DOTA 2 Review

The best thing about DOTA 2 is its player vs player action. The worst thing about DOTA 2 is its player vs player interaction.

Review by Jaz Rignall, .

Multiplayer online battle arena ahoy! DOTA has come a long way from being just an unexpectedly entertaining side effect of Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos
Jaz Rignall Editorial Director

A few weeks ago, I was a DOTA virgin. I'd never played it, and had little understanding of what it was all about. But following a lunchtime conversation wth 600-plus-hours-of-playtime-expert Cassandra, her boundless enthusiasm persuaded me to take the plunge.

I documented my experience as I played through the game's fairly solid training mode in our DOTA 2 LiveTopic, and evolved from clueless idiot to idiot with a clue. Following a week of playing with actual human beings, I'm now fully grounded in the game's fundamentals, and am looking forward to mastering its subtleties and nuances in my quest to become an adept DOTA player.

What immediately strikes me about DOTA – to coin a hideously over-used cliché – is that it's easy to learn, but difficult to master. It's a phrase oft bandied about, but in this case it perfectly describes DOTA's very simple concept and goals – which take mere seconds to understand – and its phenomenal gameplay variability and strategic depth – which offer enormous scope for skills development.

It delivers by doing what every truly great PvP game should do – and that's provide its players with an even playfield to work on, a robust set of rules, and a suite of characters available to all that enable deep and rich tactical play. It's an archetypal sporting construct that ensures fair competition, where winning is all about skill, expertise and experience – and maybe just a little luck every now and then.

Here's the Brewmaster, a not-particularly-distant cousin of World of Warcraft's Pandaren race. Both are fond of large quantities of alcohol and a good old fashioned bout of fisticuffs

Many PvP games don't quite do that, and instead enable player advantage through investment of time and/or money. I'm fine with that – in World of Warcraft, my hard-earned top-level gear lets me crush newbies mercilessly. But while rofflestomping nubs after a long day can be fun, there's nothing quite like a system built around player parity to drive the most fierce and rewarding competition.

Something that's important to me in PvP is the facilitation of preferred playstyles through character roles, and DOTA ticks that box nicely. In team PvP, I'm most attracted to a support function, and I'm very happy with DOTA's wide array of characters that let me play behind the front-runners, making sure they stay alive. I'm already seeing other roles I want to try too, but for now, it's great being able to learn a game in a role that makes me feel like I'm playing from my core strengths, rather than feeling like a square peg in a round hole.

For me, multi-role gameplay makes for varied and interesting play both for pick-up games, and pre-made coordinated team competition. Does the team go all out offense? What about defense? Should the team be balanced, or not? DOTA enables high flexibility in that regard, so it's down to the players to follow through on their tactics, or adapt accordingly. Again, that makes for involving, interesting and fun gaming. It's not just a slug-fest or shooting match: it's more subtle, strategic and measured.

Which brings me to the cadence of the game. Some PvP games are frenetic, and require practice simply to attune one's brain to the pace of the action. DOTA 2 does not. While it certainly does have its frantic moments, they are interspersed with quieter periods where you're moving to the next tactical location, or perhaps sitting back to heal or regroup. Having this space to breathe is really enjoyable, and while you have to still keep your guard up to ensure you're not ganked by some stealthy foe, it's generally more forgiving that most PvP games, and gives you plenty of bandwidth to learn, rather than feeling rushed and panicked the whole time.

If riding around on a big hairy creature, bashing people with a hammer is your thing, DOTA has you covered. Sort of.

But while the game is generally forgiving, the players are much less so. As with all multiplayer games, the experience of playing with others can be a bit of a mixed bag. Early on I had a few matches where my n00biness got me called out a few times, and seemed to enrage one particular person to the point of apoplexy – probably exacerbated by us losing badly. While I've been PvPing long enough to know that this is part of the landscape, I was nevertheless annoyed that I was playing with people who were clearly leagues ahead of me in terms of ability. Perhaps the matchmaking bands are too broad, but as I've been developing my skills, I have found myself consistently feeling like I'm pegging my team back, and I hate being that guy.

