Initially, I was really quite pissed off with Valve. Right in the middle of E3 – pretty much the default busiest week of the year for anyone on either the production or journalism side of the games industry – they opt to release a goddamn Dota 2 update? I don’t have time for that!

Then I realised that maybe I should be thankful. “Sorry, Paul,” I can say. “I can’t deal with the 10,000 screenshots for that new modern-day shooter which looks identical to every other modern-day shooter! I have to play Dota 2.” It also gives me the opportunity to make jokes about how Valve got so bored with having a game be released that they found a way to push it back to beta, and I always appreciate the chance to make cheap jokes.

Anyway: the beta for Dota 2 Reborn is out, and I’ve spent a few hours messing around with it. It has improvements. It has flaws. Let’s examine it.

First things first, it’s a 7.1GB download. I’m not sure it’ll be that big if you already have the Dota 2 Workshop Tools installed (because I don’t, but I’m pretty sure they were about that size) but installing the Reborn beta does give you access to the Dota 2 Reborn Beta Tools. No comment on how they differ from the Workshop Tools; as I said, I don’t have those installed, and unless they’re totally different, I’m frankly not technically minded enough to comment anyway.

Once it’s downloaded, clicking that inviting “Play Dota 2” button brings up a launcher dialogue granting access to either basic Dota 2, the Dota 2 Reborn beta, or the Dota 2 Reborn Beta Tools.

Below is a screenshot of the Dota 2 Reborn Beta Tools, because I’m not going to talk about them at all but I want to prove I fired them up. I might write something more in-depth on them in the future, if I get the chance to properly play around with them, but for now this one screen is all you get:

dota 2 reborn tools

Yes, that’s definitely an… edit-y… thing. You can tell by the… stuff.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at the interface.

dota 2 reborn - hub

Ooh, it’s pretty. What you’re looking at right now is the new hub interface; rather than the traditional “here’s the blog and here’s the chat”, you’ve got a variety of tiles offering… well, all sorts of stuff. In this case: the latest news, a link about The International 2015, a couple of custom games, the daily sale, and tutorials.

The lower right shows the current party and related options (like open parties and the like), and has a Play Dota option which we’ll look at in more detail in a bit. The lower left contains all of your chat in a box that pops up when needed. Finally, the top of screen offers the way to close the game, submit bug reports, access the settings, or check out the other panels – Heroes, Watch, Learn, and Custom Games.

dota 2 reborn - player profile

First, though, let’s take a look at the profile. There’s a new little metric here tracking what you’ve been up to for your past X games (in my case, it claims 20; in the case of a friend, it was two). And yes, my MMR is a bit shit, but I haven’t played Ranked since the introduction of Techies and that was bloody ages ago. Let’s hope I’m a bit better than that, now.

The little bar at the top, just below the big panel, also lets me cycle to my Gallery of Triumphs or my Heroes.

dota 2 reborn - heroes

The Heroes bar… uh, doesn’t appear to do anything, right now. I’m pretty sure those aren’t my stats, if only because I’ve apparently played 107 ranked matches with every hero, and I have those exact stats for all of them. And I never play Mirana, so she’s certainly not my second most-played. This might be tied specifically to games played in Dota 2 Reborn, but I don’t think so; they didn’t move even after playing a game. It may also simply be ranked stats, but without the hero tracking they’re applied to everyone? No idea.

Let’s check out those tabs at the top. The Heroes tab brings up some sets, and the options to sort through your Armoury or your items. As you can see by the screen below…

dota 2 reborn - armory

… the Armory is considerably less ass than it used to be. It’s easy to scroll through (although I’d appreciate the ability to “grab” the screen and move it, rather than relying on the small slider at the bottom), has sorting options that – in a novel twist – actually appear to work, and is basically a lot easier to use and manipulate than the basic Dota 2 one. I approve. Also, holy shit, I have a lot of Windranger items.

dota 2 reborn - settings

The settings themselves haven’t changed overmuch, but there are a couple of nice additions, like a keybind for voice-chatting with your party and not just with your team. From what I can gather, the Rendering slider in the right actually impacts the game quality even if you’ve opted for Advanced Settings, which… might be a bug? Hm.

dota 2 reborn - watch tab

I’ve barely explored the Watch tab, because it sits around “Waiting for game data” forever. So, uh, no comment.

dota 2 reborn - guided bot match

The Learn tab has been vastly expanded from the previous tutorials. There are Mechanics that teach you the absolute basics, Bot Matches which are you and bots, and Guided Bot Matches, which are… interesting. There are three of these right now – one for Luna, one for Sven, and one for Lina. I’m curious as to whether they picked those three heroes to provide three very different examples of heroes, or if they’re actually planning on adding one of these for pretty much every hero. I’d guess it’s the former, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more added.

