A Beginner’s Guide to Dota 2: Part One – The Basics

So what was this other stuff you mentioned? Towers, and a rainforest, and Roshan?

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Towers, jungle, and Roshan. Towers are –

I know.

You know what?

I know it was “jungle”. I was just winding you up.

I hate you. As I was saying: towers are the first big obstacle standing between you and victory. Before you can attack the Ancient, you first need to take down every tower on at least one lane, plus the structures on that lane which are inside the enemy base – another tower, and two barracks; destroying the barracks makes your creep waves along that lane more powerful.

The problems here are that A) towers have lots of health, and B) towers do lots of damage. There are very few heroes that can tackle a tower alone, even when they have a few levels under their belt.

I said earlier that you spend a fair bit of time pushing creep waves further up the lane. Creep waves are – generally – evenly matched, so without player intervention, they’ll tend to just fight each other to a standstill. With players helping them out though, they’ll gradually march towards the towers and attack them, also helpfully tanking the damage the towers put out so players can join in on the demolition too. So yeah, creeps are important, and are your primary means of taking on towers.

Creeps are also your primary means of gold and experience for most of the game. Whenever one dies, all opposing heroes in the vicinity get a bit of experience, and if one of them landed the killing blow – “last hit” it, specifically – then they also get a chunk of gold. The first phase of the game is called the laning phase; this is when heroes split into groups and stay on the lanes (usually two to top, one to mid, and two to bottom), trying to last hit as many creeps as possible while also trying to stop their enemies from doing the same.

There’s a lot more to it than that – denying creeps, letting the carry farm, and all sorts of other complicated terminology that actually means very simple things – but you don’t really need to know that right now. What you do need to know is one simple rule: if you’re wanting to move your creeps towards the enemy tower, have your hero auto-attack the enemy creeps by right-clicking on them. If you don’t want to attack an enemy tower, then only go for last hits. Also, with one or two hero-specific exceptions, you should never use any of your abilities on creeps. It’s a waste of mana.

Right. So the rainforest? YES I KNOW IT’S CALLED THE JUNGLE

That’s the big, sweeping expanse between the lanes. This is filled with things called neutral creeps – enemies that just hang out unless someone attacks them. They’re a good source of gold and experience, but for most of the game, they’re also far too powerful for heroes to take on. There are a few heroes, called “Junglers”, who can go there to level up at the start of the game, but you should probably stay away from them early on.

The other danger is that – because you have no creeps of your own going through it – you can’t normally see what’s in there. Which means that enemy heroes might be lurking there, waiting for an unwary player to wander through.

It’s normally reasonably safe if you’re just passing through, but you should generally avoid hanging around in it or killing neutral creeps until later in the match, when it’s actually a fairly quick and safe way of grinding some experience and gold. Again, though, there are heroes who should do the exact opposite. Sorry. Pretty much everything in Dota 2 comes with a caveaat, and that caveat is usually “unless you’re playing this guy.”

So the jungle’s dangerous but useful. Got it. Who’s that Roshan guy you mentioned?

Roshan isn’t something you need to worry about too much right now – if your team says “let’s do Roshan” then you want to head to his cave and beat him up; equally, if your team says “they’re doing Roshan” then you want to head to his cave and beat them up.

Basically, he’s a big monster – big enough that most of the team has to work together to bring him down, usually. It’s worth it, though, because on death everyone on the team that landed the killing blow gets a big chunk of gold, and he drops an item called the Aegis of the Immortal. Whoever picks that up pretty much gets an extra life; a few seconds after they die, they’ll respawn where they fell. As you can imagine, not letting the enemy have this is pretty important, but as he respawns every 10 minutes there are ample opportunities to nab it for yourself.

Again, though, you have to be careful when attacking Roshan. If the enemy knows you’re in there, you can suddenly find yourself fighting Roshan and the entire enemy team. Picking your moment is important.

Anything else I need to know?

We haven’t talked about runes, the phases of the game, or any of the other “basics”, but this has gotten pretty long and talk about them will come naturally when we discuss everything else. There’s only one more thing which you really, really need to know, and this is basically the single golden rule that should govern everything you do: do not die.

As with everything else in Dota 2, there are exceptions – points at which you can’t help but die, or occasions when it’s worth dying because it’ll result in an acceptable trade or it’ll save the team – but you’ll get used to spotting those moments as you play. When you’re starting out, focus on not dying.

There are three reasons for this. Firstly: if the enemy kills you, they get experience and gold, which means they either gain an advantage or catch up to your team. Secondly: if you die, you’re out of the game until you respawn, which means you’re not getting experience or gold, which means you’re falling behind… and it also means that the enemy has an opportunity to push, as one of you is out of the game for a little while. Thirdly: Dota 2 actually punishes you if you die, as you lose a chunk of gold.

Dying is bad. Try not to do it.

Is that it?

Not even close, but that’s enough to give you an overview of how it plays, plus some tips for absolute beginners. If you haven’t played Dota 2, you now know what’s going on; if you have, then this has hopefully reinforced the stuff that the tutorials beat into your head and given you a couple of extra pointers. But are you ready for public games? No.

Next time, we’ll talk heroes – which ones are good choices for beginners, which one is right for you based on what you want to do and how you want to play, and which ones you should avoid unless you want to have a nervous breakdown. Plus some more general advice that might save your sanity in your first few online matches, and maybe even a few tips on how and when to get started on those, if there’s room.

Part two of the guide can now be found here, and the second part of part two (bear with me) can be found here.

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Tim McDonald
Tim has been playing PC games for longer than he's willing to admit. He's written for a number of publications, but has been with PC Invasion - in all its various incarnations - for over a decade. When not writing about games, Tim can occasionally be found speedrunning terrible ones, making people angry in Dota 2, or playing something obscure and random. He's also weirdly proud of his status as (probably) the Isle of Man's only professional games journalist.