pudge, Ogre Magi and Nightstalker. Every dialogue by a hero oozes with personality, such as Pudge with his Australian accent or the Ogre Magi with his utter idiocy.
Dota 2 as an eSports platform is quite evident from the live broadcast of The International 3 in-game
What discussion about Dota 2 is complete without any mention of eSports? Valve has added a great platform that promotes the game to a much higher eSport standard than even, say, StarCraft 2. This isn’t simply because Valve is throwing its money at the community with events like the yearly International tournament. The fact that you can watch any in-progress match from within the game is obviously a huge help to this. This is further compounded by the fact that the in-game spectator mode has support for commentators as well as team and sponsor logos.
In the end, Dota 2 falls under the category of games that are difficult to explain why they're fun. Players have to spend copious, almost unhealthy amounts of time on it just to not get destroyed in the first matches, and that’s not even counting the higher-levelled ranked matches or Captain mode matches. However, if you stick with it and take on the tremendous task of actually understanding Dota 2, you’ll find a very rewarding game where even if a game goes on for an hour or two, you won’t feel like it’s wasted time. Aside from the trolls and the learning curve, Dota 2 is a great game, and Valve, together with developer IceFrog, has done the original DotA justice with the Source engine-based remake.