Learn to control pets with Dota 2's Lone Druid

Josh Augustine

We love games like Dota 2 , League of Legends , and Smite , but the huge number of skills needed to master their complex gameplay can scare new players away. That's why, twice a month, we pick a key skill and teach you how to master it, using a character that particularly excels at or relies on it.

This week, we're taking a look at how to effectively control a pet and use it to its full potential in Dota 2. It's not just fanboy rage fueling Dota 2 players who insist their game be labeled as an ARTS instead of a MOBA—there are some very distinct RTS elements that have evolved with the game since it's early days as an RTS mod, including how pet handling functions. Let's break down the mechanics and see how we can use them to our advantage.

The skill — Control A Pet

There are plenty of creatures on the Dota 2 map that you can't control (without using Chen, Enchantress, or Helm of the Dominator ), but occasionally the game entrusts your hero with the life of another creature/totem/ghoul that you must protect and use to decapitate your enemies. Pets are a bit wild by nature, and it'll take some fast thinking and deft keyboard work to keep both your hero and its pets performing at their full potential.

The other, more intense level of pet control is controlling multiple heroes at the same time. If someone leaves a match you're in (which can happen quite a bit against AI bots), Dota 2 summons its RTS roots to let you overcome teammate treachery by taking control of the abandoned hero in addition to your own.

Organized teams can also choose to allow allies to control their hero or pet units while they're still online and playing too. You won't see this often, but it's a good way to get help controlling pets like Nature's Prophets' Treants or a Meepo if they're sent to a different lane.

Controlling more than one hero unit is extremely challenging, fairly crazy, and only mildly effective. But with the right moves, you can turn a guaranteed loss into a hard-fought win. And the bragging rights earned from a win where you controlled multiple heroes is legendary.

The hero — Lone Druid

Lone Druid relies on his pet more than any other hero in Dota 2. It's not uncommon for his giant bear companion to be more useful to the team than the druid, Sylla. And let me be clear: this is a bear who is dangerously close to achieving a mohawk , so he absolutely deserves your respect.

Lone Druid is an Agility hero that can be played as melee or ranged, and can excel at pushing, jungling, and carrying. His Spirit Bear is meant to be active at all times, which can easily be achieved if you don't casually send it to its death. It's useful to think of Sylla and his bear as two separate heroes you're in charge of. A common strategy is to outfit the Spirit Bear as melee DPS (with some light tank for jungling) and aura buffer/debuffer, while Sylla hangs back in ranged form to support and DPS.

This is the template we'll follow while we learn to manage pets, but don't be afraid to experiment with Sylla's melee bear form as well. Learning when to use each form is key to mastering Lone Druid, but will not be covered in this guide, which is focused on controlling pets.

Objective

Our goals this week are to master the mechanics of controlling your pet, look at some best habits at a big-picture level, and try to come up with clever ways to use pets to our advantage that might not be readily apparent to new players. All these skills should help you make the best of a bad situation when forced to control heroes abandoned by teammates. And of course the clarity of mind and concentration that we'll refine while mastering pet control in the heat of battle will come in handy even when you're on your own out there.

Builds and items

Lone Druid's fancy Spirit Bear likes to wear fancy clothes, and you're going to buy them for him. It's the only pet in Dota 2 that can equip items just like a hero can (Meepo's clones are technically naked above the feet...creepy). This gives Lone Druid massive scaling potential late-game with a total of 16 available item slots, but it also means that you're going to have to balance your item purchases between Sylla and Spirit Bear early on. And can we talk about something for a second? Frankly, I think it's a bit hypocritical to call yourself the Lone Druid and then constantly hang out with the most powerful pet in the game.

Secret evolution upgrade unlocked: Bipedal bears!

Start off the game with a Stout Shield for your Spirit Bear to help it last out in the jungle longer. Its ideal outfit will usually include Phase Boots, Orb of Venom, Vladmir's Offering, Radiance/Mjollnir/Assault Cuiriass, and Skull Basher. Hand of Midas is another good early item, just make sure you swap it to Lone Druid if you're going to use the active ability so that he can earn the XP from it.

That old guy following your ursa around will need some loot as well. At the start, Grab Sylla three Iron Branches, a Healing Salve, and some Tangos. The Healing Salves and Tangos can be used on him or Spirit Bear, whichever one needs them most. Over time, aim to pick up Tranquil Boots and build towards Cloak, Pipe of Insight, and situational items as the match warrants, like Ghost Scepter or Gem of True Sight. You can also trade in those boots for Boots of Travel late game, if you want more mobility (don't forget that you can teleport to Spirit Bear!). There are other ways to build Lone Druid, but for this guide, build Spirit Bear to catch and hurt enemies while Sylla stays alive and supports from range.

For abilities, max out your Summon Spirit Bear (Q) first, True Form (R) whenever it's available, then Synergy (E), and Rabid (W) last.

The basics

My very first Dota 2 match didn't go so well. I started with the mode least likely to incur rage: fighting bots with four strangers, which quickly became three strangers when our carry left the match before the first wave of creeps. Ten minutes later, another one bailed; and by the twenty minute marker, I found myself completely alone on the battlefield facing an entire army.

