Americans. They're just like us, you know. Sure, they all take guns to work and drive limousines to the corner shop, but we should cherish our cross-Atlantic cousins. I had first-hand experience of their usefulness during my first game of Blizzard's take on the DOTA template – called, imaginatively, Blizzard DOTA.
I took to the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) – the clumsy name for games of League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth's ilk – grouped together with PC Gamer US's Josh Augustine and Lucas Sullivan. Josh chose to play tank, absorbing blows as Warcraft 3's beardy Muradin Bronzebeard.
Lucas played as Uther Lightbringer, his skills honed for healing his allies and managing and murdering the steady streams of AI munchkins streaming stupidly across the map. Uther's classified as a 'support' hero – the other three designations being the attackfocused 'DPS', the aforementioned tank, and a novel addition to the DOTA edifice called 'siege'.
Siege characters – including, fittingly, a Terran Siege Tank from StarCraft II – are best used as tower-killers. The static defences are different prospects in Blizzard's take on DOTA to their MOBA peers, as Blizzard's Johnny Ebbett explains. “We've made towers much softer targets. We gave them ammunition that slowly regenerates over time. You can take a tower down within a couple of minutes.”
The genre's traditionally been home to gaming's least patient community: Blizzard DOTA hopes to change that. “We feel there are certain mechanics that are really inflaming people.” Chief among these is the reliance on 'last hits' for players to earn the best rewards. “It creates all this degenerate play where everyone's holding back their best abilities because they want the kill.” Blizzard DOTA does away with individual statistics, giving players points instead for whaling away on an enemy with a friend as 'takedowns'.
But this egalitarian approach only stretches so far. Back on the BlizzCon show floor, I'm using my transatlantic friends to cover my retreat. I'm playing as StarCraft II's Nova. I've built on her potent attack power, buying damage upgrades from the in-game shop, and I stand at the edge of the battle sniping. The kill notifiers pop up: “Nova has killed Thrall, Nova has killed Arthas.” We encroach on their base together, PC Gamers US and UK leading the charge, and our enemies mount a lastditch defence. I activate Nova's fourth and best power, calling in an orbital strike and razing a circular area. Four heroes collapse under the onslaught, and we've won the day. For the first time in a DOTA game, I love my team – and I've only just met them.