Last weekend was the end of the 1,000,000 dollar tournament that marks the official reveal of gameplay for Defense of the Ancients 2, or DotA 2 for short. Valve chose the tournament route to coincide with the large European games convention Gamescom, hosted in Cologne, Germany – a show in which many game developers release post-E3, pre-holiday news for the gaming industry. The tournament, The International DotA 2 Championships, ended Sunday. The entire tournament was streamed from dota2.com and the matches are available afterwards via SD or HD videos, some with commentary, from YouTube. I’ve spent a good deal of my time over the last few days watching these matches and I’m now ready for the Beta. In fact, the more I watch, the more I want to play.
After the jump, I can’t wait to get my hands on DotA 2.
I’ve had my doubts about Valve. Hell, I’ve had my doubts about most everything, but Valve has given me pause, time and time again. I’m not sure why, mind you, because every time I doubt them, they make me look like a total asshole. Well, maybe total is a bit too much. I mean, we waited eight years for TF2, but I digress. The point being that every time I doubt them, I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised. DotA 2 is no exception. Let’s take a look at why Valve’s entry into the MOBA field has me excited.
The look: This was one of my major concerns. People like to make fun of the graphics in League of Legends because of the cartoony style, but they serve a purpose other than aesthetic. In a match in any MOBA, it’s easy to get confused or lost. There’s a lot of particles flying everywhere and little units on the screen milling about, making it harder to distinguish yourself from the crowd. Take the League of Legends approach into consideration in this regard. The LoL characters are bright and colorful as is the surrounding terrain, but in different shades, making the heroes easy to differentiate. Compare this to the Heroes of Newerth graphic style, which is gritty and subdued with a subdued color palette to match the background. The units don’t stand out as much and make the game more confusing. Some people may disagree with this point and choose the prettier graphics, but for me, I’ll err on the side of playability every time.
In this regard, the first screens of DotA 2 appeared to split the difference, while leaning more towards the HoN design. This was a disappointment to me, but the gameplay stream has taken care of most of these concerns. While the game is still darker than I would hope, the graphic design is very attractive and the action is relatively easy to follow.
The play: The first few matches of the tournament were plagued by technical issues, but soon things started moving smoothly, and the game became desirable to watch, even if the people guiding the camera seemed to have severe mental issues. In fact, the tournament format might be the biggest detractor for new players as the announcers are obnoxious and it’s hard to get an actual feel for the action. I watched a few matches with some friends who are unfamiliar with the game type and they were confused by the quick map jumps and surprised by how ludicrous the voice announcing comes across. We might as well have been watching a soccer match with all the shouting and garbled hoots. However, once you get a handle on how the game plays and some of its more complex mechanics, things all start to fall into place.
For instance, fans of LoL or people new to the game type will not know that DotA and DotA 2 have destructible environments and a day/night cycle that impacts the flow of the game. Certain characters have abilities that improve or grow weaker depending on the time of day. The trees can be knocked down or, in some cases, eaten, to make paths or hide from the enemy.
On the flip side, there’s a few things I’m not particularly excited about in DotA 2.
The Engine: Valve is including quirks from the Warcraft III engine to present a more accurate version of the original DotA. While this will appeal to current players, it won’t be a big feature for those new to the genre. Also staying in is “denying,” or the act of killing a friendly creep or tower to deny the other team any gold or experience from the kill. This was removed completely in League of Legends and is optional in Heroes of Newerth, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see it become optional in DotA 2, but for now, it seems to be just a way to add another layer of distraction.
The Community: I know, it’s kind of a tired point. This bit of info is often trotted out and paraded around like a fancy whore on payday, but there’s some truth to it. The DotA community isn’t the friendliest group. The overall concern I have is that new players will come in, start to play, and then be told exactly what they can do to their mothers when they ask a simple question. Now, that’s not fair completely, as there are plenty of nice players, etc, but they seem to be few and far between. There’s no quicker way to kill a game than to marginalize your user base through new player abuse from overly hostile, entitled “veterans.”
With what we’ve seen, it appears that Valve is positioning themselves to attract the hardcore audience and to start making money from the e-sports field. With the PR machine winding up and preparing for the beta and next years launch, a lot of information will be coming out very soon. For now, though, I’m guarded but enthusiastic about a new entry into what has become my favorite game type.