I avoided MOBAs for so long, you know. I really did. Barring a short and entirely disagreeable experience with the original Defense of the Ancients map for Warcraft 3, and a brief stint playing Demigod (which I thoroughly enjoyed, all the while failing to notice it pretty much was Defense of the Ancients) I hadn’t touched this genre at all. Heroes of Newerth? Nope. League of Legends? Nah. Dota 2? Good grief, no.
There were plenty of reasons for this. First, my initial experience with Warcraft 3‘s Dota map really was that bad. Second, MOBA communities have a rather strong reputation for being full of complete cockhandles, and I don’t deal well with destructive criticism. Third, I’m not a huge fan of most pure multiplayer games; I tend to prefer playing solo where I can. It did not appear to be the game for me.
Then someone gave me a beta invite. We played some matches against bots. He taught me the basics, and I started to explore on my own. As of the time of writing, while I’m far from being good at the game, I’ve racked up 90 hours of play (most of which, admittedly, is in botmatches) and somehow have more online wins than losses. In short: I’m a wee bit addicted.
If you want to read up on how I dealt with bits and bobs like the community and how my first few games went (or even what the hell Dota 2 actually is), then head on over to this piece in which Peter and I discuss the learning curve and the daunting nature of hopping into a game like this for the first time. If, on the other hand, you want to know how Dota 2 has managed to steal my soul and why I love it for this, read on.
I could very easily gush out three pages talking about the variety in Dota 2, but I’m not going to do that because that would be incredibly boring for everyone that doesn’t already play shitloads of Dota 2. Instead, I’ll just talk a little bit about it and then break up each of these sections with a description of a different hero and an explanation of why they’re horribly game-breaking.
I had an argument with Paul Younger the first time he tried Dota 2, and it’s one of the rare cases I’m willing to claim I’m objectively right. He asserted that Dota 2 could not be varied because it only had one map. I asserted that it absolutely is varied, because the focus isn’t on the map – it’s on the heroes.
There are currently over 100 heroes to choose from, and every single one works differently. Every single one breaks the entire game wide-open in a different way. They’re as varied as classes in Team Fortress, and they get even more varied when you start hurling items at them from the shops. Maybe this match you’ll go for lifesteal, or a bit more health. Maybe this time you’ll go for pure, raw damage. Maybe you want to turn invisible, have a short-ranged teleport, or the ability to heal everyone around you. Items let you do all of this with any hero. But even this isn’t why the variety is so staggering.
No, Dota 2 is so absurdly diverse because every hero works together with others in unique ways, and the composition of both your team and your enemy’s team will completely change how you play. No two games will play out the same way, just because of the hero picks.
If you’ve got some sneaky invisible types, you can afford to be a bit more reckless. If they have sneaky invisible types, you’re going to need to spend cash on items that can detect invisibility, or alternatively stick together in groups. If you’ve got a hero who can “jungle” (kill neutral monsters rather than sit in a lane) from the start, then you’re going to be weaker early on but stronger later and need to play accordingly. If you or they have no tough characters, or lots of high-damage types, or a lot of supporting heroes… well, it changes everything. I’ve played for about 95 hours now (I took a, uh, “research break” since I last checked my hours) and I’ve never seen two matches play out alike. This is one of the most absurdly varied games I’ve ever experienced.
The other upshot of this is that there’s a hero for pretty much everyone, whether you like wading into the thick of battle or sitting at the edges harassing your foes. With 100 highly varied heroes, I can guarantee that there’s at least one you’ll enjoy playing.
Riki is a complete arsehole. There are a whole bunch of heroes in the game with abilities that cause them to turn invisible, but Riki’s the only one who, from level 6 onwards, is permanently invisible whenever he’s not attacking. The mere presence of a Riki on the enemy team tends to cause people to play overcautiously – but with good reason, because his silence abilities make fighting back hard, and his teleporting attacks and extra backstab damage makes running away almost impossible. Riki can easily take down most heroes by himself and then slip away into the shadows before there’s any reprisal. He’s a game-breaking arsehole, and he could be anywhere.
Also, Riki is not a Spanish footballer. Just thought I should clarify that point. You’ve got to admit that a teleporting, possibly-satyr arsehole with smoke bombs would make football a lot more interesting, though.
2: Noticeable Increase in Skill
One of the other faintly amazing things about Dota 2 is that you will continually get better. Yes, okay, “the more you play, the better you get” is true of most games, but here there’s both a very rapid advancement in your skill combined with a skill ceiling that’s somewhere in the stratosphere.