It wasn't the greatest welcoming committee for the community, but it did allow me to suddenly feel like a Dota god when I realized that I could control all of the heroes my allies had abandoned. I grabbed 'em all in one big mouse drag and tried to push mid-lane while shifting between five heroes I'd never seen before and spamming their abilities. I'll spare you the gory details, and just tell you that it didn't end well.

Gaining control

But that 25-abilities-at-my-fingertips adrenaline rush got me looking for pets in Dota 2. Many heroes have objects that do little more than follow you around, like Juggernaut's Healing Ward , which will get killed in one hit if you let it venture into danger, and some have pets that you have no real control of, like Undying's Tombstone zombies . Lone Druid's Spirit Bear requires more hands-on attention. The lazy bum is perfect content to sit back at your spawn point for the entire match if you don't actively tell it to move out with you.

Let's take a quick look at how the pet targeting AI works in Dota 2, so you know what you're getting into. Pets will auto-attack the nearest enemy that gets within a reasonable range of them. When that target dies, it will automatically swap to a new one if something's in range (if you leave auto-attack turned on in the settings). Outside of those rules, they're pretty darn dumb. If you start attacking a hero with Lone Druid, Spirit Bear's gonna keep doing his thing to creeps in the lane unless you specifically tell Spirit Bear that you want it to join in the assault.

Except for when the Spirit Bear detects its most delicious prey: Robots. Then it charges in blindly.

And, by default, you tell it the old-fashioned way: select it and order it like an RTS unit. Dota 2's default settings don't use modifier keys to let you issue pet commands while controlling your hero. Like a true RTS, you need to select any unit you want to control. But you can turn it on in the settings ("Unified Unit Orders"), and use Ctrl as the modifier key to issue pet commands. The usual RTS tools are also here to help you manage: you can drag-select units on screen and assign them a hotkey number on your keyboard to quick-select them later. You can also tap Tab while either your hero or its pet is selected to cycle between them.

Everyone will have their preferred method, but I like to assign Sylla to hotkey 1, my Spirit Bear to hotkey 3 and both selected on hotkey 2. Use whatever numbering order is most comfortable for you, though, because you'll be constantly swapping during battle.

As a sidenote for players dabbling in similar games, you can hold Alt while right-clicking to issue movement commands to your pet in League of Legends. There's no need to directly select your pet in LoL because none of the pets have activated abilities like Spirit Bear. Smite keeps it totally minimalistic by simply not having any pets you can control—if they spawn, they handle themselves.

jungle lone druid
Bear distracts 'em while you slash em!

Start simple

Fighting for last hits can get hectic, so let's start your first attempt at bear-wrangling in a nice, controlled environment. Go to the jungle, where following a few simple rules can keep you alive. Send in Spirit Bear first so it gets aggro and keep Sylla at range so he doesn't get hit. After the first few camps, Spirit Bear is going to be pretty low health. Don't let it die; the bear's death triggers a heavy damage hit onto Sylla. Instead, re-summon it with Sylla's Summon Spirit Bear to restore it to full health. Of course, only do this when the alternative is Spirit Bear dying—you're putting Summon Spirit Bear back on cooldown, which makes you vulnerable.

Jungling with Sylla in bear form, courtesy of his True Form ability, can be a little trickier as he's more likely to pull aggro from Spirit Bear in melee range, but you can easily manage it with a little positioning. Go ahead and practice with it to learn how melee hero targeting works with pets. Once you're comfortable, dive into the more advanced tactics on the next page.

Next page: Jumping into the lane, and taking advantage of the sometimes complex perks of pet ownership.

Advanced Tactics

Once you feel comfortable with the basic mechanics of swapping between multiple units, give it a try in lane. Having a pet with you lets you overcome the age-old problem of "two creeps are dying at the exact same moment, which one do I hit?" by simply hitting them both with your two separate auto-attacks. It's addictive, but the real trick is being able to recognize when it's too dangerous to have both Sylla and Spirit Bear up front racking up denies and busting open gold piñatas.

Spirit Bear doesn't care about your silly crystal walls—he'll maul you wherever you please.

Sometimes you have to use your pet to safely last-hit creeps while Sylla hangs as far back as possible. Spirit Bear will auto-attack enemy creeps (if you leave auto-attack enabled in the settings), but it won't deny unless you directly order it to do so, just like heroes.

Trying to rack up the absolute maximum amount of gold and XP in the lane is good, but keeping both Sylla and Spirit Bear alive is even better. You're vulnerable without Spirit Bear, and its summon cooldown is several minutes, so play it safe if you accidentally let it die. And don't feel bad when you try to frantically tell Sylla to retreat and realize you had your Spirit Bear selected instead, sending the poor Lone Druid into the time out box for a spell. It's happened to all of us.

If Spirit Bear does get in trouble, use its Return ability to teleport it back to Sylla (keep in mind that the ability can only be activated if you haven't taken damage from an enemy hero or hero-controlled unit in the last three seconds). The timing on this is something you'll want to master. Among many things, it allows you to tower dive onto an enemy hero, using Spirit Bear to root them in place with it's passive ability that gives every hit a chance to snare his target. It's perfect for setting up an ally alley-oop without having to suffer the consequences of overextending.