Considering appropriate matchmaking is such a fundamentally important thing for multiplayer games, I'm consistently surprised that more effort isn't put into creating a variety of multiplayer options to more effectively smooth new players' transition from bot-practice to human play. DOTA 2's ability to rate players and give feedback is good – but why not have a few more options that perhaps let lower level players play together, let veterans be leaders of teams of newbies, or have a more effective mentoring system. Maybe these things are harder to implement than they seem, but seriously. How hard can it be?

Windrunner is a typical elf type. Big cloak. Fleet of foot. Has bow. Not entirely unattractive. Probably a bit elitist and snobby too.

The other thing I'm not particularly enamored with is the lack of tools available to the players to deal with AFK-ers and disconnects during a game. I've had more than a few games that have been ruined by players copping out at the merest whiff of things going wrong – or simply giving up and sitting at home base, leaving everyone else to pick up their slack. There's a system in the game that downrates AFK/ inactive/disconnected players – but based on my experiences, it's a feeble deterrent. Last night I had three games in a row where AFK'ers ruined each game, and while the option to "safely disconnect" from a game whose players are leaving and quickly join a new one is useful, it's not really solving what I see as an issue for DOTA – and that's players giving up way too easily and wasting everyone else's time.

I think a player-driven vote-out system would work well to cure this, but it seems that this sort of functionality is a concern to DOTA's creators due to potential abuse. However, I've seen this working very effectively in World of Warcraft, so I can't see why it wouldn't work here. Failing that, perhaps an option that lets players step in to a game in progress that someone else has left – perhaps with an extra incentive if they help their team win? Whatever the solution, pretty much anything would be better than a system that doesn't effectively deal with other players basically wasting your time repeatedly.

PvP matchmaking and tools complaints notwithstanding, DOTA is still a terrific game. When players work together against a similarly skilled team, the result is a dynamic, involving and nuanced tactical battle, and I've definitely had a few great matches – not all of which I've won. But like all pick-up PvP games, there are also frustrating moments where you can get absolutely flattened, or end up stuck in a team with a couple of nutjobs who're off their meds.

If those sorts of moments are not for you, then you already know DOTA 2 isn't something you should subject yourself to. But if you're of hearty PvP stock, thick of skin, stoic of nature, and moderately understanding of the human condition, DOTA 2 is a must. It really is a fantastic game.

DOTA offers a huge array of characters that enable players to take roles that are in their wheelhouse. Whether you like sneaking and ganking, smashing through the frontlines, or sitting back and supporting your team from a distance, there are characters that do all that and more.
Cassandra Khaw Content Editor

The most important thing to remember about DOTA 2 is this: it's not about winning, it's about losing stylishly to progressively more back-breaking, marrow-sucking odds. Every victory here is a Pyrrhic victory, another step deeper into a spiraling RTS-flavored addiction. You'll never be good enough, Valve's absurdly-popular-Warcraft-III-mod-with-a-new-paint-job hisses as it tweaks your placement on the matchmaking ladder ever-so-slightly. Never enough to scare you away from the sport, of course, but enough to make that next fix you're clamoring for just that much harder to attain.

On the surface, Dota 2 looks innocent enough. Ten players get into groups of two. Each team, with the help of their NPC 'creeps', must then traverse at least three projectile-spewing monuments in order to reach the opposition's base. After that, it's a question of breaking down the barracks (because your troops turn into perma-roided versions of themselves when the enemy has no place to sleep) before finally bringing down the other's Ancient. Taken at face value, Dota 2 probably doesn't seem very deep. But then again, chess wouldn't appear incredibly intricate either if you were to view it as a board with funny pieces.

