Ever since I picked it up about a year and a half ago, I’ve been completely hooked on Dota 2. The game is Valve’s reimagining of the original DotA Allstars mod for Warcraft 3, in which you pick a hero, try to destroy the enemy base, and do a million other things in between. It’s a game with a long and rich history, and also one of the most difficult games on the market. The learning curve on Dota is certainly up there with other famous examples like Dwarf Fortress or EVE Online.
It’s also frustrating as all hell. Even I, having put in well over 1000 hours into this game, make terrible mistakes and die horribly. Or luck into a team full of people that just want to troll and flame. Or, most rage-inducing of all, do so well in a game just to have one crucial fight go wrong and lose the whole thing.
For some reason, though, that loss doesn’t lead to getting up and quitting. It just motivates. It urges. One. More. Match. If you can manage to get past its hard shell into the gooey center, Dota is one of the most compelling experiences in gaming. Dota 2 is an extremely well-executed version of that game that has existed in one form or another for more than a decade. Here’s the top 5 Dota 2 features that explain why.
Before Dota, never did I think I’d spend my real money on virtual clothes in order to play a game of dress-up. That is, essentially, what me (and hundreds of thousands of other players) have ended up doing. Dota 2 features a truly free gaming experience, nothing that affects gameplay costing a single cent. Its entire income, for that reason, relies on visual customization. All kinds of things can be changed, from good ol’ hats to the user interface itself to cute little animals (called ‘couriers’) that bring you items in game.
These cosmetic items aren’t just made by Valve. Through steam workshop support, community members can make their own and take a share of the revenue. If you’re a good 3D artist, you could actually make a living off of creating things for Dota 2. Plenty do already. In addition to having the option to buy items, plenty can be earned randomly, just by playing the game.
This is really just an example of how the Dota team at Valve places a real emphasis on community. Listening to them and working with them. By doing so they’ve created one of the most fair business models out there. They’ve also created thousands of items so that I can mix and match and make my favorite heroes look fancy out in the fields of battle.
In Dota, a hero gains experience and gold. They level up, gaining stats and choosing abilities. With the gold, they buy and craft a variety of items. All of this probably sounds quite familiar to you. What makes it slightly different is that, after the match is over, all this progress is wiped away. Queue up for another game, pick another Hero, start again at level one.
In a way, each match of dota is a distilled version of something like World of Warcraft. You have the PVE, grinding for experience with the enemy team’s creeps or with big neutral creeps found in an area of the map called the ‘jungle’. You have the PVP, which can happen right from level one, using the abilities and items you’ve earned to crush the opponent. There’s even a big boss in the middle of the map. Roshan can be found in his pit, and whichever team manages to take him down gets the Aegis of the Immortal, an item that gives its holder an extra life.
While in reality, Dota is more of a multiplayer strategy game than anything, it can certainly feel like a mini-RPG. The feeling when you are max level and now crushing opponents with one hit is great as always. You’re strong, you’ve earned it, and now it just takes 40 minutes to achieve instead of 40 hours.
Just recently, Valve released an alpha version of its map-making toolset for Dota 2. It’s still a long way from being fully released, but the technology is there, and people are already making all kinds of weird and wonderful things with it.
While the main game is good right now for all these other reasons, it only has one map. It’s a very good map, don’t get me wrong, but the game could end up being exponentially better when it becomes a place for people to play all kinds of other games. Just as Dota came from a WC3 mod, perhaps the next big thing could come out of a modified map for Dota 2.
Even more so than with visual work, Valve has done a masterful job with the sound in this game. First of all, the music is pretty great, which comes almost expected at this point. Secondly, the little sounds given to each ability are very useful. It’s another thing to learn (which is a pain) but I’ve been saved countless times by hearing something I never would have noticed visually.
Lastly, and most impressively, the voice acting is incredible. Valve absolutely outdid themselves with all the voice actors they hired and the sheer amount of lines they created for the heroes. Not only does each hero have dozens of lines for when they move, attack or cast a spell. They also have all kinds of lines for when they fight with or against specific opponents. You’ll manage an awesome gank on an enemy, and because your heroes have some kind of rivalry in the Dota lore, your hero will taunt them with a funny line. It’s a little bit silly, but that’s the whole idea. It adds flavor, and in the middle of intense gameplay, an occasional laugh.
Dota 2 features 107 heroes, to be precise. Each has four abilities, at minimum. Invoker has ten. There are other, stanger examples such as Lone druid who has to control not only himself, but also his bear companion. These particular characteristics each hero has are the things, more so than any little mechanical complexity dota has, that make the game so hard to learn. They are also the things that make the game so rewarding to play, once you learn them and put your knowledge to use.
There are over a hundred playable characters for you to chose from, which is enough for a ton of unique experiences in and of itself. When you take into account the five versus five nature of the game, and the nine other people also picking heroes, the 107 turns into 8,854,617,997,445,220. That’s the number of different combinations of heroes that are possible, before taking into account things like gameplay decisions or choices of which items to buy. That’s the biggest reason dota is so compelling. Every time you enter a match, you know it will significantly differ from the last.
Learning is a continual process in Dota 2. It’s what the game is at its core, and it will never stop, even for the professionals (who competed last month for a $10 million prizepool at The Internationl.) You can always get better, but you’ll just be using your previous experiences to guide you through entirely new ones. That’s what makes the game great. An endless amount of content that’s generated, not randomly, but by other players, for you to play. All the while getting to enjoy the sounds, the sights, and of course the hats, that all make it hard to stay away for too long.