DOTA 2 Beta Impressions

Note: Since GB won't let me post this as a review, I'm doing it as a blog post instead! It's still in my normal review format, though.

Note: This is a preview/review of a game currently in Beta. Currently it has a majority of the heroes from the originalDotA game, but is fully playable with all items and multiple game modes. Just keep in mind this "preview review" was done before the final release date and before any pricing models were announced.

The Short

Pros

- Same addicting, perfectly balanced game of skill that was DotA

- All the heroes brought over have completely retained their original spells, stats, and skills

- Has a persistant leveling system for your Gamertag (which is not yet implemented) as well as detailed replay saves and stat tracking

- Matchmaking is fast, easy, and allows you to choose between regions and game modes

- Ability to reconnect to a game if you disconnect is a godsend

- Tracking people who intentionally disconnect is also helpful

- Shops have improved menus, do better letting you buy items on the field, and offer recommended purchases for new players

- Lots of little UI choices have vastly streamlined the game. It feels like it was made by fans of the original DotA

- New character models are unique from the Warcraft III models while still looking enough like the originals that the heroes are recognizable

- Has new keybindings for spells, but you can also turn on legacy keybindings, which is a great touch

- Playing with friends and parties is easy, painless, and quick

- Has many modes where you can play against bots as well as learn more about the heroes

Cons

- Some heroes are not distinct enough to tell apart on quick glance (ex: Razor and Lich)

- Learning curve is still out of this world for newcomers, and the fact that most people in the beta are DotA vets means you'll probably die a lot and get cussed out if you are still learning

- Graphics look decent on the Source engine, but it lacks the artistic punch of competitors like League of Legends

- Has some game-loading bugs as well as some bizzare matchmaking bugs, but it is a beta

- Needs the full roster of heroes to be truly balanced; currently it seems like they are picking them at random

- Seriously, where is Chaos Knight? That's like my favorite hero!

- At its core, this is still exactly DotA but with matchmaking and slightly better UI, for better or for worse

- Why does Lion look like a mentally deranged clown?

From a Warcraft III map to a retail product.

The Long

Aside from the previous disclaimer that this is a "review" of a game still in beta, I'd also like to point out that the main focus of this piece is to point out the major changes between DOTA 2 and the original DotA Allstars, as well as comparisons between it and Heroes of Newearth and League of Legends. As such, this might just be for those who are fans of this style of game already, but I'll try to keep it interesting even if you know nothing about MOBA style of games or the intricacies of the genre.

I covered the general gist of DotA in my Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne review, but here's a brief recap. There are three lanes leading between two bases, with towers interspersed along the way. Every few seconds a squad of basic unites, called "creeps," spawn in each base and go barreling towards the other base with only killin' on the mind. This spawn continues forever, with the goal to break through the towers defending the lanes, push to the enemy base, and destroy their "Ancient."

You (and nine others, in teams of 5 v 5) each get one unique hero, focusing either on Int (magic), Strength (HP), or Agility (Attack Speed). You level up and gain experience by fighting and killing creeps, earning XP if an enemy creep just dies in the vicinity, while getting money by providing the final hit. You buy items, level up and learn new moves, and hunt other heroes (and get hunted) in an attempt to have the baddest hero of them all. Heroes range from supporters, stunners, gankers, tanks, and more. It's a wide variety and, with the original DotA Allstars having over 90 heroes, ensures no two games are alike.

Huntin' in the south woods.

Blizzard never really fully recognized the popularity of DotA Allstars, despite the fans clamoring for a tournament scene. Seeing that there was an opportunity to jump on, Valve hired the current DotA designer (as there have been tons over the years; the mantle passes often) to help re-create DotA as its own dedicated game. With other games like Heroes of Newearth and League of Legends already getting mad popularity, it seemed like a great idea to take the already established original and throw its hat in the ring.

So, to someone who has been playing DotA since its inception as an Aeon style of game, and who spent probably more time during his college career playing DotA Allstars with friends rather than actually studying, how does it hold up? Very well, with a few small issues.

Battles in DOTA 2 get really crazy, really quickly

Its worth saying that at its core this game is literally exactly the same as DotA Allstars. Everything from attack speed, projectile speed, spells, heroes, items...everything is the same. It fits the whole "if it ain't broke..." mentality, and to be honest I'm fine with that. Best Valve start with a base that is already solid and then work on patch and balance issues from there (though DotA Allstars has been updated several times since DOTA 2 was put into beta, with rather significant changes that Valve has yet to implement).

So the differences. First off is the matchmaking system, which is massively improved. You can pick your gametype (currently limited to all pick or single draft, but I'm certain the rest of the modes will be implemented shortly), region, and easily form up with parties. Matchmaking is relatively quick, with the longest being from 5-7 minutes when we were in a party of four (it's hard to find four open slots on a single team). Loading times are relatively fast, though it does have some weird bugs that can boot you from the game during the loading screen (I'll assume this is a beta issue).

