Tuesday, June 26, 2012

From Legends to Ancients

Finally, after waiting for so very long, I received a beta invite to DotA 2. The sequel to the hugely popular Defense of the Ancients mod is a so-called Mobile Online Battle Arena (MOBA) and shared the market space with League of Legends, Heroes of Newarth, and a few other competitors.

I have returned time and again to the topic of League of Legends, and its no surprise - I have been playing the game consistently for the past three years. While the time I spent in World of Warcraft is still my biggest achievement/shame, I am quickly amassing an impressive amount of time in this competitive environment. While all of this practice certainly gives me an edge in LoL, my expectations and play patterns are severely hampering my exploration of DotA 2. When making the move from one game to the other, I find it hard to tell the difference between personal taste and poor game design.

This biggest difference I have seen thus far between the two games is readability. Trying to glean information quickly and efficiently in this new game system is instantly frustrating. Character health bars seem to fade into that of minions, making it difficult to spot heroes in the bunch. The detail and size of the minions make this differentiation no easier. DotA 2 uses a relatively dark and mellow color pallet as well. While League of Legends is flashy, giving characters bright clothing and flashy ability effects, DotA 2 is dim, even in daylight, and character abilities seem to blend in with your own.

I want to immediately criticize DotA 2 for obfuscating their game, as though they intentionally hid important elements from new players to sharpen their difficulty curve. But then again, have my eyes simply adjusted to to League of Legends? When DotA players first play League of Legends, are the colors blinding and chaotic? Does the game suffer the same readability issues?

These same questions arise around core gameplay features. DotA 2 is a game of extreme punishment. Make a small error and your enemies will make you pay dearly. It seems as though all characters are incredibly lethal, shattering health bars in seconds. As a result, stuns are far more deadly. If you get caught behind enemy lines, there is little hope for escape. This might make the game feel more "competitive", "serious", or "hardcore" to some players. To me it seems unnecessarily unforgiving. The feels like it moves from a game of tag to a game of Russian roulette twenty minutes in.

If this sounds like the complaint of a "noob", its because it is. While my MOBA proficiency gives me some advantages, my intimate familiarity with League of Legends cripples my ability to look at this game free to bias, at least for now. Instead of enjoying the opportunity to play an exciting new game, I find myself trudging up a steep hill in a strange land far from home.


  1. I think it is a fair complaint to say it is unfriendly to new players. I played a year of DotA years ago and have been playing LoL for a few years now. As bad as LoL's community is, DotA's was much less forgiving and elitist. I only briefly tried the closed beta of Dota 2, but the lack of feedback did stand out to me, even though I used to play DotA.

    Dota 2 is probably worth playing in the long run, but is it more worth investing the time over LoL? I would say it has an uphill battle.

  2. "Welcome to DotA. You Suck" is actually the name of a really good guide written by the caster Purge. I would also recommend you play the game for atleast 20-30 hours before making proper judgement, the UI becomes way less confusing than what you describe, all the skills are really impressive, and eye candy, and really easy to tell, health bars are just fine, and graphics are gorgeous. Given time, The look of Dota 2 becomes like a piece of art.