DOTA 2 Preview
Half-Life, Counter-Strike and Left 4 Dead developer Valve have a new game in the making, unlike anything they’ve made before, yet learning lessons from each one. Their sequel to Warcraft 3 mod Defense of the Ancients, DOTA 2, is the latest entry to the “multiplayer online battle arena” (moba) genre, and arguably the highest-profile. Against smaller-scale, hugely-popular projects such as League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth, Valve’s first foray into this genre will force it to replicate the gameplay of the amateur mod, while competing with (or attracting) hardcore fanbases. With access to the closed beta, I have a chance to evaluate whether DOTA 2 is poised to meet expectations.
Dota‘s gameplay perfectly captures the magic of its forerunners: two teams of five players compete to destroy the other’s base and do battle in a map of three “lanes”, with non-playable “creeps” doing the same in perpetuity; players control one hero unit, with unique abilities. These heroes gain xp, allowing upgrades to their stats and skills within the span of one game. Dota’s heroes come in the genre’s common forms: melee or ranged combat based upon strength, agility or intelligence; the heroes occupy roles such as support, initiator or disabler to name but a few. Mobas are as much a sport as a videogame, so tampering with the core mechanics wouldn’t serve Valve’s goals. Instead, working to the original Dota‘s template, and then embellishing, seems to be the correct, and chosen, tactic. Dota 2 features recognisable archetypal characters and nomenclature which will make migrants from other mobas right at home, and instruct newcomers in the technical language central to comprehending tactics and strategy. Valve have then stayed true to their record for outstanding quality assurance and intuitive design, resulting in the game which, even in beta, feels highly refined and stylish. Controls are precise, never leaving a player feeling cheated, while the establishment of lore and themes lends itself to forming a coherent setting.
Even in this pre-release stage, Valve’s signature competency of craft and level of polish is apparent. The developers have attached a significant metagame to match devoted players’ statistical expectations. The dota website is filled with information and guides for all heroes and items, making it a comprehensive database for players to acquaint themselves with the gameplay. This information is also available in-game, under the “Learn” section, which, alongside bot play, can be helpful in learning Dota’s nuances. Valve has made the effort to supply statistics for the entire playerbase, from a first-timer learning the mechanics, to a seasoned veteran calculating the best builds. The game lacks a true tutorial however, so a noob like me may find themself thrown in the deep end. Third-party online guides are recommended to truly get a grip on the strengths and weaknesses of heroes in play. These guides demonstrate the fan fervour, as moba aficiandos have produced numerous video guides and Let’s Plays, even pre-release.
The key distinction between Dota and its competitor’s will be in its integration of Valve’s Steam service: members of your friends list may be added to a party to matchmake together. This will be essential to clans and other professional players who may be otherwise separated by game lobbies. Servers are filtered by gamemode and geographical region. So far, the beta’s matchmaking has been a little spotty: in most cases a game is found within a couple of minutes, but at times has taken closer to five; the last game session at the time of writing was cut short by a server failure.
Despite Valve’s reputation as a mainstream pleaser since the Orange Box in 2007, Dota’s gameplay is as-hardcore as its peers, yet polished to the nth degree: character modeling, environment design and voicework is all top-notch, creating a consistent, smooth experience. No corners have been cut as Valve furnishes Dota with its signature polish, rendering Dota as the most refined, professional moba. The game is also backed by Valve’s successful marketplace model seen in Team Fortress’ free-to-play renaissance. Even in beta, Valve repeatedly demonstrates its depth of support and commitment to community activity: seasonal events such as The Greeviling add new dimensions to play, new gamemodes are implemented (the ‘Least Played’ and ‘Single Draft’ being personal preferences), and new heroes such as Medusa are being implemented throughout the beta. Although at the time of writing there’s only one map to play, the sheer number of heroes, builds, items and possible match-ups afford a player countless unique games, hopefully sufficient in occupying the wait until new arenas are added. Clearly, Valve has invested in Dota their well-established dedication to producing captivating, refined titles. By release, Valve’s DOTA 2 is expected to stand above its peers as the most captivating, refined title in the field.