A big boon is the fact that if you disconnect you have five minutes, penalty free to rejoin the game. This means if your internet hiccups or you accidentally hit the close button (or Windows Update decides now would be a great time to do those software updates, vs any other time in the history of the world) you still can reload and rejoin the game without ruining it. This is a much needed feature, especially since if you are already in a game you can't join another one if you "rage quit," cutting back on people who started losing and then abandoned the game (a big problem in original DotA Allstars).

Everything you loved from DotA Allstars is here, but focused on creating an excellent experience

In-game, many UI improvements have tweaked the original Warcraft III UI to better fit DOTA 2. My favorites include having metered life bars over people's heads so you can quickly gauge which heroes have the most maximum health and which don't (making for good gank focuses); the bigger ability buttons in the center of the screen; a constant ticker on top that shows K/D ratio, your own K/D ratio, and creep kills/denies; easy menu access to overall scores and hero levels; a regen meter that shows exactly how much health and mana you regen a second; and hotkeys for building fortifications, the shop, the courier, and an your scrolls of town portal.

The shop is also much improved, though I still have a few issues with it. The biggest perk is that clicking on any item or recipe will both show what it is made of (in the case of recipes) and everything it can be made into (in the case of items or recipes). If you then click on any of these items you can get them in more detail, or just straight up buy them from the shop (buying full bracers without having to buy parts is a huge boon, let me tell you). The shop is also sortable with names or just icons (protip: go for just icons, it puts everything on just one page) and you can search quickly by name if you can't find what you are looking for. The shop is also accessible and shoppable at any time by simply clicking at your gold button, which is way easier than having to go back to the base and finding a specific shop every time you want to buy something.

Couriers have also been improved. They are always for the whole team rather than having to share control, and actually respawn on death. They have hotkeys (similar to DotA Allstars) where they'll pick up your items or deliver them automatically, making buying stuff while on the field completely painless. Overall, the in-game controls are vastly improved, and if you are already decent at DotA these improvements will go a long way to making your experience funner.

Antimage is still a totally broken carry, though.

Let's talk about some graphical changes now. Obviously, the biggest change is the new look of the heroes, and of the several dozen they've ported over they've done a good job making it so they look like the originals while not completely ripping off Warcraft III. There are a few that are still questionable (the Morphling and Enchantress look exactly like theirWarcraft III counterparts) and only a couple have had any really dramatic changes (new Sand King looks less like a king of the scorpions like he did before and more like a flimsy little bug), but they all fit the new theme Valve was going for and mesh together. Considering they were all totally random units from Warcraft III turned into heroes for this game, it's commendable that Valve managed to infuse their own style into it while still keeping their look consistant and looking familiar enough to the original sprites that hardcore fans will be able to recognize heroes on sight.

In-game notifications and status effects are also similar, with the changes close enough to easily recognize. Stuns still look the same, and Silence's new indicator is very obvious and not overwhelming. My favorite is anything that does damage over time: you see the actual numbers from just poison attacks (or spells like the Witch Doctor's Maladect) rather than just guessing at the damage it was doing before. My only one I don't like is if you have a shield it says "-10" with an armor sign every time you are hit. Since you aren't saying the total damage, the "-10" is kind of redundant and just serves to confuse and provide sensory overload. All healing also says the numbers, etc. which is a huge improvement over the original. Yes, it's little things like this I'm excited about. Shut up.

Spells actually probably have a more dramatic shift than heroes, if I think about it. The spells in DotA Allstars were limited to whatever tools were available in Warcraft III, making some spells look really strange. The new ones strike a unique look and aesthetic, using the freedom of being able to do, well, anything with the new engine and they all look pretty good. My only complaint is that several are underwhelming. Enigma's Black Hole and Dark Pulse look frail in comparison to the originals, and there are a handful of other spells (Sand King's impale) also just look less powerful than their originals. While there's certainly still a lot of flash, it feels like some of the hits aren't as hard, which is too bad. It also could be difficult for old players to adapt to the totally new spells, which is a problem since knowing what is being cast at you is a crucial part ofDotA. But after enough time you'll figure it out, so it might be a moot point.

The new Nightstalker is way cooler than the old one, and even transforms at night.

Graphics are a really mixed bag. All the heroes have a good design, spells are decent and everything generally just works. It's on the source engine, so it can pretty much be run on any crappy computer, and mine can crank it out at full power without so much as a hiccup. So on that front, it's great.

The issue is they all look sort of bland. Even on max resolution with highest graphics, everything was a bit blurry, like the polygon count just wasn't reaching it. The art design of the heroes is nice, but the design of the map is incredibly boring.Warcraft III was very bright and colorful, this one looks like the whole thing is covered in blurry fog. Grass is generally uniform and boring, as is dirt and other terrain. Water is the best looking of the bunch, even it doesn't really do anything exciting. If you are going to totally remake DOTA from scratch, make it look good. And while having a pretty backdrop isn't really necessary, considering how absolutely beautiful the indie-developed League of Legends (DOTA 2's direct competitor) looks, you'd think they'd put more effort or at least another map or something.