You improve both consciously and otherwise. Consciously, you get the hang of what each hero does; the first time you see a particular opponent you will quite probably get utterly murdered because you have no idea of their capabilities. The next time you see them, though, you’ll be prepared. You might not know the full specifics, but you’ll have a good idea of what they can do and you won’t fall for the same rubbish you did last time.
Unconsciously, there are a tonne of general skills you pick up as you go. After awhile, you get a feel for the ebb and flow of battle and start paying more attention to the map and what everyone else is doing. After a bit longer, you pick up on when you can safely enter a battle and when you need to stay back or retreat. After longer still, you don’t need to focus so much on yourself and can keep a much closer eye on what your teammates are doing and what items they’re building, and offer advice as necessary. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you’re comfortable picking random heroes (or playing gametypes with limited hero selections) because, even if you’re not an expert with everyone, you’re competent enough that you can put on a good show with just about anybody. But you could always be better, and there are likely higher plateaus of skill I’ve yet to encounter.
At tournament skill level, Dota 2 appears akin to some sort of high-speed real-time chess – much like fighting games. Everyone instinctively knows (or should know) which little skirmishes they’re likely to win, and why; it’s less about hoping that everything’ll work out if you get all your powers off, and more about ensuring that the opponents you’re engaging can’t escape, or at least can’t use the powers that’ll win the engagement for them. That’s how it appears to me, at least. At my level, on the other hand, it’s pretty much just whacking people with shiny abilities and running away when things go tits-up.
The upshot is that you are constantly improving, and it feels like it. The certain knowledge that you”ll do better in your next game is a frighteningly compelling thing, and when combined with everything else in this list, it’s one of the main reasons I keep coming back. I wouldn’t say I’m good – far from it, in fact – but, after 108 hours, I’d happily call myself “fairly competent.”
Keeper of the Light is a complete arsehole. He’s a “support” hero, meaning that he’s not much cop on his own, but played effectively he’s an unholy terror. For starters, he can restore mana to other heroes – or himself – which basically removes the limiters from any of the heroes that, early game, have high-power low-cooldown abilities but suffer from a lack of mana. As if that wasn’t enough, he can teleport other heroes to him. And he has a massive, charged-up wave of energy that can do obscene damage in the early levels, and is still pretty effective at pushing back enemies in the late game. He’s a game-breaking arsehole, and tooled up properly, you’ll dread his appearance.
3: Trolling the Arseholes
MOBA communities are infamous for being full of terrible, terrible people, and much as Dota 2 is apparently doing a pretty good job of rehabilitating these horrors, you can still find some serious enjoyment in confusing or upsetting the rage-spasming keyboard warriors. If you’re a horrible bastard like me, anyway. In my defence, I mostly haven’t been trying to – they’re just really easy to offend.
My current favourite trick is to take everything said with utter sincerity and at face value. After we all died, one team member once piped up with “omg gj team your all so good player.” The obvious response, then, was “Thanks! Really kind of you to say so, particularly after what just happened. So nice to see some mature players on Dota for a change :)” I’m not sure why, but that shut him up for the rest of the match and it’s mostly worked since. Mostly.
Now that I’m at a point where I’m reasonably confident in my abilities, the screams from other players (either sore losers, or those who refuse to tolerate any mistakes or failure while blaming you for everything they do wrong) don’t really bother me at all. It’s just funny, in a pathetic kind of way. Sort of like laughing at someone who tried to spit on you and gobbed on their own trouser leg instead.
I should add that I don’t actually mean to do this half of the time, and we’ll get to that in my fourth and final point, but accidentally enraging people who’re already smashing their keyboard with their fists does make me laugh. Like I said: I’m a horrible bastard. Either way, this one point has mostly made me immune to the shouting of the community. And I’ve only played for 119 hours!
Rubick is a complete arsehole. Most heroes have one or two spells or abilities that make them utter nightmares to fight against – Spirit Breaker can charge across the map and stun people, Faceless Void can freeze everyone in time, and Lina can dish out an obscene amount of damage in the time it takes you to click the mouse. A good Rubick player can do all of this, because he can “steal” the last used spell of any enemy hero, gaining it for his own use. If he uses Spell Steal at the right time, he’s suddenly got access to your trump card. He’s a game-breaking arsehole whose appearance makes you extremely wary of using your powerful abilities, because if you’re not careful, he’ll throw them right back in your face.
4: Little Victories
Judging by the more infamously vocal parts of the community, a game of Dota 2 is only enjoyable if you win, and if nobody on your team ever dies or does anything stupid. Screw the infamously vocal parts of the community, though, because I’ve had a hell of a lot of fun in games I’ve lost.
