If you’ll allow me to get a little hipster for a second you’ll be pleased to find out that I’ve been into the whole Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) scene since it first found its roots way back in Warcraft 3. Back then it was just another custom map that I played along with all the other customs I enjoyed, mostly because I suffered from some extreme ladder anxiety. Since then I’ve played my way through all of the DOTA clones that came out (Heroes of Newerth, Leaggue of Legends and even that ill fated experiment from GPG, Demigod) but none of them captured me quite as much as the seemingly official successor, DOTA 2, has.
Defense of the Ancients 2 should be familiar to anyone who played the original DOTA or one of the many games that followed it. In a team of 5 you compete as single heros, choosing from a wide selection who all have unique abilities and uses, pushing up one of three lanes with a bunch of NPC creeps at your side. The ultimate goal is the enemies ancient, a very well defended building that will take the concerted effort of all team members to reach and finally, destroy. There are of course many nuances to what would, on the surface, seem to be a simple game and it’s these subtleties which make the game so engrossing.
When compared to its predecessor that was limited by the graphics engine of WarCraft 3 DOTA2 stands out as a definite improvement. It’s not a graphical marvel, much like many of the MOBA genre, instead favoring heavily stylized graphics much like Blizzard does for many of their games. The recent updates to DOTA2 have seen some significant improvements over the first few initial releases both in terms of in-game graphics and the surrounding UI elements. Valve appears to be heavily committed to ensuring DOTA2’s success and the graphical improvements are just the tip of the iceberg in this regard.
Back in the old days of the original DOTA the worst aspect of it was finding a game and then hoping that no one would drop out prematurely. There were many 3rd party solutions to this problem, most of which were semi-effective but were open to abuse and misuse, but none of them could solve the problem of playing a game with similarly skilled players. DOTA2, like nearly every other MOBA title, brings in a matchmaking system that will pair you up with other players and also brings with it the ability to rejoin a game should your client crash or your connection drop out.
Unfortunately since DOTA2 is still in beta the matchmaking system is not yet entirely working as I believe it’s intended to. It does make the process of finding, joining and completing a game much more streamlined but it is blissfully unaware of how skilled a potential player is. What this means is that the games have a tendency to swing wildly in one teams favour and unlike other games where this leads to a quick demise (thus freeing you up toplay again) DOTA instead is a drawn out process and should you decide to leave prematurely you’ll be hit with a dreaded “abandoned” mark next to your record. This is not an insurmountable probelm though and I’m sure that future revision of DOTA2 will address this issue.
The core gameplay of DOTA2 is for the most part unchanged from back in the days of the original DOTA. You still get your pick from a very wide selection of heros (I believe most of the AllStars team are in there), the items have the same names and you still go through each of the main game phases (laneing, pushing, ganking) as the game progresses. There have been some improvements to take away some of the more esoteric aspects of DOTA2 and for the most part they’re quite welcome.
Gone are the days where crafting items required either in depth knowledge of what made what or squinting at the recipe text, instead you can click on the ultimate item you want to craft and see what items go in to make it. Additionally there’s a list of suggested items for you hero which, whilst not being entirely appropriate for every situation, will help to ease players into the game as they learn some of the more intricate aspects of iteming a character correctly. It’s still rather easy to draw the ire of players who think they know everything there is to know about certain characters (I’ll touch more on the community later) but at least you won’t be completely useless if you stick to the item choices the game presents for you.
Know which hero to pick is just as important as knowing how to item them and thankfully there are some improvements to the hero choosing system that should make do so a little easier for everyone. Whilst the hero picking has always made delineations between int/str/agi based heros you can now also filter for things like what kind of role the character fills like support, ganker or initiator. For public games though it seems everyone wants to play a carry (mostly because they’re the most fun) and there’s little heed paid to good group composition but this is not a fault of the game per se, but there is potential there for sexing up the lesser played types so that pub compositions don’t end up as carry on carry battles.
It’s probably due to the years of play testing that the original DOTA received but the heroes of DOTA2 are fairly well balanced with no outright broken or overpowered heroes dominating the metagame. There are of course heros that appear to be broken in certain situations (I had the pleasure of seeing Outworld Destroyer killing my entire team in the space of 10 seconds) but in reality it’s the player behind that character making them appear broken. This bodes well for the eSports scene that Valve is fostering around DOTA2 and they’re going to need to keep up this level of commitment if they want a chance of dethroning the current king, League of Legends.
The eSports focused improvements in DOTA2 are setting the bar for new game developers who have their eye on developing an eSports scene for their current and future products. The main login screen has a list of the top 3 spectated games and with a single click you can jump in and watch them with a 2 minute delay. This can be done while you’r waiting to join a game yourself and once your game is ready to play you’re just another click away from joining in on the action. It’s a fantastic way for both newcomers and veterans of the genre to get involved in the eSports scene, but that’s just he start of it.
Replays can be accessed directly from a player’s profile or downloaded from the Internet. Game casters can embed audio directly into the replay allowing users to watch the replay in game with the caster’s commentary.They can also watch the caster’s view of the game, use a free camera or using the built in smart camera that will automatically focus on the place where the most action is happening. It’s a vast improvement over how nearly all other games do their replays and Valve really has to be commended for the work they’ve done here.