When you're too slow on that escape and the bear gets hit too hard, you can send it back to base to heal up on its own. Sylla can stay in lane and soak up XP and gold during the bear's trek.

And killing the enemy hero with a pet adds insult to the fatal injury.

This is the second phase of your advanced training: learning to use Spirit Bear away from Sylla. Spirit Bear can't attack when it's more than a moderate distance away from his partner in tree-hugging. If you want to see the exact distance, open up your console (~ key) and type in dota_range_display 1100 . This will put a green circle around your character that shows the maximum range Spirit Bear can be from Lone Druid and still attack. To remove the circle later, just type in dota_range_display 0 .

But there's still plenty of uses for sending Spirit Bear out on its own. First, it can function as a courier, buying and bringing items to Sylla on the front lines.

When it's not buying, rooting, or fighting, Spirit Bear is best sent spying. After you clear a jungle camp, send Sylla towards the next one and Spirit Bear towards the most likely route an invading enemy would take towards that next camp. You'll either see them early and be able to retreat safely, or have peace of mind when clearing the camp safely. Teleport Spirit Bear back to Sylla with its Return ability when you're ready to fight. This same scouting strategy can be used to check nearby jungle areas while in a lane, as well.

These are just some of the main uses of a combatless bear, but there are plenty more out there. Start looking for opportunities where having someone soak up damage would be helpful. Creep wave headed towards an undefended tower? Send Spirit Bear to absorb the hits instead of the building, or, even better, lead them into jungle creeps who will fight them for you.

Advanced training complete. You're now authorized to utilize the fabled Double Bear Full Mohawk strategy.

Master tweaks

If you can lane effectively with a pet, that's great, but remember that laning is pretty much square one for most heroes and there are a lot of tricks we've yet to master with Lone Druid.

For example, you can use Spirit Bear to block single-target skill-shot abilities from enemy heroes, like Pudge's Meat Hook . Doing so will require knowledge of your opponents' abilities, crazy quick reflexes to move your hero and your pet into the perfect positions, and getting a feel for your individual opponents' playstyle and timing. But when you pull it off, it feels great. Of course, most of Dota 2's skill shots affect areas rather than the first target it hits, so you're mostly just hoping to bait the ability casts by pressuring them with Spirit Bear. Every ability cast at him instead of an actual hero on your team (I hope Spirit Bear doesn't maul me for saying that), is a small victory.

And, of course, it works both ways. You can also use Spirit Bear to leap-frog friendly abilities forward, like Dazzle's Shadow Wave to deal extra damage to the enemy heroes from distance or Lich's Ice Armor to slow enemy attackers if they try to hit Spirit Bear.

When you hit a tough spot, just look back at this awesome art and be inspired to push on.

Start to experiment with Sylla's Bear Form in lane as well, and learn when its extra defenses and melee boost outweigh the cons of losing ranged attacks and moving slower. It's impossible to give blanket rules for when to shift forms, but you'll get the feel of it as you play and size up your opponents in each match.

Some general guidelines to get you started: True Form (Bear Form) is usually the best choice outside of laning. It makes Lone Druid more tanky and increases his damage output, if he can afford to get into melee range.

No matter what Sylla's doing, Spirit Bear can set up some easy kills for your team. But learning when to push him onto enemy heroes is more art more than science. You need to be willing to send it into danger, but don't want to offer it up as a free sacrifice. Its passive abilities give it a chance to root its target (and the Orb of Venom you hopefully bought for it adds a slowing effect), and it can sprint in crazy fast with the right items.

Learn to recognize when a teamfight is about to engage, and send the Spirit Bear in after a squishy that your team is ready to pounce on, or to block a path that they might try to use as an escape. Outside of team fights, use Spirit Bear to check treelines or trap enemy heroes trying to pester your team from the jungle.

And of course, your magnum opus will be when you find yourself in an abandoned co-op game vs. bots and you take control of all five heroes and manage to micromanage them to victory singe-handedly. Once you've done that, you will be declared an official pet master. Fair warning: that's going to be at least 10-15 different abilities to manage, so if you get overwhelmed easily you might want to just focus on making two of them efficient, and just let the others auto-attack between ults.

Technically, this is still a solo Roshan kill.

Your homework

Happy pet taming this week, Dota 2 all-stars. As always, you can download Dota 2 on Steam . You'll need a beta invite if you aren't already in, but Valve has been giving them out like stale Halloween candy, so it shouldn't be hard to find one. If you need one, ask in the comments below and a PCG reader will likely help you out. Once you're in the beta, all of the heroes, including Lone Druid, are 100% free, so you can practice with him right away.

Five goals to aim for as you learn to control pets with Lone Druid:

1. Root an enemy hero with your Spirit Bear when it matters most, and your team gets the kill.

2. Let Spirit Bear revel in the victory of getting a last-hit on an enemy hero.

3. Teleport your Spirit Bear out of battle with Return when it has less than 20 health left.

4. Clear the entire jungle without dying.

5. Fill all 16 available item slots in a single game.

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