As I consider myself Pretty Damn Good with Lina, let’s take a look at how a Guided Bot Match with her works.

dota 2 reborn - lina tutorial

It’s actually a neat system. You’re essentially playing a standard bot match, but with a few restrictions: you can only buy the items the game tells you to buy, you’re forced into a particular skill path when you level up, and you’re given “objectives” as to what you should be doing. It starts off with picking your first skill and buying your starting items, graduates through “get some last hits” and “buy your core items”, and eventually culminates with “go trash the enemy’s base.” As far as gently getting to grips with the game goes before you’re thrown into the quagmire of item builds and skill builds, it’s a pretty solid idea.

Along the way, it stops and pops up explanations when something new happens. If you’re sitting around getting murdered by a tower, it’ll explain why that’s a bad idea and how to prevent it. The first time you go to grab a rune, it explains what those are and what they do. Etc.

dota 2 reborn - this is a rune

I have to disagree with Lina’s recommended build, though. Alright, look, I play Lina in an extremely unorthodox way, but come on: Phase Boots into Drums into Eul’s? No Fiery Soul until level 10? Get out.

Then again, she is one of the most versatile heroes in the game, so I suppose I’ll let them off for picking a very generic item progression. In any case, I approve of the idea and the general execution, even if I maybe disagree with the specifics of how it teaches you to play one of my favouritest heroes.

dota 2 reborn - custom games

The other major tab is Custom Games, which is where you can enjoy Dota 2 that isn’t Dota 2. I dicked around with a couple of these – Valve’s own Overthrow, and the community-made Skillshot Wars – and had a bloody good time.

You browse around, find a game mode that looks interesting, and click on it for more information. On this bigger screen, you simply tap “Install” to download it, and from there you can either manually search for lobbies or just click the Play button to be randomly shunted into one. It’s all seamless.

It’s also buggy, and not nearly good enough. Now, before pitchforks are raised in my direction: yes, I know it’s a beta. Things being broken or a bit crap are honestly to be expected, pointing them out makes fixes more likely.

dota 2 reborn - afk

Racist abuse blocked out to protect the terminally stupid. For some reason.

The biggest problem, right now, is “AFK hosts”, which apparently aren’t actually AFK hosts, but most of the players think they are. You join a lobby, and you have the maximum number of players, and… the host won’t start the game. You leave the lobby and randomly join another one, and the host won’t start the game. Repeat a few times, and I guarantee you’ll wind up seeing the same hosts more than once.

From what I can tell, though, this is a bug rather than people being dicks. For one thing, the games are (probably?) meant to auto-start when the required number of people are in the lobby. For another, there are a fair few reports that – rather than AFK hosts – these are actually ghost lobbies. The game isn’t being hosted. The host isn’t there. The lobby essentially doesn’t exist, although it is joinable.

The problem with this, of course, is that genuine games will fill up and start pretty much immediately, while ghost lobbies will hang around forever and people will keep falling into them again and again as they search for a “proper” lobby. It’s a big, big issue: when trying to play Skillshot Wars for the third time, I had to enter and exit lobbies for around 15 minutes before I got into a working game.

dota 2 reborn - custom lobby

There are also other issues with implementation. The ability to manually search for lobbies has filter options, yes, but it ideally needs better ways for you to find, explore, and try out unusual content that you haven’t seen before. Randomly showing off a few “suggested games” on the front page is neat, but this will almost certainly lead to certain games becoming mega-popular and others remaining perpetually unseen, which runs the nasty risk of killing off the scene before it even gets going.

Also, if someone disconnects during the game loading, everyone else has to wait three minutes for the game to time out before they’re returned to the menu, and this normally kills the lobby. And for that matter, custom games rely on the host not quitting out; while it’s not such a big problem for quick blasts on things like Overthrow, having the host ragequit in a longer game mode and immediately end the game for everyone by doing so is going to be a regular problem.

Nonetheless! It shows promise. It’s a beta. I’m still pretty optimistic.

dota 2 reborn - skillshot wars

Hooks, hooks, everywhere.

I’m largely optimistic because I had a really good time with both Overthrow and Skillshot Wars. The former is, as I previously mentioned, Valve’s own little Custom Game baby. Up to 10 players (sometimes divided into teams, sometimes not; it might be a free-for-all, or a 3v3v3, or a 2v2v2v2v2…) fight it out to be the first team to 50 kills. Gold and experience are earned over time, but hanging around the middle of the map grants more. Item drops routinely fly in on invulnerable couriers, and whoever gets to the drop point first snags themselves a random item. It’s pure, manic fun.

