When Valve first announced that they had hired IceFrog, curator and developer for Defense of the Ancients, a custom mod of Blizzard’s Warcraft III that effectively birthed the MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena, also known as Action-RTS) genre and gave rise to other popular titles such as League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth, the gaming world excitedly took note.
Here was one of PC gaming’s biggest names throwing their hat into the ring and declaring their intention to take on the world of eSports for the first time since Counter Strike. With a history of excellent support, their rocksolid Steam platform and a company ethos that’s the stuff of legend, Dota 2 was already held in high regard before even a single screenshot was released.
Following The International, a record-breaking million dollar tournament and high-profile reveal of the game in its beta form, closed testing by invitation began in earnest. By no means the finished product, Dota 2 in its current state still represents an amazingly exciting prospect not only for leisure gamers but for the competitive eSports scene as well.
Looking at Dota 2, it’s easy to forget that this was once a modification of the extremely dated Warcraft III engine. Models and textures are cartoonish but fully realised in 3D and offer a level of detail not yet seen in any similar titles. The whole interface is designed to be as user friendly but unobtrusive as possible and navigating between options and selecting items and upgrades during gameplay is quick, easy and clear.
Converts from other franchises may feel that the game is much slower but it’s more a matter of scale than anything else. Heroes are larger, for example, than their HoN counterparts, making it feel as if the camera is closer and a tad sluggish but it’s not usually the case. Unit response times do seem to be slower but it isn’t clear whether this is a question of mechanics or an effort to level out latency across teams.
The gameplay is the same as it has ever been – you pick a hero out of a roster of around 40 heroes (with more being added following every update), buy items, level up skills and push towards the enemy team’s base using AI creeps that spawn on either side at regular intervals. Denying kills and taking out opposing players nets you bonus experience and gold with which to bolster you heroes abilities and attributes in order to gain the necessary edge to drive you to your victory.
The MOBA genre is notoriously difficult to get into as a beginner. While the mass exposure (combined with the hints that the game will be free2play from its initial release) will net a wide player base, many newbies will find themselves at the mercy of the challenging learning curve and famously acidic community. To combat this, Valve have introduced myriad ways for new players to acclimatise themselves with the game and even benefit from 1-to-1 coaching through the upcoming mentor mode. Dota 2 already manages to present far more than just a client through which to play the game. It’s possible to spectate high-level games as they happen live and discuss tactics with fellow viewers, making it easy to see the heroes being played as they should be before trying them out for yourself.
At this early stage, it’s clear that Valve are working hard to ensure that Dota 2 is a success on a massive scale.
With events such as Dreamhack, Major League Gaming tournaments, the North American Star League and the World Computer Gaming Championships providing more global exposure for eSports than ever before, IceFrog and his team are building something that must be perfectly balanced and technically flawless. It’s no easy feat but already, with the level of polish and care that Valve gives to every one of its products, Dota 2 is nigh on guaranteed to become a vital part of any hardcore PC gamer’s repertoire in the near future.
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