So I've been tackling with the idea of reviewing Valve's Dota 2 for a while now, though it being a free to play game I'm never quite sure if that's suitable. So instead of writing up a typical review, I've decided to simply type down some of my thoughts related to Valve popular Moba. It seems somewhat fitting to do so coming off the back of the International 3, Dota 2's third annual big money competition. So let's begin.
Multiplayer Online Battle Arena's or Moba's for short, have become insanely popular over the past few years. Starting as a simple Warcraft 3 mod the genre has risen to become one of the worlds most played eSports and attracts millions of viewers from all corners of the world. It all started with Defense of the Ancients, the original Warcraft 3 mod and whose sequel was finally released after a lengthy beta period. Developed by Valve, with the help of one of the original Dota developers IceFrog, it's fair to say that Dota 2 appears in good hands. Whilst free to play, Valve have decided to take a more open approach to the often troubled implementation of free to play mechanics. Instead of having players pay for heroes, Valve have opened up the entire 100+ hero pool for you to play, experience and most likely get your ass kicked by. Instead, Valve have made many community made cosmetic items available to purchase, which have no affect on actual gameplay.
First of all, this is a refreshing change to the usual free to play formula. In Dota 2 there are no items that can help you win matches or make you a better player, no it's all about the cosmetic touches. This made me feel less dirty for actually investing money on some chest keys, in the hope I might finally get that awesome Sven sword I've wanted (and which sadly still eludes me). Also a nice touch is the ability to share some of these items with fellow players. Whilst clothing items cannot be shared (only traded), items such as UI Skins and voice packs can be shared with your fellow players in a single match. So what Valve have done here is a refreshing change to the norm and one I can only hope other developers take inspiration from.
Let's get one thing straight, Dota 2 is one hell of a difficult game where simply understanding the very basics and small nuances can take 50+ hours to get to grips with. Be prepared for some real frustrating lows and some joyous highs, and for Dota 2 to take over your life. Last hits, denials and jungling are just three of the many challenging mechanics at work in a match of Dota 2. It can be intimidating for a newbie, which I still am. Valve have attempted to make a new players introduction to Dota 2 less severe with a tutorial campaign which tries to introduce you to the basics. Trouble is, what the tutorials teach you is the 'absolute' basics and you'll soon discover there's a whole world of complications within a single game of Dota 2 that you must learn the hard way. So be prepared to read quite a few of the useful guides found online to make this introduction a little less painful. For many, Dota 2's high learning curve will turn many new players away before truly gaining an appreciation for what makes Dota 2 such a splendid game and while the tutorial is a first attempt to alleviate this difficulty curve, it's not enough and one can only hope Valve have plans to build upon the tutorials in the future.
Matches last on average 30 to 50 minutes in length, though this can vary depending on player skill or the competitiveness of the match. Rarely did I participate or witness matches that went over the hour mark, though in Dota 2, anything is possible. So as you might have guessed, Dota 2 isn't exactly a quick jump and jump out sort of game. Plus abandoning online matches is real a no-no and will most likely see you reported using Valve's well implemented feedback system, which doesn't just allow you to report naughty players, but also reward the helpful, kind and fun members of the community. Dota 2 is all about the team work, don't work as a team and you're almost guaranteed to lose, it's simple as that I'm afraid. If working as a team isn't exactly your thing, then stay away. Having put in 70+ hours of game time into Dota 2 (which is tiny compared to many) it's easy to see how beneficial it is to communicate as a team. Yes there's the typical in-game chat to help you organize, but nothing beat audio communication. I notice that when I'd play with a friend with constant audio, it was considerably easier to use our heroes abilities to the fullest and was a whole lot more fun. It's worth keeping this in mind, especially if you're looking to play online with mainly random players.
I can't talk about Dota 2 without mentioning it's gold standard of spectator tools. Valve have developed an easy to use, functional set of tools within the client that makes it so easy to watch, experience and comment on any match that might be taking place. With the recent International 3 competition having taken place, it was fun to start up the client, jump into a live match and have a selection of audio commentaries provide a play to play update on what the hell was going on, because Dota 2 can be a difficult game to follow when you don't quite understand how it all works. Professional play can be so difficult to the slower pace you get use to when you start playing, but it's still a lot of fun to watch all the pretty lights and chaos that will inevitably take place. These tools work fantastically well and whilst Valve had teamed up with Twitch to stream the event the traditional way, I found is so useful to be able to jump into a match through the client and watch specific heroes for tips and trick, it's possible to learn a lot.
It's difficult to say if I'll be playing Dota 2 for the long-term. I've certainly had fun but right now I can't say that a love of Valve's Moba will ever exceed my need to spend my time playing more traditional single player games. That said, it's easy to recommend this splendid game, as long as you keep in mind that the difficulty curve is high. It's one of those games where one moment you're left wondering why the hell you're playing it after a heavy and humiliating 40+ minute defeat and the next thinking it's the best thing since sliced bread after finally taking down that ancient base you've just spend a good part of an hour grinding at. My time with Dota 2 as given me a new appreciation and an understanding of why Moba's have risen to such fame over the past few years. There are certainly downsides to investing your time into such a genre, for one it will take you weeks, months or even years to master, but one can understand why the professional players you see on stage at events such as the International 3 do it. It's not just about money or fame, it's because they love these games with a passion and that's something you can never look down your nose at. Isn't that why we play video games in the first place?
Thanks for reading.