The best and worst thing about Dota 2 is that it never quits trying to get a rise of you. In the beginning, your only concerns are usually things like, 'I hope I don't die too many times this match' and 'Man, I hope my friends are not embarrassed.' However, it'll eventually escalate. Once you've gotten into the rhythm of survival, which often involves avoiding the rhythms of the Night (Stalker), you begin cogitating on how best to schedule your abilities, how to last hit, to deny, to maximize the usage of your hard-earned gold. You learn about the subtleties behind ward placement, team compositions, the kind of carries you should sacrifice your virtual existence for and the kind you should never, ever play with again. To put it another way, Dota 2 has a way to ensuring that you never stop learning, that you ever stop encountering reasons to indignantly ask Google, 'Why?'

This is Dazzle, a Shadow Priest. Has some pretty neat tricks in his magic repertoire, but it's all about timing. Get it right and great things will happen. Get it wrong, and your team will shout supportive phrases like "WTF N00B OMG OMG TARD"

And that's why I love it. Ten years after my best friend convinced me that a Smurf-blue satyr was going to be my soulmate, I'm still finding myself in this game, still elbows-deep in research, still mapping out the optimal way to keep everyone alive when they're drunk, asleep on the keyboard, or just plain terrible at the game. Dota 2 can sink its claws into you in a myriad of ways. For me, it was that epiphanous moment when I realized that I'm never going to beat it. With many other titles, there's a vague sense of impending finality. At some point, you'll understand everything that there is to know and then that'll be that. The make-up will come off, the tailored suit and the whalebone-corset removed to expose the unglamorous insides. Mundanity will set in. But not here, not with DOTA 2. Even if you could, hypothetically speaking, become a mouse-melting maestro who can pick any Hero and carry the entire team alone, you'll still need to figure out how to beat Dendi.

So, is this where you rush out and install the game?

Maybe. Just maybe. Before you do that, you should probably ask yourself: do you have a temperament like stone-cold granite? Games like Dota 2 tends to engineer a culture of rage. People, myself included, get angry when they play Dota 2. I have, at least once, muted myself on Skype so I could ululate in wordless, frothing fury at my screen. (I got waylaid by an idiot Naga Siren who thought her ultimate was a better bet than my Tidehunter's Ravage. Grr, I say. Grr.) In person, I'm told that I can be inappropriately meek but there's something about Dota 2 that teases out the worst in people. If unpleasant vernacular and flaring tempers are things you much rather not deal with, Dota 2 can be potentially be a risky bet -

Who am I kidding?

Play it anyway. Should the idea of interacting with human players dismay you, play Dota 2 without them. Make it a single-player experience or a co-operative assault against the bots. Play it because even if Dota 2 is at its best when served with a side of competition, the amount of polish that Valve has lavished over the game makes the whole experience worthwhile regardless. Heroes in Dota 2 are almost uncannily well-fleshed out. They're equipped with great designs, great voice acting and an armory of great lines. Tidehunter will regale you with the status of his appetite while the masked Juggernaut makes terrible puns about clay vessels. If you have the Stealth Assassin pick up an invisibility rune on a sojourn on the river, he'll tell you, with dry disapproval, that that was rather redundant. In spite of the setting (an eternal battlefield that not even death can provide escape from), some of the witty banter feels almost like sitcom-styled zings. It's outrageous yet strangely not out-of-place in this blood-soaked field. Long story short, Dota 2 is a nest of clever little design choices and good decisions that you should play because everyone needs that one thing they can constantly cut their teeth against.

Or it could just be a transcendent iteration of decades-old Warcraft III mod filled with the most cantankerous players this side of Tatooine, the kind that makes you want to swear off video games, curl up into a ball and cry yourself quietly to sleep.

For the gamer who likes to waft about casting spells, Vengeful Spirit is the character you need

The Nitty Gritty

  • Visuals: Solid, details and stylish. Nothing that'll tax your graphics card, and nothing to write home about – but good enough.
  • Music: It's fine. Just fine. Like someone went out and bought the rights to decent off-the-shelf movie soundtrack and tinkered with it.
  • Interface: A well structured tutorial eases you into the action, but otherwise the general presentation and layout ticks all the boxes for functionality, but doesn't win any awards for aesthetics.
  • Lasting Appeal: The sky's the limit on this one. There's huge scope to improve your skills and learn new characters and roles, and when everything comes together, the competitive aspect of this game is absolutely first class. Which is why people play DOTA 2 for thousands upon thousands of hours.

