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The NDA lifted on the Dota 2 beta early this winter, but I haven’t had access to it so I’ve had zero coverage to provide. Just yesterday, though, I got my invite so here’s my preliminary take on Valve’s direction for the MOBA genre.

UPDATE: After more play, I’ve updated my preview. Click through and go to the end for my amended take.

Dota 2

I’ve played two games so far, both with just the AI so I could get a have my learning pains without screwing up a full match, and it’s been rough to say the least. The differences are somewhat dramatic. Gold is lost on death, so it’s good that you can shop while out laning/fighting and then pick your stuff up when you return to base or have your courier mule – who looks like a dead-ringer for Shrek’s Donkey – bring it to you. I played as the Windrunner both games, an archer/ranger type who seems straight forward enough to me. What took me time was learning the mechanics of the game itself.

Dota 2You can level up one of your abilities each level, or you can pad your stats directly. This was new to me, so I didn’t know exactly which was more beneficial. Should I ignore the stat boosts and just level my abilities, or should I buff my stats and hope they affect my abilities enough to compensate? I never did, in my two games so far, come to a definitive conclusion. The AI teammates I worked with were somewhat reliable and communicated well enough. You can see in the above screenshot that my ally Bruni Bot is informing the group that he’s pushing the top lane. This helped coordinate the game but since I couldn’t return the gesture I was constantly playing catch up with the AI’s strategy. However, getting a heads-up to defend a sieged lane or join a strong push was nice compared to the mute bots of League of Legends.

Dota 2

Here was my downfall. In my second game, I died 11 times, eight of those to Lina. She simply outclassed every other character on the map by such a huge margin it wasn’t even funny. In my first game I died to her time and again as well. It was beyond frustrating. In fact, the whole other team was better then mine. I don’t know if I was supposed to counterbalance that, but it made for a decidedly hard game.

dota2pre_masses

The team battles were often short and unsatisfying affairs. One team – usually the AI team – would wipe the floor with the other in just a few shots. This, compared to the somewhat more tactical League of Legends fights I’m used to, was a reason for one or two of my deaths (the rest were because I just got straight outplayed). The first game I played got cut short, but the second drug on and on. Around the 60 minute mark our towers were mostly down and the AI was having casual romps in our base. I got killed twice in our sanctuary/fountain when the AI would corner me there. That brings up one of my complaints.

Dota 2

The AI seemed geared to gang up on the player character. I imagine this would be less of an issue in co-op vs. AI, and a non-issue in straight pvp, but here it seemed blatant. The bots would charge past my teammates and minions to slaughter me, regardless of the damage they took. This is an old programming strategy to try and balance out humans vs. bots and cover up for lacking AI, but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant.

Dota 2

In the end my team won, no thanks to me (I was dead again – actually, so was almost my whole team). I actually died the second fewest times on my side, but I also had the fewest assists and killed no one. Here you can see the competitive imbalance. Agnes Bot (as Lina) was heads and shoulders above everyone else, and while their whole team was at the level cap of 25, three of us were at level 20 or below with no one at the cap. My last hits counter is pretty sad, but Archy Bot (as Sniper) was primarily to blame. He was with me most of the game beat me to last hits for the duration of the match (as seen in his 361 to 113 last hit advantage over me). We won the match, I believe, on two fronts. For one, whenever I got range on a turret, I unleashed my ultimate ability on it which dropped them in a hurry, and I took out at least five turrets that way (the two top lane ones, the second middle lane one, and the first ones inside their base on the top and middle lanes). The second reason we probably won is because the AI team wouldn’t press it’s advantage. Like I said above, they were in our base around the 60 minute mark, but never really capitalized on it. I don’t know why that is, honestly.

So what did I find out? For one, I love the interface overall. The layout is well thought out and everything is clear and easy to understand and use. The gameplay seems more complicated and frantic then I was used to in other games of this type. There were some very nice touches like trees being destroyable (and eatable, which was weird) and the overall feel was somehow more dynamic. If I were to make any suggestions from what I’ve seen so far, it’s for a better communication or explanation of the items and the shop in general. I lost precious time futzing with the store interface, which tells me that it could use some work. In the end, though, this was just my first opinion of the beta. Time will tell if they iron things out before release.

Alphasim out.

UPDATE: I’ve played some more and I’ve gotten just a little better, with my best line being 3 kills, 7 deaths and 16 assists as Zeus and in that time I’ve come to a few more conclusions. My first observation is that this game is far more hardcore then League of Legends. I saw that before, but now it’s incredibly evident. My second point of note is that my allegation that the game was using cheap ‘kill the player’ AI was out of line. When I was playing my game as Zeus, I found that early on while I was keeping up with the AI they did not single me out like they did later when I was lagging behind. That means that they were targeting me for being the weakest and not the human player.  That’s allot more acceptable.

My last point is that the AI is, in general, kind of clumsy. I would see them say they were going to ‘push mid’ or something and then languish about a quarter of the way down the lane before wandering back to the base with a “well, we tried,” attitude. They seem to have extreme ADD.

Of course, that doesn’t matter to 95% of players (or more) since playing against real people is the true goal of the game. However, if Valve is going to include the bots, they should be expected to be able to play a solid game, right? We’ll see how they play out in the future – and maybe I’ll get into a PvP game, too.

Alphasim out. Again.

(originally posted 3/2/12)