Skillshot Wars is the other one I’ve tried. This is a 5v5 in which heroes remain at level 1, and all of them have access to the same four abilities: Pudge’s Meat Hook, Mirana’s Sacred Arrow, Invoker’s Sun Strike, and Clockwerk’s Hookshot. Chaos ensues as ten Mirana arrows shoot across the map, people are pulled to and fro by Pudge Hooks, and anyone unlucky enough to get stunned winds up with five Sun Strikes landing on their face. Unless an ally pulls them away with their own Meat Hook, of course…

It’s not the most original of games modes, sure, but it’s in a fairly stable condition and the entire time I played it, I was giggling like a child who found the sweetie tin. If you download Dota 2 Reborn, give it a shot.

(It occurs to me that there’s probably some sort of regular article series in this – “Weird Custom Games I Tried This Week”, maybe – but alas, I doubt I have the time. Someday…)

Before I get onto a few grittier details, I want to point out the Demo option. When viewing heroes, you can opt to immediately drop into a demo game – a one-lane match in which you have total control over everything. You can spawn enemies, level them up, and buy them items. You can enable or disable creep waves. You can toggle invulnerability, or spell cooldown times. In short, it’s an easy way of experimenting with a hero and with all sorts of random shit without the traditional method of starting a custom game and enabling cheats. I could do with a way to turn off Fog of War so that I can more easily control my opponents, though.

As an example of what sort of idiocy you can experiment with, here’s what happens when you use Shiva’s Guard about 12 times in a second:

Dota 2 Reborn - Shiva's Guard

Pretty lights!

Dota 2 Reborn - Shiva's Guard 2

It’s a bit less ridiculous when you only trigger it three times, thankfully.

Note, also, that the panel on the left has an Equip New Items button and a Select New Hero button. The former lets you change your cosmetics on the fly. The latter lets you select a new hero on the fly. No quitting out and finding the hero in the menu and clicking the Demo button and waiting for it to load; you just pick a new hero and you’re straight back in.

That, I suppose, is a pretty good microcosm of what I’m expecting from Dota 2 Reborn: a smoother, more fluid experience. It’s got a long way to go before it gets there, but I’d argue it’s on the right lines. With some decent feedback from the community and regular updates, this might actually prove to be a very, very good idea. Even now it seems to load a hell of a lot faster and it just generally feels smoother in some irritating, indefinable way that has nothing to do with framerate. It’s just… it’s just nice.

Two more things before I sign off. Firstly, if you’re hoping to migrate entirely over to Reborn right now… er, that’s probably not a great idea. MMR appears to be slightly fucked up, insofar as the one standard game I played featured people with a truly hilarious disparity in skill levels (although this is Dota 2, so okay, maybe that was just the luck of the draw). However! Compendium stuff does not currently appear to be functioning in Reborn – probably because of bugs and assorted other problems – so if you want to do your challenges, you’ll need to be back in the standard client.

It has other problems too, of course. There are plenty of reports of crashes, or games not loading, or massive framerate issues. But, again, it’s a beta, not a full release. It’s probably to be expected.

Dota 2 broke


And that second thing: by default, you’re not getting the “full” Dota 2 Reborn experience. When you load it up, it’s reportedly running the game in its 32-bit, DirectX 9 iteration. This is primarily because the 64-bit, DirectX 11 version is about as stable as a fat child jumping up and down on an ancient rope bridge. The very first time I ran the 64-bit DX11 game, it crashed on startup, and then it crashed again when I tried to start a bot match.

Here are a few screens showing standard Dota 2, the 32-bit DX9 Dota 2 Reborn, and the 64-bit DX11 full-fat Dota 2 Reborn (using the Moonbeam weather effect, which I probably should’ve turned off). Reborn looks an awful lot prettier thanks to the lighting and shading effects, to my mind, although in these screens at least I can’t see any massive differences between the DX9 and DX11 versions.

Dota 2 standard

Dota 2, standard client.

Dota 2 Reborn 32bit

Dota 2 Reborn, 32-bit/DX9.

Dota 2 Reborn 64bit

Dota 2 Reborn, 64-bit/DX11.

If you want to try it out for yourself, the easiest way to do it is to go to Steam and choose to add a non-Steam game to your list. Browse for this executable – \SteamApps\common\dota 2 beta\game\bin\win64\dota2.exe – and append -DX11 to that in the Target box (outside of the quotes). If you’ve got a machine with the right amount of grunt, this should, theoretically, make Dota 2 load and run faster. For me, it goes from loading screen to main menu in about two or three seconds. Just be warned that it will probably also make Dota 2 crash faster. (Thanks to Anaron on Reddit for this one.)

And that’s about it, for now. Dota 2 Reborn is a curiosity in beta form, and I’d say it’s worth a look solely for the Custom Games and a glimpse at the new interface loveliness. It’s not, however, a “beta” in the same sense as Dota 2 was for a few years before its launch, where it was mostly lacking content rather than not being polished. Reborn is still fundamentally broken in a lot of ways, and it’s nowhere near up to the standard client in most ways.

Nonetheless, it’s a look at the future – and if Valve can iron out the remaining problems, the future is looking rather nice indeed.

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.

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