Dota 2 review

Chris Thursten at

Dota 2 is a remake of Defence of the Ancients, the Warcraft III mod that laid out the principles of levelling up a hero, pushing lanes and knocking down towers. Many of the games that followed the original DotA sanded down its rougher edges in pursuit of new audiences or alternative business models. That’s not the case here: this is the lane-pushing game in its original, most intricate form. Getting into Dota 2 means committing time to learning a game whose mechanics have been designed with complexity rather than accessibility in mind.

A suite of singleplayer tutorials explains the basics, and Valve have done well here to introduce some of Dota’s more esoteric concepts alongside the familiar business of attacking enemies, using items and deploying skills. These tutorials are followed up with a series of bot matches using a limited pool of heroes that eventually opens up into full online play. It’s inevitable, however, that new players will feel unprepared for their first proper match: like any sport, experience is a better teacher than time spent practising in isolation.

It helps that it’s fun. Hero abilities are impactful and satisfying to land, and scale well with the ability level of the player wielding them. Lion’s Finger of Death power, for example, only requires you to click on the right enemy to see them obliterated by a searing bolt of lightning, and the satisfaction you receive from its use in your first hours with the game will be matched later when you land your first long-ranged Sacred Arrow with Mirana, a skillshot that scales in power the further it travels. As you become familiar with the surface details of the game you’ll naturally start to understand its deeper complexities: the knowledge of turn rates, attack animations and stat scaling that become important at higher levels of play.

There’s something tremendously rewarding about learning to play Dota. Part of this is the vast amount of information you’re asked to absorb: the abilities, items, rules, situations and solutions that constitute its secret language. Then there’s the application of that knowledge, the clutch choices that determine the outcome of skirmishes, sieges and ultimately the game. Victory feels like a genuine accomplishment in a way that it doesn’t in the vast majority of other games, because of the sheer number of variables in play: the best matches are like passing through a storm of chance and chaos with four other people and emerging from the other side clutching a win and, if you’re lucky, a couple of new hats.

Then there’s losing. Defeat is a necessary part of the equation – without it, those victories mean nothing – but it stings, and for every energising loss that teaches you something there’s a drag-out, mood-crushing face-stomp. Just as winning becomes more meaningful when you feel like the game is testing you personally, so defeat will sometimes feel like having all of your personal failures writ large.

Certainly, there will be people who make it their business to tell you that you suck. I sometimes feel like the hostility of the Dota community is overstated, but there’s no denying that abuse occurs with regularity. A mixture of competitive pressure, language barriers and anonymity create an environment where immature people feel like it’s acceptable to say terrible things to one another. This isn’t unique to Dota, but it’s part of the experience and it’d be completely understandable if it put you off playing the game. The point, though, is that this negativity stems from the same forces that make the game so special: passion, expertise and personal investment. I bet sailors can be right pricks to each other sometimes, too.

Valve have implemented systems to help police player behaviour, but it’s an area where they could do more. You can commend or report players for a variety of respectively positive and negative behavioural traits – friendliness and leadership on one side, text abuse and intentional griefing on the other.

Commendations are listed on player profile pages as badges of honour, whereas receiving a sufficient amount of reports in a given period can result in players having their chat rights shut off for a variable amount of time. The effectiveness of the system is hard to judge, but it clearly hasn’t been internalised by the community in the way that League of Legends’ player tribunals have. It’s common to see players – often the worst offenders – demanding that people be reported for simply having a bad game, while requesting commendations for themselves because they scored a lot of kills.