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, The Predator.
I’m a tiny, slow, vulnerable Invoker, and I’m being chased by a gigantic Phantom Assassin. She’s killed a bunch of my fellow Invokers already, and she’s closing in on me. She’s the predator, and I’m the prey.
In this custom game, Phantom Assassin is simply known as ‘Assassin’, and one of her abilities allows her to turn invisible and rush down hapless wizards. As a survivor, I have a selection of utility spells—a heal, Blink, the ability to spawn trees a la Nature’s Prophet’s Sprout, and a fireball that knocks opponents back—but very little damage. To win, I need to either survive until the timer runs down or knock Assassin into a flaming pit on the left-hand side of the large, square playing field.
Now I’m the only survivor left. Assassin uses an AoE damage ability, but I avoid it. I run directly for the mouth of the pit, anticipating that she’ll use invisibility to close the distance—I have almost no health left. Instead she rushes me down, and I’m forced to use Blink to teleport around her. She turns invisible. I guess at her position, line up a fireball between myself and the pit, and fire. It connects, revealing her, sending her flying into the pit to be destroyed. Survivors win, with three seconds on the clock.
That was the moment that I became a fan of The Predator, an asymmetrical competitive mode with a bunch of new characters. Although a given round is divided into two teams—up to seven survivors, all Invokers, versus a single predator playing one of several heroes—it’s actually a free for all. The goal is to earn the most points as an individual over the course of many rounds, which means surviving as Invoker and scoring kills as the predator when it’s your turn.
This inspires a dog-eat-dog mentality that is a really good fit for multiplayer of this type. Traditionally, asymmetrical games like Evolve or competitive Left 4 Dead place a heavy emphasis on cooperation between members of the weaker faction and don’t leave much room for strategy when that cooperation breaks down. Here, that’s a feature. The survivors really do need each other in order to defeat the predator, which is a net gain overall, but sometimes sacrificing a stranded member of the group is a good strategy for winning the match.
Having to knock the predator into the pit to kill them is a stroke of genius, too, because it prevents matches from descending into an anti-climactic damage-over-time race. It’s not about whittling a gigantic health bar (hi again Evolve) it’s about strategy, finesse, and a little bit of luck. It also reinforces the notion that the survivors are completely outmatched—batting the predator into the pit feels like the kind of desperate solution that the heroes come up with at the end of a monster movie.
Ability use by both survivors and the predator is mitigated by mana, which you refresh by returning to a pool at the top of the map. This becomes a zone of contention and potentially a killing field, creating scenarios where survivors screw each other over for a shot at some precious, precious mana. Mana scarcity does create situations where you’re absolutely screwed, sometimes—fleeing from the predator with Blink an unachievable 15 mana away—but that’s by design.
The predators are a varied bunch, too. Sage, based on Oracle, relies on spell combos and a projectile version of Mana Break to punish spell-happy survivors. Demon, previously Doom, is deadly up close but is damaged by the pool rather than the pit. I played a variation on Nightstalker who could lay traps that put enemies to sleep, and got absolutely destroyed by a Tinker driving a catapult who could command tiny Clockwerks to create towers. I’m not sure if they’re particularly balanced, at the moment, but it’s definitely fun to discover what each of them can do (usually by dying.)
Let’s talk about problems, briefly. A lot of care has been lavished on the new characters and their abilities, but the map itself is rather plain and functional at the moment. At the beginning of a match, a single player has to run around within a side-area pressing buttons to configure the game, which is confusing if you’ve never done it before and a disaster if that person happens to be AFK. Finally, we hit some weird bugs—players being given control of another person’s survivor, people returning from crashes to find out that they couldn’t control their hero until they died and respawned, that kind of thing. That’s par for the course with Custom Games, however, and it definitely shouldn’t stop you from trying this one. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it develops.
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