League of Legends is a gorgeous game. DOTA 2? Not as much.

Other minor complaints crop up. While the shop items can be changed so they are easier to navigate (and all the improvements are very welcome), the icons for the items have mostly been dramatically changed, making it really hard for a vet to know exactly where the item they want is. Nothing is more frustrating than knowing you want a Helm of the Dominator and not knowing which freaking category it's filed under. Yeah, you can just search for it (or click any part of the recipe and find it), but they could have at least tried to make it look more like the originals. The heroes are pretty much blatant ripoffs; why not do the same with the items?

Speaking of the heroes, this goes back to a graphics problem: some heroes look too similar. My biggest issue is between Razor and Lich, who in DotA Allstars had very different looking sprites, but in DOTA 2 where everything is under that stupid muted color pallet for some reason, it can be hard to tell them apart. The same goes for a couple other heroes, and while I understand it can be hard to make 90 guys look completely unique, DotA Allstars did it, no problem, with more limitations on the sprites they could use.

The effects can also completely overwhelm. Freezing something gives it a cold sheen, but the Venomancer's ultimate (Poison Nova) has a very similar effect as well, so it can be hard to tell them apart. You can have so many status effects and numbers all over your heroes and popping up that large ganks can be impossible to navigate. This isn't really a fair complaint I guess, since DotA and every MOBA game I've ever played had a similar problem when the chaos gets high, but this one seems weirdly worse than DotA Allstars in terms of sensory overload.

Seriously, look how similar these sprites are. On a tiny field, they are hard to tell apart.

Another complaint that probably isn't relevant is the lack of heroes. Yeah, it's still in beta, I get it. But there really seems to not be as many as there should be at this stage in the game. Also their choice of heroes they port over is really bizarre. We got stupid Ancient Apparation and not Phantom Lancer? And it took forever for Riki and Bounty Hunter to show up? Stop playing the game, Valve, and get on porting the rest of the heroes over! The game needs it!

They really look like their Warcraft III counterparts. Which is a good thing.

My final stupid complaint is the voices. They obviously re-recorded all the voices since the originals were Warcraft III sprites, but the new ones are just...awful. First off, they seem afraid to give anything just a feral growl or otherworldly howl. That made a lot of the crazier heroes seem much more boring by saying stupid things in low voices rather than just killing (Atropos being the biggest offender. He really shouldn't have talked.). Then you have the issue that everything they say is awful. Yeah, Warcraft III wasn't exactly well written (and if you clicked the hero enough you got crazy puns), buteverything these people say is a pun. After hearing the Venomancer say "By vim and venom" every time I had him move I wanted to punch the screen, and that's just the start of it. Clockwork's constant gear, clock, or robot puns are grating, and generally everybody has some horrible, horrible pun they spew out based on their character.Look, Valve. In Warcraft III they said something stupid maybe 10% of the time, and rarely during simple actions like moving, attacking, or casting spells. Your heros say stupid stuff constantly. I know it's too late to re-record or whatever, but from now on...could you please please please cut back on the puns? We aren't kids; this is really stupid and lame at this point, trust me.

They are also way chattier in this version, which when paired with the bad script only exacerbates the frustration. They say something when they die, they say something when they revive, they say something when they kill a hero (sometimes a unique voice track based on which hero they killed, which is a nice touch), they say something when they buy an item, they say something when they kill a creep, they say something when they cast a spell, they say something when a spell is cast on them...the list goes on. It gets really grating really fast, to say the least. Probably the biggest annoyance out of all the new changes.

Easy accessible stats are appreciated.

As it stands, DOTA 2 is a worthy follow-up to the already excellent DotA Allstars from Warcraft III. It's certainly come a long way, and after playing a few rounds on DOTA 2 it's hard to go back to DotA Allstars. That being said, I still feels like it has a ways to go before it'll match the already massive hero roster and popularity of League of Legends. But hey, DOTA 2 has denying and League of Legends doesn't, and everybody knows denying is pro-strat, so suck it League of Legends.That was a joke, by the way.

Despite its uninspired art style and annoying hero voices, the core game of DOTA 2 is just as incredible and addicting as it always has been. It's still very noob unfriendly, meaning you should expect a few hours of bad games before you finally find a hero you are good at and start really enjoying the game. But for the core fans, this could be the best MOBA yet. And considering no pricing has yet betten announced (I think all the heroes will be free, which would put it a step above League of Legends in that way at least) I can't really give it a total analysis.

Still, if you liked DotA at all, you should get into DOTA 2. There's a reason it's the most popular MOBA, even after other standalone products have come into fruition. Because it's the best. It's deep, quick, addicting, and has loads of options. So if you can get a beta key, get in on that.

Let's make this great, Valve. And actually release it sometime within the next year, please. Like 90% of the work was already done for you.

I feel stupid giving it a star rating, but why not...Five out of Five Stars.

Oh, how far we've come.
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