Defend your stronghold and destroy your opponent’s in a fierce tug-of-war.
PC Release: July 9, 2013
By Ian Coppock
What’s this?! Another unnecessary review of a game everyone already knows about? The truth is that my Potterhead of an editor-in-chief remains disappointed in my lack of knowledge on the subject, and reviewing well-known titles (even if they have nothing to do with Harry Potter) seems to get me back into her good graces. Reviewing Dota 2 serves more purposes than keeping me out of Harry Potter Boot Camp, though; even though everyone already knows what Dota 2 is, the game is ever in flux… much like its matches. And there’s never a wrong time to review a game that’s ever in flux, especially when it’s had as far-reaching an impact on video gaming as Dota 2.
Does anyone remember Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, the beloved real-time strategy game from Blizzard? Well, back in 2003 an anonymous developer code-named “IceFrog” made a mod for Warcraft III called Defense of the Ancients. The game is simple: put together a team of heroes and stop the enemy team from destroying the fortress, all while plotting to destroy theirs. Defense of the Ancients blew up in popularity, eclipsing the game from which it spawned and featuring at several major tournaments.
Defense of the Ancients‘ popularity soon caught the attention of Valve. The studio moved to buy the intellectual rights to the mod and got into a fierce tussle with Blizzard, who argued that they actually owned the mod since it had been developed as an offshoot of Warcraft III. Valve eventually won and hired IceFrog to develop a full-blown sequel: Defense of the Ancients 2 (or Dota 2, for short). The result? The most popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game ever developed. Blizzard licked its wounds and eventually developed the similar Heroes of the Storm, but Dota 2 remains much more popular.
Dota 2 makes some substantial improvements over IceFrog’s original mod, but the two games share similar themes. Players are divided into two teams of five: the Radiant, a lush love-and-peace themed team, occupy a spot in the lower left-hand corner of the map. The Dire, a faction whose interior decorators seem to come from Mordor, occupy the upper right-hand corner. Each faction has an Ancient, a mystical structure at the heart of their fortress, that the enemy team has to destroy in order to secure victory. Whichever team can annihilate the opponent’s Ancient wins the match.
Though the Radiant and the Dire couldn’t look more different, picking a faction has no bearing on which hero players can choose. As of writing, Dota 2 comes packed with a mind-boggling 113 characters that can roughly be divided into two categories: cores and supports. Cores are warrior heroes that start the match out in a weak state but can quickly level up, while supports provide healing, buffs, and other boons to the rest of the team. Supports usually have weaker attacks than cores, but do not underestimate them.
Each hero comes with a basic attack as well as four abilities that can be unlocked and improved with gained experience. Killing foes and destroying their structures is the most common way to gain experience, but players can also venture off the beaten path to kill dangerous animals and neutral monsters. Players can use experience to level up their character’s health, mana, and agility, which can also make a significant difference in battling foes. Players also gain gold from slaying foes, which can be spent on items like health potions and powerful artifacts. Though players can share these items with one another, they cannot share gold. Everyone has to be their own breadwinner.
Matches in Dota 2 are long, involved, and often quite tricky. Batches of computer-controlled warriors will periodically spawn at each team’s camp and rush down one of three lanes to fight each other. Meanwhile, each team’s heroes are free to move around the map to spearhead assaults and defend against attacks. Each match is a grand game of tug-of-war and cat-and-mouse, and demands careful teamwork in order to achieve victory. Players have to work closely to combine their heroes’ abilities into an unstoppable attack or immovable defense as the situation warrants. One break in the line can quickly spell doom for either side.
Given that the original Dota was a mod of Warcraft III, it’s no surprise that Dota 2 looks much more like a Blizzard game than a Valve game. The world of Dota 2 is colorful, with bright pastels coloring everything from the map worlds to the heroes. Indeed, the heroes bear striking similarities to the hero units from Warcraft III: Abaddon, for example, is a doppelganger for Warcraft III‘s Death Knight. Many of the items available in Dota 2 will also look familiar to players of Warcraft III and World of Warcraft.
