Dota 2 review
There’s still a tremendous amount of good to the Dota community. You will, from time to time, be matched with great people or find yourself taking on enemies who have a sense of humour. Then there’s the culture that surrounds the game – the endless in-jokes, the top-quality support for the professional scene and the depth of discussion surrounding mechanics and strategy. Community membership might not be something you download with the game client, but it’s part of the package: if you’re considering devoting a serious amount of time to Dota, these benefits have to be held in balance against the odd tangle with an internet dickhead.
Valve have matched the community’s enthusiasm for its roster of characters with designs that match its superlative work on Team Fortress 2. Every hero has a distinctive silhouette and colour scheme, and absurdly in-depth writing and voice-acting peppers each match with personality and humour. “We should spar when this is over,” mutters Tusk, should he happen to wander into a lane alongside Bristleback. There’s no reason for these throwaway dialogues to be in the game except that they’re fun and they compound the feeling that no two games will ever be quite the same. I’ve played more than seven hundred matches, and I’m still hearing voice lines that I’ve never heard before.
I can’t think of another multiplayer game where that’s the case. The community is intimately involved in the game’s microtransaction system, too. Creators populate the store with cosmetic items that enable you to tweak the designs of your favourite characters, either by buying them directly, buying a key for a random loot chest, or by earning them through a post-match drop. The entirety of Dota 2’s payment structure is bound up in cosmetics and ways to more deeply involve yourself in the e-sports scene: there are no heroes to buy and no premium account upgrades that affect the balance of play. Dota 2 is possibly the only competitive free-to-play game that is totally uncompromised by its business model.
Valve also deserve credit for Dota 2’s standout e-sports support. Matches can be streamed in the client, enabling you to spectate directly alongside in-game commentators. You can earn item rewards by watching your favourite teams, and if you link your Steam and Twitch accounts you can do this while watching matches in a browser. And then there’s the Compendium – a kind of betting book for the International tournament. It supports a pro-player collecting minigame that combines professional gaming with the mentality behind 1990s Panini football sticker books, in a way that is so obviously brilliant that it’s astonishing that it took this long to be invented. The notion that someone entirely new to e-sports might receive a player card after a match, decide to look them up and become a fan is as exciting as it is eminently plausible.
Dota 2 is in a strong place right now. It’s rewarding and sociable like few other games, and despite its vast popularity it still feels like a secret waiting to be discovered. The next few months will be crucial: it’s currently the best expression of Valve’s progressive attitude towards players, and if it can continue on that track it describes a future for online gaming that is far more hopeful than the one we’re used to.
That’s the big picture, however. For me, Dota 2 will continue to be about the friends that I learned to play it with, the ones I’ve made through playing it, and that ceaseless, pointless singing.
A deep and rewarding competitive game that becomes something special when taken on in the company of others.