Dota 2

Dota 2 Review

A lifetime to master.

There’s an adage that the Dota 2 community often quotes when someone identifies themselves as a new player. “Welcome to Dota 2!” They say, with open arms, before concluding with, “You suck.” They're not wrong: for the first dozen hours or so, you'll be bombarded with too much information and an often unforgiving community of extremely competitive players. But if you persevere, Dota 2 becomes one of the most rewarding and tense team-based multiplayer experiences anywhere in gaming. It's an achievement owed to uncompromising depth, a ridiculously generous free-to-play model, and the great features developer Valve has built up around it.

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Valve's artists deserve praise for a crisp and readable style that, after some practice, makes it possible to tell what's going on even in a massive brawl where both teams of five colorful fantasy characters collide and cast spells at once. However, credit for the intimidatingly complex design of Dota 2 belongs to the original Defense of the Ancients mod (known as DOTA) for Warcraft III, which kicked off the MOBA genre. Valve (after hiring on DOTA's key developers) has copied that formula almost to the letter, and as a result Dota 2 has become notorious even among its MOBA peers for its difficulty – and that’s totally justified. It’s a double-edged sword that leads to both a terrifying introduction and a world-class competitive game at the highest levels.

As such, you should not expect to have fun your first day playing... or even your first week. That sounds like a cardinal sin of gaming, but there’s method to this madness. In short, Dota 2 is a deeply layered construct of systems, and to survive you need to understand every single one and how they interact with one another. Everything from learning to work as a member of a coordinated team to the counter-intuitive practice of killing your own AI units to deny the enemy experience points and gold they’d get from doing it themselves, and understanding the effects of hundreds of complex abilities like Bloodseeker’s Rupture (which deals huge damage with every step you take) is a big barrier to entry. Even figuring out which of the 102 heroes (and counting) fits you best is a time-consuming challenge.

Initially, you’re thrown into the deep end to flounder, trying out any hero that makes the slightest bit of sense. The selection is bewildering: playing as Riki with his permanent invisibility from level 6 on is an obvious choice, as it's hard to kill what you can't see. Drow Ranger, perhaps, with her obscene damage the instant she unlocks her "ultimate" ability at level 6, and her slowing Ice Arrows that enable both escapes and setting up a kill. On the more complex end of the spectrum you have choices like the armour-manipulating Templar Assassin, or the incredibly mobile Storm Spirit, who can dart around the battlefield and avoid damage by simply not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. On top of that there are well over 100 items to choose from within each game, each with their own ways of manipulating and enhancing your stats and suite of active abilities.

Your learning has just begun when you've settled on what roles, heroes, and builds suit you best – you also have to adapt based on what other players choose. If the other team plays a Riki, you need to compensate with an emphasis on detection. Go up against Bloodseeker and his hideously powerful Rupture will force you to carry around a Town Portal Scroll to get home in a hurry.

To grasp the subtleties of how heroes interact and fight you have to do more homework on the different kinds of damage and how they’re mitigated; how to prevent one type of spell from affecting you, and when you use that countermeasure; how the different kinds of aggro work, and when you need to manipulate them; the timers (which aren't made visible), and how to optimise your play around them.

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Even after all that, to avoid being caught at a disadvantage you must be taught the nuanced techniques that can make or break games, which Dota 2 seems to almost belligerently hide from new players. Tricks like pulling a group of neutral monsters out of their home so that a new group can spawn to effectively double the rewards are never hinted at. This forced me to read and educate my outside of Dota 2, which had the positive effect of introducing me to the player community and making me feel like a part of it. It's almost like an oral tradition that binds together a tribe.

This is a balancing system that could only exist in a game where everybody has access to all heroes, and Valve wisely obliges. All of Dota 2, including its growing cast of 102 characters, is available from the moment you complete the all-too-brief tutorial. And that delicate system can only survive if the items for sale have zero effect on gameplay.

Again, Valve has come through. Only cosmetic enhancements, almost all of which are created by the community and held to a very high standard, and tournament goodies (such as tickets for viewing live events) are for sale. There’s not a single paid advantage that could have the slightest impact on the in-game balance, and that’s an amazing situation unrivalled among Dota 2’s closest competition.

Pretty much everything I've praised Dota 2 for, outside of being totally free, is taken directly from the outstanding original mod. Where Valve has taken initiative to make Dota 2 a significantly better experience is in everything surrounding it, including improving the pre-game matchmaking interface, supporting the community of professional and avid players, and even allowing artists to create and sell cosmetic items on the Dota 2 store.

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Perhaps most important are the steps Valve has taken toward taming the hyper-competitive community. Besides matchmaking, guilds, and a wide variety of different game modes, the things that Valve hasn’t done are just as noticeable than the things it has. For example, there’s no concede button to throw in the towel on a losing match, and though you earn a matchmaking rank to ensure you're placed competitively, it's not visible to other players. If withholding those features seems like a bad idea on the surface, their sacrifice was not in vain – it prevents irritable players from dropping out of a match at the first sign of defeat, or when they're teamed up with people whose stats don't meet their exacting standards – a real frustration in other MOBAs.

LIkewise, Valve recognized that less is more when it comes to unlockables. There’s no progression outside of the game that will have the slightest mechanical effect inside of it. Without artificial goals to aim for, the matches are left with a strong and refreshing sense of fairness and purity, where everything that can influence success or failure is right there on the battlefield and in your head.

In my personal experience, Valve’s ideas work. I've played for over 1,000 hours, and my encounters with people unwilling to act decently towards their fellow players have become increasingly rare over the course of Dota 2’s development. It has never been more friendly than it is now – though that’s a relative comparison. Even with these enhancements, the best way to play Dota 2 will always be with a team of four friends.

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Valve’s dogged desire to preserve DOTA's design perfectly is a double-edged sword in some ways. There are a few design choices that feel needlessly archaic and slavish to the original, such as the way Blink Dagger will arbitrarily shave 200 units of movement from your blink if you overestimate the distance, or how the towers will occasionally refuse to acknowledge your attempts to turn aggro away from yourself during a siege. They feel like relics of previous era, traditions carried on for the sake of tradition.

As for its future prospects, things look bright for Dota 2. Each year of its long beta period is defined by huge balance patches that make widespread changes to keep things fresh and interesting. Given Valve’s excellent ongoing support of Team Fortress 2, its other free-to-play game, it’s a safe bet that there will always be something to learn and something new to master for the foreseeable future. Patches are released on a weekly basis, and on any given day there are multiple professional games to watch. Even the cosmetics are constantly changing, with community chests and themed events occurring regularly throughout the year. Dota 2 isn’t static in any sense of the word, from the wild variety of each game to the overarching sense that it will never be finished being made.


Dota 2 deserves its intimidating reputation, and it probably won’t suit you if you’re looking to play casually. There’s a huge time investment before you can even enjoy a game, let alone feel competent at it. But once you start to learn its secrets, there’s a wild and exciting variety of play here that’s unmatched, even by its peers. It’s a challenge of knowledge as well as reflexes, and success is a rush. The fact that it’s completely and totally free to play in the way we wish all free-to-play games could be isn’t just one of the most generous propositions anywhere in gaming, it creates a level playing field where skill and cooperation is paramount. May the best team win.

In This Article

Dota 2

Dota 2 promises to take the unique blend of online RTS and RPG action that has made Dota popular with tens of millions of gamers and expand upon it in every way.
Dota 2 Review
Dota 2 is an ocean-deep pool of rewarding nuance and strategy, but it will drown newcomers.
The search platform that cares 😱😡🙂 Dota 2 Review - IGNThe search platform that cares 😱😡🙂 Dota 2 Review - IGN