First – and perhaps most importantly – much as people will start shouting GG and proclaiming the game lost within 10 minutes, ridiculous comebacks are entirely possible, not least because winning tends to create a cocky mindset. The enemies keep rampaging through your base, but just can’t get through to finally destroy your Ancient (the goal of the game) and win, because you keep barely fending them off? Then chances are that the power gap between the two teams is closing every time they try and fail. If you can use positioning and ambushes to wipe out their team then you’re in a perfect position to strike back, cause some damage, and tip the balance of the game a little bit. I’ve had some serious nailbiters, both when I’ve been on the losing side and have eked out a victory, and when I’ve been on the winning side and our opponents managed an absurd comeback. Of course, you can then comeback against their comeback. It’s like a feedback loop of comebacks.
Second… well, even if you do lose, you can still have some fun. Back when I was talking about trolling arseholes, I mentioned that I often didn’t mean to do it, and there’s no purer example of both accidentally enraging arseholes and managing some small victories than one game I played a few days ago.
Here’s what happened: I played with a friend, and our three randomly assigned teammates were a bit naff, to the extent that all three of them had abandoned the game within about 15 minutes. There was no real conceivable way we could win a 2v5, so… we decided to just try anything crazy we could think of. My friend, playing as the one-man army Axe, defended our base. I, playing as the giant spider Broodmother (yes, I really was playing as a giant spider), went off to try to push them back a little bit.
What’s scary is that it worked pretty well. All alone, Axe fended off a few assaults by himself, while I succeeded in smashing three or four of their towers before they could catch me. They pulled it together and broke us down after that, but the fact that we managed to fight back so successfully meant that we had our own little triumphs. We lost, but I enjoyed it.
I mentioned accidentally trolling arseholes, though, so: at the end of the match, I made the comment that I was pretty proud we did so well in the face of five players; we were never going to win, but we mounted a spirited defence and held up okay. I’d foolishly expected “shame about your teammates” or “you guys did alright” or something vaguely human. Silly me. What I got was… well, just look:
Not quite sure what I did to deserve that, other than kill him a few times when he was possibly expecting an easy win. On the other hand, he’s the sort of person who types “go f urself” to complete strangers on the internet, so I can’t say I feel much remorse for that. Anyway: being able to take joy in the little victories – even when you lose – stops things from being too frustrating, and it’s the sort of game where even a loss can provoke a DUDE DID YOU SEE THAT BIT WHERE I TOTALLY CAME OUT OF NOWHERE AND MY SPELL JUST BLAMMED RIGHT IN HIS FACE WASN’T THAT AWESOME. Pretty much any game that produces that reaction can keep me playing for awhile.
Axe is a complete arsehole. I know I’ve mentioned a lot of complete arseholes in this piece, but Axe takes the arsehole biscuit and oh God that mental image isn’t shifting for a week. He’s big, red, bearded, and angry, like some sort of armoured Santa Claus, and attacking him is usually the stupidest thing you can do because it has a pretty high chance of triggering an instant counterattack to all enemies around him. Including your friends. Although “not attacking him” isn’t an option because he can taunt you, forcing you and any NPCs around to focus on him. And if he’s got Blademail – an item that lets him reflect damage back at his attacker – then he’s the Dota 2 equivalent of someone who grabs your arm and hits you with it, while chanting “Why are you hitting yourself?” and punching you with his free hand. Run away? You get hit with an ability that drains life until you kill something. He’s a game-breaking arsehole who violently buggers the unsuspecting, and can take on a group of unwitting players by himself.
So there you have it, although this really is only skimming the surface of why I currently adore this game. I’ve played Dota 2 for 126 hours, and I’m not really planning on stopping anytime soon. I’ve only played a fraction of the heroes. I’ve never played with a full team of people I know. I’m constantly getting better, and discovering new and wonderful tricks, tactics, and possibilities. It’s one of the most varied, enjoyable, frustrating, funny, irritating, wonderful, hateful games I’ve ever played, with an ocean’s worth of depth, a ridiculous amount of stuff to do, and no real price tag. I can’t compare it to the other huge MOBAs out there, but… well, the short version of this piece is that Dota 2 is pretty bloody good. If you get the opportunity to try it, I’d certainly recommend it.
If you like Dota 2, or haven’t played it but are somewhat interested, then bear in mind we’ll be bringing you a little more Dota 2 coverage in the future. Within a few weeks we’ll hopefully have a video of the IncGamers team (plus a few guests) playing online against real people, which promises to be an utter catastrophe. Stay tuned for that.