For all the improvements however there’s one thing that DOTA2 can’t seem to get away from and that’s its elitist, almost poisonous community that is very hostile to new players. Whilst the scsreenshot above is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek example of the behavior that besots the DOTA2 community it still holds true that whilst many concessions have been made to make the game more palatable for newcomers the DOTA2 community still struggles with bringing in new players to the fold. League of Legends on the other hand crack this code very early on and the following success is a testament to how making the game more inviting for new users is the ultimate way to drive the game forward. I don’t have an answer as to how to fix this (and whilst I say LoL cracked the code I’m not 100% sure their solution is portable to DOTA2) and it will be very interesting to see how DOTA2 develops in the shaodw of the current MOBA king.
DOTA2 managed to engage me in a way that only one other game has managed to do recently and I belive there’s something to that. Maybe it’s a bit of nostalgia or possibly my inner eSports fan wanting to dive deep into another competitive scene but DOTA2 has really upped the MOBA experience that I first got hooked on all those years ago and failed to rekindle with all the other titles in this genre. I’d tell you to go out and buy it now but it’s still currently in beta so if you can get your hands on a key I’d definitely recommend doing so and if you’re new to this kind of game just ignore the haters, you won’t have to deal with them for long.
Defense of the Ancients 2 is currently in beta on PC. Approximately 60 hours of total game play were undertaken prior to this review with a record of 32 wins to 36 losses.
When I switched from being a salaried employee to a contractor I underwent a paradigm shift in regards to how I spend my time. You see when you charge by the hour you start to think about how much something costs you to do if you do it yourself vs getting someone else to do it. If there’s a solution to a problem and it’s available for less than my current hourly rate then it’s good value for me to get that rather than trying to develop a solution on my own. This also comes back to how I spend my leisure time as it becomes hard to turn off that part of my brain that tells me every hour used purely in the pursuit of leisure is an hour that could be spent generating some income, although I haven’t seemed to have any trouble with that for the past month or so. 😉
The majority of my spare time is spent playing games simply because they’re by far one of the most relaxing activities for me. Additionally the bit of blog fodder that I get from completing one and then writing a review of it (which are some of my most enjoyable posts to write) are yet another benefit of spending my down time immersed in these virtual worlds. Unfortunately though I’m no longer the young 20 something university student I used to be and the amount of time I can spend on games is quite limited when compared to days gone by. Thus, whilst I still find time to cram in an epic gaming session or two every so often, the vast majority of my games are either played out over the course of a month or in a few shorter sessions in a single weekend. I think this is where my love of cinematic games has sprouted from as they’re an intense experience that I could conceivably sit down and play through in one session.
However the gaming community always seems to lament games that have a length that’s shorter than about 20 hours. One great example of this was Heavenly Sword, arguably Sony’s flagship game on it’s only recently debuted PlayStation 3. The hype leading up to the release of the game was nothing short of fever pitch and the demo released about a month prior wowed everyone who played it, even with it’s foreboding that the game itself would be drastically shorter than everyone was used to. On release it became apparent that the game totaled at most about 6~8 hours of game play and the critics slammed it for that very reason. Granted the game had set itself up for this as the hype far outpaced the resulting game but really the length, at least for people like me, wasn’t such a let down as many of the critics would have had us believe.
When time is at a premium game length starts to become something of a concern. It’s for that exact reason why I’ve avoided games like Final Fantasy as whilst they are amongst some of the most highly praised games on Sony’s gaming platform they’re also an incredible time sink, with play times exceeding 40 hours not uncommon. Ah ha! I hear you saying, but you reviewed Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins, games with lengths approaching that of the games you said you avoid! OK you got me, there are notable exceptions that I can and will make the effort to play through usually on the backs of raving reviews from friends and the gaming community at large. Still a game like Modern Warfare 2 which packed only 6 hours of game play which I managed to blast through in 2 sittings rates as highly as some of those longer games despite its short length. There is also Heavy Rain of course, but I think everyone knows how much I enjoyed that and I’ve gushed enough about it to last everyone a lifetime 🙂
I think the crux of the matter is that the opportunity cost for longer games is so high that I have a tendency to shy away from them, lest my hours be wasted. Thankfully in this day and age of instant on access to information I usually have a good feel if a game will be worth it before taking the plunge, but at heart I’m still a completionist and I can’t stand letting games go unfinished. I think that’s the reason why Bayonetta and Red Faction: Guerrilla bug the hell out of me as they’re just painful enough for me to not want to finish them but at the same time I’d love to get them off my list forever. Still slogging through something that just isn’t fun for completion’s sake doesn’t rate highly on a cost benefit analysis for my time, so I guess I’ll just have to live with that.
There is of course games that have significant amounts of replay value which kind of skew my whole game length argument. Something like Lumines for example probably only has about 6 hours of game play in it total however I still find myself picking up my copy of it from time to time for a 30 minute bash to try and beat my top score. That’s probably more thanks to the genre than anything else as casual games like that tend to have quite short single play throughs however the competition element with a healthy sprinkling of procedural generation makes them almost infinitely replayable, something that the casual gaming market craves.
My point is that for any game you might play the length is somewhat of a subjective metric to use when judging its quality. Certain genres of games will come with expectations of play times such as RPGs being traditionally quite long and cinematics being short, but overall a games length is no measure of its quality. There is of course the argument to be made that a game is too short and therefore omits details or similarly a game that is too long that drags the plot out longer than it really needs to be. Still for a game that’s worth its salt the length seems to barely matter as I’ll remember how I enjoyed my time playing it, not how long.
That probably explains my past addictions to various MMORPGs over the past 5 years….