Tuesday, April 10, 2012

DotA 2 thoughts

I was accepted into the Dota 2 beta recently. As a no-time Dota 1 player, but a long-time League of Legends player and long-time Valve fan, I was really excited to see what they’d come up with. I’m disappointed to say that I really didn’t enjoy playing the game at all. It felt full of design decisions intended to make the game “harder” and so more “hardcore”, but actually (to me) just made the game not fun to play.

To wit:

Vision: Vision is a lot more restricted, theoretically making it harder to spot ganks and such. Perspective is zoomed in, visibility on the map is less, you can’t see up a flight of like 3 stairs, etc. Because of the zoomed perspective, half the skills in the game can hit you from practically right across the screen. Do you have to be more “pro” to play because of all this? Uh, maybe. Is it more fun? Nah.

Burst: Characters are squishy. I tried picking heros from the “strength” category which seemed like they were supposed to be more tanky. You still get burst-fucked in the face so easily. Couple with the zoomed in perspective, ridiculous skill range and lack of “emergency button” skills (see below), if you put a foot wrong in lane you get completely dominated instantly. More hardcore? Yes. Fun? Nah.

CC duration: CC lasts forever. Stuns can last for like 4 seconds. I played one character with an area of effect skill that silences for 6 seconds. Wtf?? Given the amount of burst in this game, that’s enough time to wipe the entire enemy team. More hardcore? Errr I guess. Fun? Uhhh… are we detecting a pattern yet?

Simplicity: Despite all the more “hardcore” design features, the game is a lot simpler than LoL.
- First, there are no summoner skills (for the uneducated: in LoL you get 2 long-cooldown “emergency button” skills that basically allow you to make a mistake every 5 minutes or so and not lose the game for your team). LoL champs have 5 additional skills (one is always a passive, many have one other passive), while most characters in DotA 2 have 4 skills, 2 of which are usually passives. So you get…. 2 active skills. Compared with 3 in LoL, +2 emergency skills.
- I didn’t see any heroes with what are called “skillshots” in LoL – shots that you aim, that can miss, and importantly can be dodged by the enemy. This adds a fun fake-out element. Your options just overall feel more extensive in LoL.

Tuning issues: Some of these might be a carry-over from my LoL lineage, but there are a lot of seemingly innocent differences that change the flow of the game a lot.
- Your character will automatically run to attack the closest minion, which is a death sentence when you’re a melee hero.
- Mana costs in the early game for many champs are unbelievably prohibitive, taking half your mana pool.
- Towers have ridiculous range, and there is no indicator of where the range ends.
- Towers don’t kill minions first, they kill whatever is closest… Good luck trying to push a tower with a melee champ (melee champs in general just seem pretty useless to me).
- Unbelievably, towers don’t switch targets to defend you when you’re being dived by enemy heroes, they just placidly keep whittling away at the minions. Hardcore? No, just different. And fun? No. Getting dived is not fun at all in LoL, but I never realised how much less fun it could be if the tower refuses to help you at all.
- It’s even worse getting dived in your base, there doesn’t seem to be a base laser so you can just be spawn-camped in the face. Oh, and the base recharges your health really slowly.
- This is frustrating because there’s no “blue pill” that allows you to get back there quickly, which means a lot of long and boring trips back and forth because the maps are so big (you can spend money to do teleport to a building, but the cost is prohibitive to do it all the time. And you will be doing it all the time because health recharges in lane so slowly. This leads to trying to stay in lane as much as possible, and dying, and guess what? The respawn timer is almost double that in LoL. And you can’t buy items while you’re dead (actually you can, but they go into a useless storage area that doesn’t move with you. Dota 2 is so hardcore! You have to remember to transfer stuff out of storage when you leave town! Rawr!!).
- Oh, and once you start to die, you may as well leave the game (which everybody seems to do because there’s no penalty) because when somebody gets fed they steamroll to such a ridiculous degree that there’s no stopping them… or you could go afk, which is also easy because there’s no reporting option for afk’s.
- You can be ‘denied’ in lane (the enemy gets the last hit on your minions, robbing you of gold) – the one character in LoL that could do this was rebalanced so that he couldn’t do it, because it was a really unfun mechanic to be on the receiving end of.

Lack of communication of information:
- LoL has a very clean cut, cartoony style. All the characters look very distinctive (which is supposed to be a trademark Valve move!). Valve has a more gloomy style, which is fine, but the heroes seem to kind of look the same, and a lot of them are easily confused with the minions. This is not fine, it’s game design 101 fail.
- It’s very difficult to tell wtf is going on with the skills – who is casting them, at what times, what you can do about it. You just lose a chunk of HP and go… Cool, I have no idea wtf that was.
- You can’t see the items (or mana) of the enemy. Completely removes a massive strategy element from the game.
- You can’t tell what attributes are used by what skills, compared with LoL where colour-coded numbers tell you exactly how each skill is buffed by your stats.

Pedantism: The characters in DotA 2 are named in the most unimaginative way possible. Eg “Drow Ranger”, or “Anti Mage”. Wtf? LoL has “Gangplank”, “Blitzcrank” and “Fiddlesticks”. Creativity fail, Valve.

Lack of polish: Maybe expected for a beta. Sometimes when running away and spam-clicking (as you do), it will move you in the complete opposite direction, right back into the enemy. There are no pre-bound keys to use your consumable items, e.g. health potions. Diablo 1 had this, wtf? Ridiculous. Escape doesn’t cancel menus. The minimap has no portraits, so you can’t tell which champion is coming. Beta I know, but where is the Valve polish?

So with all of THAT, did Valve get anything right?

Most people point to the fact that in DotA 2 you can play any champ immediately, which is totes more balanced for a hardcore PvP crowd. This sounds nice theoretically. In practice, you have no idea what any of the champs do, which ones are any good, etc. The 10 free champs PER WEEK that get cycled in LoL, coupled with the very cheap (in terms of grind points required for unlock) cost of the older champs mean that in practice, there really wouldn’t be much point to having all the champs available from the beginning. So I don’t really care much about this ‘advantage’.

What else?
- The graphics are higher res.
- The base sinks into lava and stuff at the end. Cool.
- There is a day/night cycle which changes some character’s skills, and changes visibility.
- There is a flying donkey that can take your items to you (neat).
- The AI bots are much more competitive (I’m not sure if this is just because bots are just cheating and do more damage – they were MUCH harder than going up against other beginner players).
- There is a live replay feature (you can see top games being played and observe them, a la Guild Wars 1.
- Oh and you can eat trees.

But overall? There’s really no contest. I feel like Valve have let the ex-DotA guy that they recruited to develop this just “do his thing” because they didn’t want to interfere with his creative genius. But, well, his thing kinda sucks.