A great PvP game that offers some of the most intriguing and nuanced team combat around. As with all multiplayer games, sometimes the enjoyment can be marred by less considerate players, but when everyone is giving it their all, DOTA 2 is intense, challenging, and hugely enjoyable.

5 /5

DOTA 2 Review Jaz Rignall The best thing about DOTA 2 is its player vs player action. The worst thing about DOTA 2 is its player vs player interaction. 2013-08-08T10:36:00-04:00 5 5

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  • Avatar for renatocosta90 #1 renatocosta90 5 years ago
    While I loved the time I spent with the beta version a few months back, DOTA 2 and LOL consume way too much time for each match, for the little time I have to play videogames after work.
    I entirely agree that is a nuanced game and it's at its best when you play a team that is similarly matched and attuned to you (better yet, get a party of five friends, skype them and have an absolute blast!), but I could not get too much into it (thankfully, I guess). You guys described the game in the terms I see (and play) fighting games: heavily nuanced games constantly evolving and challenging your ability to outplay and outsmart the oponent.
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  • Avatar for cassandrakhaw #2 cassandrakhaw 5 years ago
    @renatocosta90 Don't forget the bit where it's just like a hard addiction. ._.
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  • Avatar for renatocosta90 #3 renatocosta90 5 years ago
    @cassandrakhaw definetely. It has those moments that make you go to sleep while processing what the hell went wrong on that particular match/encounter. It creeps on your mind when you drift off inside your head while your co-workers discuss the kickball matches at lunch, ever providing food for thought about how to get better, how to do different stuff.

    The main difference is that in FGs the matches begin and end WAY quicker. I can experience dozens of matches and situations in the time it would take to play a single match in DOTA. Different vices to each of us, I guess
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  • Avatar for cassandrakhaw #4 cassandrakhaw 5 years ago
    @renatocosta90 Indeed! Fighting Games are absolutely fascinating for that reason to me too. I'm terrible at 'em, but I've had a few outings with professionals who blew me away with the level of split-second thought that goes into the genre.
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  • Avatar for renatocosta90 #5 renatocosta90 5 years ago
    @cassandrakhaw Imagine the build up satisfaction you have when reverse ulting someone late-game and turning the tide for your team. Most of the time, when the technical prowess of the players reasonably match each other, the games are decided on the psychological level, in the guessing game, reading the opponent. And that's when the fun comes over.
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  • Avatar for curryking3 #6 curryking3 5 years ago
    "...the amount of polish that Valve has lavished over the game makes the whole experience worthwhile regardless."

    Huge Dota 2 player here.

    This sentence I take issue with a bit, though nice review overall.

    People need to know that DOTA 2 is a carbon copy of DOTA. Literally. Outside of graphics and sound, everything is exactly the same gameplay as DOTA on Warcraft 3.

    Valve didn't do squat to make this game except to hire Icefrog and get people to work with him.

    Of all the glory for making this game, very little of it goes to Valve.
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  • Avatar for mitchconcannon30 #7 mitchconcannon30 5 years ago
    I downloaded Steam last Sunday. From hearing Brad from GiantBomb fame talk about it so much, I decided to check out the game. I have played over 15 games with 8 wins. Wanted to not pay for anything going in, thinking I would only play it for half hour.I have spent over $10. I am addicted now. I have even watched 18 live games and followed the international. Valve have crafted a game that not only has a value of any game out there but makes you want to support the developer by just buying custom items. It doesn't even take a high end pc to play. I was having trouble getting into playing console games after The Last Of Us but this has rekindled my gamer spark. It deserves the perfect score mark.

    Add me on Steam Alpha_PrinceEdited August 2013 by mitchconcannon30
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