Every Saturday, we’ll highlight a Dota 2 custom game that is fun, playable, and relatively bug-free. To find a custom game, go to the ‘Custom Games’ tab in Dota 2 and enter the name as we’ve provided it in the search box in the top right—in this case, Dota IMBA.
Dota IMBA is like normal Dota turned up to 11. In the words of its creators, ‘it’s what would happen if Icefrog went mad, and buffed every hero 100 patches in a row’. Sniper’s ult hits everything in its path. Pugna’s ward can steal spells. Techies mines can move.
Discovering new versions of each spell is fun in and of itself: it recaptures the feeling from when you first started playing and it seemed like Dota’s box of tricks would never run out. At the same time, because nearly everything is a tweaked version of something from the main game, the experience is rarely overwhelming. The roles of each hero are the same for the most part, and you’ve got a rough idea of what each hero is capable of—it’s like jumping in after missing a dozen patches. A dozen ridiculous, whimsical patches made in a world where Dota doesn’t have to be a serious, ultra-balanced competitive sport and can instead embrace its silly side.
The same philosophy is applied to items: Shadowblade gives you free pathing, Force Staff pushes people twice as far and Magic Wands can gather charges from across the map. Dagons can be upgraded to level ten, and multiple Divine Rapiers get assimilated into each other while increasing all the damage that you do—not just right clicks. As with hero abilities, reading the new item descriptions invokes a similar excitement to going through patch notes, delighting in the myriad of new possibilities on offer. There are a bunch of entirely new late game items too, which combined with all the other changes means you can’t rely on your usual builds. (Pro tip: Because Branches only cost 5 gold, it’s worth starting with a wand and filling up any gaps in your inventory with branches.) Again, existing knowledge provides a framework to go off on while improvising around and adapting to the new stuff.
Don’t get me wrong, Dota IMBA is still a competitive game. Playing well requires using all the same skills as normal Dota. Given just how much more deadly everyone is, I’d even say it punishes mistakes more harshly: put a toe out of line in lane and the chances are your opponents will take you apart. The importance of each last hit and deny is increased too, as each creep kill grants a lot more gold. While this is a neat way of adding more tension to otherwise slow parts of the game, it does mean that teams and individual players tend to pull away from each other faster. You can feel the lack of skill-based matchmaking hurting IMBA more than other custom games, with matches often turning into stomps.
Fortunately, the pain of being trampled on—and the boredom of trampling over others—is offset by the host of comeback mechanics IMBA introduces. Killing heroes of a higher level gives you much more gold, increasing dramatically the further they are ahead and the longer their killstreak. Towers get stronger with each one that gets knocked down, firing faster and gaining versions of some hero abilities such as cold snap or fury swipes. I especially like how the ancient itself turns into a boss fight, throwing out ultimates as its health gets whittled down. It gives the defending team something to rally around, potentially tipping the scales back in their favour if the attackers aren’t careful. I’d say the ancient might actually be a bit too tough to kill, but the devs agree with me – a recent patch toned down its abilities so teams don’t feel punished for winning too quickly. Even without these changes, the fact that each hero does much more damage means that it’s easier to kill opponents when playing from behind, using positioning and teamplay to compensate for the power gulf.
Increasing the power of each hero tends to exaggerate the roles they play. Heroes that traditionally have an early game focus will dominate even more than usual at the start, while hard carries can become unstoppable. Snowball heroes fair particularly well: characters like Templar Assassin and Storm Spirit do better and better the more momentum they manage to gain. I’ll cop to being a little biased, given that it’s the playstyle I always gravitate towards. Still, I had a lot of fun supporting too –Witch Doctor’s paralysing cask is one of the most excruciating stuns in the main game, and in IMBA, with the number of jumps doubled, it’s obscene. Admittedly, trying to stop an immortal level 35 Anti-Mage later in the same game was less fun.
You could say it would be a bit silly for me to complain about balance problems in a game mode literally called ‘Imbalanced’, but look, they walked right into it. All heroes are overpowered, but some heroes are more overpowered than others. Some heroes haven’t had their abilities entirely reimagined, though they’ll usually have drastically altered cooldowns, damage values or mana costs. Still, the ones with orange text in their descriptions to show that new effects have been added are generally more powerful. Omniknight in particular is a nightmare, with the workshop forum page calling for a much needed nerf.
In fairness, that’s all part of the fun. If you’ve ever wanted to fulfil your fantasy of stomping around as an Invoker with no cooldown on invoke, or a Pudge with the size and strength of Roshan, then Dota IMBA is a custom game worth checking out.
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