While it’s amusing how close Dota 2‘s visage cuts to a Blizzard game, that by no means stops the title from looking beautiful. Each world is replete with color and gorgeous lighting setups that help bring the game to life. Hero character models are similarly lively and well-detailed in their design, though the generic creep models look uninspired. Dota 2‘s visual feast is rounded out by rich sound design, with everything from the ring of a shop doorbell to the slice of a sword sounding satisfying.
Dota 2 being easy to pick up and beautiful to look at comes with a single, serious caveat: it has perhaps the most toxic gaming community on the Internet. In a world where shooters are full of screaming six-year-olds and strategy games are dominated by teenagers hopped up on Rockstar and unadulterated rage, that’s a pretty bold claim to make. Unfortunately, it’s a claim with a strong case. Far too many gamers in Dota 2‘s community are obnoxiously hostile to newcomers. Even inveterate matches can descend into screaming rage and racial slurs at the slightest perceived slight. Harassment, doxxing and threats are sadly commonplace.
It’s strange, isn’t it, to think that people can descend into murderous rage over a video game. It’s fashionable here in America to lay the blame for Dota 2‘s community woes at the feet of Russian players, but to be quite honest, the worst offenders are a**holes of every nationality. Players who join any given match in Dota 2 can expect to be yelled at in anything from English to Portuguese. Unless a world’s fair of profanity is somehow a player’s cup of tea, Dota 2 is best off played only with friends or against bots. Valve’s versatile matchmaking is there to help in that regard—it’s just a shame that Valve isn’t also there to ameliorate the greater online community.
Similarly to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2 built its brand on being easy to pick up and difficult to master. Players who are new to MOBA games will find an easy time getting into the genre with Dota 2, which offers a plethora of tutorials and bot matches to help new arrivals get acquainted with the game. Dota 2 matches can become murderously complicated in the professional scene, but the basic gist of striking against enemies and defending against attacks is simple to understand. It certainly makes for a fun round of gameplay.
Dota 2 was also able to spread far and wide simply because it runs well. The game’s options menu allows players to attune the game to almost any PC setup, and its system demands are relatively low. Dota 2 is free to play, but like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, players can spend money on items and skins to accessorize their heroes. Unfortunately, also like CS:GO, this practice has given rise to shady gambling sites that allow anyone (including children) to bet skins on match outcomes. The lawsuits that Valve is facing over gambling in CS:GO have caused them to be proactive in ordering such sites to shut down, but their response will take a long time to have an impact.
Fortunately, Dota 2‘s other cultural impacts have been more positive than the proliferation of rageaholics and underage gambling. The game is currently one of the most popular eSports in the world, with huge tournaments that offer prizes worth millions. Watching inveterate teams compete is good stuff; even players who are there just to pick up a few new tricks will find a lot of entertainment in watching Dota 2‘s tug-of-war on a world-class scale. Dota 2 has majors just like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive; the last one was held in Kiev last month and the winning team walked away with a huge prize.
Dota 2‘s legacy in the gaming world is similarly far-reaching. This game was not the first MOBA ever made but it was the first in the genre to attract serious commercial and mainstream attention. The game’s success has spawned a plethora of competitors and imitators, including Heroes of the Storm and Smite. Dota 2 gave rise to MOBA titles as they are known today, and it’s thanks to the game having both a penchant for simplicity and the potential for complexity. It presents a colorful world with deep strategic energy simmering just below the surface and a visceral gameplay rhythm whose tension is comparable to other successful multiplayer titles.
In closing, Dota 2 is a clever strategy game best enjoyed with close friends. There’s no telling when and if the game’s community issues will ever be addressed, but that shouldn’t stop comrades in arms from getting into a match and making their own adventure. Plus, the title is free, so there’s absolutely no harm in at least trying to become a legend. Dota 2 is an engaging title. It wouldn’t have conquered the world otherwise.
You can buy Dota 2 here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.