A new, fresher version of Blizzard DOTA was playable on the BlizzCon show floor this weekend, and it’s come a long way from where it was last year. It’s a much more focused, polished product now and quite a bit more fun. DOTA-like games (if you like, MOBAs) are all the rage right now, and Blizzard is attempting to stay in that market with their own take on a genre that grew from the mapmaking communities of their prior games in the first place.
For some context, I play a good amount of Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends, and am eagerly awaiting access to the Dota 2 beta. I’m no pro, but I know my away around the genre and tend to prefer the complexity of DOTA/HoN to the relative simplicity of LoL. Blizzard DOTA is definitely on the LoL side of the spectrum, with a lot of the noise removed in favor of a more straightforward, accessible experience. The base game is the same. It’s five-versus-five on a three-lane map, with neutral creeps pushing toward towers placed deeper in each lane. The objective is simply to destroy the enemy team’s base while protecting your own. You’ll pick a hero and level them up, gain skills, and buy items.
This is where we get into the specific differences that, to the outside observer, might seem unimportant, but to the experienced player can completely change the metagame. To start out, Blizzard DOTA is really lenient on the early-game laning phase. That is, you’ll get experience and gold just for being near creeps that die. It doesn’t matter who kills them. There’s no last-hitting and no denying your own creeps to keep the enemy team from gaining gold. That makes it simple for new players, but to me it’s also a huge chunk of depth out the window. It’s the one thing I don’t really agree with here, as it lowers a lot of the potential skill ceiling that would normally separate out players of different ability.
Items are similarly simplified, but still quite enjoyable. Instead of complex recipes and items that are slight variations on each other, you’ll get items that boost your stats, grab some consumables (restore health, mana, or buff a tower), or grant you bonuses or new abilities. Each of the items can be upgraded three times for bigger and better effects. I do miss the payoff that comes from finally building that top-tier item that requires a ton of gold, but it’s also great to be able to buy an item that can stun an enemy as soon as you take your first trip back to base.
The heroes are put into four categories: tank, DPS, support, and siege. Each type fills their advertised roll quite nicely and the speed of the game makes them all enjoyable to play, even support. The only complaint I had about the abilities of the heroes is that each of the level-6 “ultimate” spells I used didn’t quite live up to the equivalents in other MOBAs.
Towers and the gameplay around them have also been changed heavily from the standard DOTA model. They are still powerful defensive structures that can drop a hero in a few seconds, but they have a finite amount of ammunition that will slowly regenerate. Now, the towers are easier to push and destroy since an extended siege can result in a tower that can no longer shoot, which is then easily overwhelmed without a defensive effort from the other team.
It remains to be seen how much Blizzard will be able to add to the back-end of Battle.net within StarCraft II to add features that have become standard in other MOBAs, like game reconnection, heroes guides, stat-tracking, and spectating. Blizzard DOTA will, however, have its own ladder, matchmaking, and progression through cosmetic unlocks for the various heroes in the game.
I think the inclusion of classic Blizzard characters will go a long way to help get people playing, and when you get into it, Blizzard's DOTA is a fast-paced, aggressive take on the genre. The matches are quick and much more focused on team-fighting and less about laning around towers for extended periods of time. It’s not going to shatter the MOBA market, but it should find a place with StarCraft and Blizzard fans. And though specifics haven't been confirmed, there will probably also be a way to try it for free without having to own Wings of Liberty or the upcoming Heart of the Swarm.