“Did I ever tell you the definition of insanity”
Vaas, the cover appearing twisted villain from Far Cry 3 didn’t know jack about insanity, in my honest opinion.
So if you ask me, what really is the definition of insanity?
Insanity is Dota 2.
Dota 2 is an obsession. An addiction. You crave it, you fiend for it. It’ll hurt you, make fun of you, demotivate you, lower your self-worth, abuse you, block you, abandon you, mute you. But you’ll come back the very next day when you’ve told yourself “I’ve had enough of this sh*t!” Its almost like a guilty pleasure, like that Britney Spears song you always had on your iPod. Us humans are funny beings. We want what we can’t have. We want to be accepted where there is no room for us. And that is the pure essence of Dota 2. It’ll chew you up and kick you out if you try to touch it. But that’ll just bring you back, wanting more, more and more.
For the sake of this being a ‘review’, I’ll introduce you to the game formally. DotA (Defence of the Ancients), a mere mod map to Blizzard’s Warcraft 3, developed by hobbyist “IceFrog” almost a decade back, managed to get gazillions of players hooked on, eventually springing up a genre entirely new to the world of competitive gaming, called MOBA, standing for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. To this day, the original DotA is played by thousands. And MOBA as a genre is now populated by countless other standalone games like League of Legends or Heroes of Newerth. This is the influence that a mere map mod had in the video gaming world. Its spectacular!
Valve saw the DotA mod as an opportunity, and a long term one at that. Mr. IceFrog was lured into the Valve offices, papers were signed, contracts agreed upon, and Valve officially announced that they will be making Dota 2, the standalone version. I was kind of freaked out by this announcement. Valve had no experience with such games, the Source engine was primarily built for FPS games, and I kind of had a thing for the original old-school DotA and the Blizzard art-style.
Yada-yada-yada, Valve silently started floating around Beta keys for Dota 2 of which I was a recipient. Ever since, I have clocked about 550 hours in Dota 2 (source: Steam). Never have I given that much time to ANY game. And I know people who’ve hit 2400 hours total. You know what that means? Thats a full hundred days of non-stop Dota 2. Just knock off 200 days from your life! Yes, unadulterated insanity, ready to be served.
And whats more, Valve decided they’d charge a whopping sum of INR 0 (that equals to $0) for the game. And before you say anything, no, this is not like them other so called free-to-play games. This is a genuine F2P game, where every gameplay mechanic is available to everyone for free, nothing is held back. The purchases are only aesthetic. Like I said before, Valve had a vision with Dota 2. And making if entirely F2P amplifies that vision and gives Dota 2 an intangible scope. Valve wanted to make this a pure e-sport. Challenging, deep, skillful, competitive, team focused, and most importantly, accessible to all, just like any other sport. Yes, Dota 2 is a sport. Try Youtubing some Dota 2 tournaments, you’ll see spectators in thousands cheering for the team they support. Pro-teams now have fan followings all over the world, making millions of dollars, and are like untouchable celebrities in their respective circles. Amazing!
There are 102 heroes in Dota 2 (at the time of review), not the complete roster from DotA, but has Valve promised to add them to their lineup soon. A Dota 2 match always has five players on each of the two sides, not one less, not one more. The aim of each team is to destroy the Ancient of the other team. The Ancient lies deep in the base of the team, protected by towers. The map has three 3 lanes, in Dota language, called ‘top’, ‘bot’ and ‘mid’. Players must progress through these lanes, fighting enemy AI ‘creeps’ and opposing heroes, to reach the ancient.
Easier said than done, this is not as straight forward as it sounds like. Each hero has a set of four unique abilities, that can be triggered by using the Q, W, E and R keys. The key to your success in a match is how effectively you use these abilities, coupled with your teammates’ abilities. There are subtle permutations to every move, Dota 2 is a difficult game to master. “Impossible” might be the move accurate term.
Each team must pick their heroes keeping in mind the roles they will be playing in the match. Yes, Dota 2 is a team sport. You can flourish alone but if you’re not working as a team, your effort is worthless. Each hero has a specific role. A “carry” is a hero that does the maximum damage, but is deeply item dependent. A carry must farm for gold by ‘last-hitting’ creeps and enemy heroes in order to purchase good items. A “pusher” can push effectively through lanes and can take down towers with ease. An “initiator” can give your team the edge by initiating an advantage during a team fight. A ‘support’ gives positive buffs so that his teammates are more lethal and/or hardy in battle. A “nuker” can effectively do extremely high damage by using his/her abilities in combination. Any team, in order to succeed, must have a good mixture of all types of heroes.
As a hero, you’re not limited to your four abilities. You can choose from a selection of over 100 items to use, that give you unique buffs and upgrades. And you can’t keep using the same build on the hero, the items you choose depend on how the match progresses. Learning about the items is a time taking process, don’t jump into it, just absorb it as you move on. I suggest using the official “Suggested Items” for a hero to give you a good head start. But don’t stick to it, keep experimenting, different games with different opponents and allies require different builds. Dota 2 poses the epitome of strategy making and planning.
There are still many more subtle shifts that matter during a match. There is the jungle, where you can farm on neutral creeps, flank your enemies, and hide/escape if you’re overpowered. “Fog of War” plays a crucial part in the core mechanics of a match. Using your enemies line-of-sight against him can turn around matches.
Each hero requires a level of mastery completely exclusive of other heroes. If you’re Pudge the butcher and you can’t hook your opponents from behind the trees, you’re practically worthless. If you’re Phantom Assassin, and can’t use her swift attacks and critical damage to your advantage, you’ll be slaughtered at the flick of a finger. Dota 2 is punishing, especially to newcomers. Be assured that you won’t be getting any enjoyment from the game during your first month, as the Dota community is harsh to newcomers, namely, NOOBS. There is a lot of knowledge to be gained, a lot of hours to be invested, if you plan on getting some fun out of the game.
Speaking about fun, once you do learn your way around the game, this is when the game is rewarding at levels only select handful games can achieve. The pleasure obtained by defeating a tough team after a 50 minute match is exhilarating, and equally frustrating when you lose. Dota matches are subject to emotional breakdowns, coffee cup smashings, compulsive shouting, it can all get very dramatic, and I’ve been a victim/witness to all such tantrums. But for what its worth, its beautiful. And it gets the best out of you, competitively.
And Valve couldn’t have done any better with Dota 2. The game looks breathtaking, the graphics are lush, the art style is supreme, the animations are unique to every hero.It is a pleasure to watch heroes use their abilities, because the particle effects are just beautiful and really define the hero they’re coming from. Every hero has a personality, and Valve has made sure that it’s noticeable.
Even the hero dialogues are mind-blowing, and match a hero’s personality the way it should. Death Prophet’s Eastern European Witch dialogues are amongst my personal favourite. At times, you hear dialogues of heroes relative to the heroes they’re fighting with or against. That is just insane detailing by Valve. Valve hasn’t just taken DotA and upgraded it into a standalone Dota 2. Valve took it, understood it, lived it, digested it, and here we have what is just an excellent upgrade to an already brilliant DotA. A true version two point O.
Yes, the game is difficult and punishing to beginners. That is why Valve has added the “Learn to Play” section. Newcomers must complete this section, it is highly recommended. You can also practice with bots before taking your skills online. If the game has overwhelmingly discouraged you in the beginning, worry not. We’ve all been there. But the light at the end of the tunnel (if it even exists) is totally worth it.
*The game was reviewed on a Windows 8 PC with a GeForce GTX 770.