Dota 2 Beta First Impressions

Double-kill. M-m-multi-kill! Unstoppable!

Ah, this brings back good memories.
Ah, this brings back good memories.

In university I should have been studying. Or at least getting drunk, experimenting with drugs and getting laid. Unfortunately this uber-geek had better things to do with his time, like pwning noobs in DotA.

This is what DotA looked like.

The original Defence of the Ancients, or DotA, is a mod for Warcraft 3. For my readers who don’t know what a mod is, in a nutshell it’s when someone takes a game (in this case Warcraft 3) and changes it so that it’s different. DotA used various assets like models, sounds, and effects from Warcraft 3, but the game style was very different. Where Warcraft 3 was very much a strategy game, DotA was very much something of a mash up between an RPG, a strategy game, and an action game. This peculiar combination was an instant hit amongst gamers, and became the strategy equivalent of Counterstrike (for my non-gaming readers, it was probably one of the top “strategy” games played world wide).

I used to be big into Counterstrike when I was in high school and my first year at university, but once DotA got it’s claws into me it was all over. It didn’t help that I worked at an internet cafe less than ten minutes walk from campus, where I was allowed to play for free (as long as the shop was quiet). I played DotA pretty consistently until I moved down to Cape Town in 2007. I had been losing a bit of interest in it, due to frustration that was mostly caused by problems associated with the (now very old) Warcraft 3 engine. DotA had problems like bugs, being unable to reconnect to a game if you accidentally (or purposefully) disconnected, and a player base straight out of hell (which caused me to suffer great amounts of nerd rage as a result). So when I moved down to Cape Town in 2007, I pretty much gave up on DotA.

I always said that if these technical problems were addressed, I would most likely get back into it.

Fast forward 5 years, and Valve are hard at work on DOTA2. “But wait” you might say “that name looks slightly different!” And you’d be right. The original DotA modification is based on Warcraft 3, a Blizzard Entertainment game. Valve saw the huge (financial) potential of DotA and needed to figure out a way to bring the mod into their own stable. First step. Hire the guy who is developing in the mod (Internet alias IceFrog). Second step. Change the name enough that you can’t get sued by Blizzard, but not so much that it’s unrecognisable to fans. The end result? The game that I loved has had most of it’s problems addressed, even though it’s still in the development phase.

So let’s start off where I did. In the menus.

This is DotA?
This is DotA?

The game opens up to the screen above. At this point, all I really wanted to do was check the keys and fiddle with my video settings. The first thing that leapt out at me was the Customize menu. Turns out this is actually the DOTA2 Store. Why they don’t label it Store, I don’t know. Eventually after a bit of glancing around, I saw the cog in the top left and clicked that. Ah, here were the options I was looking for. So I configured my keys (which thankfully now follow a default set for all heros), changed the graphics settings and off I went.

Huh? What? Who’s that guy my teamie picked?

The Hero Selection screen loaded and this is where things got a bit iffy. While it was very clear providing information about the hero I choosing, there was no way I could tell what my teammates were choosing. One of the most important parts of DotA was building a well rounded team. In DotA, I could tell what was being picked by the hero portraits and my damn near encyclopedic knowledge of the game. Unfortunately, as much as DOTA2 is legally trying to copy DotA, there have been instances where they’ve had to change things, like hero models. So there I was looking at my teammates choices and going “Ok, I recognise two heros that have similar designs. Who the f#% are the other two heros?” In the end I pretty much guessed who they were and hoped for the best.

Valve, I know this is the BETA, but you better be working on this. This is very important. League of Legends, or LoL, understands this. When I click on an allied champion in LoL, I can access every single piece of information I need. For DOTA2 I need to at very least be able to tell the type of heros (assassin, tank, support, etc.) my teammates are choosing so that I can pick accordingly.

Once I got in game, the first thing that struck me was the graphics. While they are nice and atmospheric, I was struck by how dark and muddy things looked. I guess I’d gotten too used to LoL which sticks very much to it’s primary colour palette. It was also a bit hard to tell what was going on, and I’m no stranger to DotA or DotA style games. Though it didn’t take me very long to figure out what was what.

Which item gives me +50 to KILL?

I’m still not so sure whats going on in the shop though. DOTA2 has an overwhelming amount of items, and I can guarantee you this is going to confuse the hell out of people. I knew what I was looking for and I still struggled to find things. Seriously, since we’re in the spirit of borrowing things Valve, why don’t you copy LoL’s in game shop. It’s very easy to use and understand (I wanted to include a screenshot but for some reason this wasn’t working).

Kick them while they're down!
Kick them while they’re down!

That aside, the rest of the interface has some nice touches, like how the enemy respawn timers are clearly visible (hint hint LoL) so that you know exactly when to pull back and regroup. Or how you get easy access to the shop and Fortify Buildings spell in the bottom right, which you had to bind keys to in the original DotA. Overall, it’s little touches like these that will no doubt bring old school players like myself back in for another go.

But what about the three problems I mentioned earlier? Well, even though this is beta, there were no obvious bugs that leapt out at me (besides the ones trying to kill me in the game). The game also gives you a five minute reconnection window if you accidentally disconnect. I know this is the way the Heroes of Newerth system works, and it’s has to be handled this way due to how gold is distributed once players leave. I do wish that it was a bit closers to LoL’s system, so that if a player intentionally rage quits a bad game, they would have to rejoin the game or wait until it was over. But it is what it is, and at least those of us who aren’t childish and immature (maybe 1% of the DotA community) can reconnect if your PC freezes or Internet disconnects.

Now that I mentioned it, what about the community? So far, so good. Three games in, and people have been polite and civil with me. This could be because I actually know how to play and was generally kicking ass and taking names, so I didn’t give them a reason to flame me. I’ll have to test out and see if I play like a retar… I mean, newbie, if I do get flamed.

The one major problem, and this is something that Valve is aiming to address, is the incredibly steep learning curve that is associated with DOTA2. There’s dozens of items, heroes, spells, monsters, paths and tricks you have to learn to be competent at this game. Really, this is not the game you get involved in “just for teh lulz”. If you do you will find yourself on the receiving end of some very intense nerd-rage, or possibly even a ban hammer. DOTA2, like DotA, is very serious business, and I can definitely see new players getting scared off by it’s complexity. Unfortunately, this is also what makes DOTA2 so great. This really huge learning curve makes getting kills and winning games intensely rewarding (and it’s also why people get so pissed off if you suck). I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how Valve manages to entice new players into the world of DotA2… sorry Blizzard, I meant DOTA2.


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