In the world of games, Valve Corporation has recently grown into one of the largest and most consistent game publishers (with the skyrocketing success of their Steam distribution network) and game developers (with the international success of series like Half-Life, Portal, Team Fortress, etc.) in the world. In terms of game development, Valve’s Gabe Newell has always approached his titles by pursuing quality over quantity, and it really shows, especially in their latest work-in-progress, Dota 2.
Starting way back in 1996, Valve’s games have been released on a slow-but-steady basis, always choosing to maximize polish rather than rushing a product out to the market. In fact, they take so much time that gamers have coined the term “Valve Time” to distinguish the expected release dates of their games from their actual release dates.
Dota 2 is Valve’s latest game – recently released from closed beta and now available for all to play in a somewhat open beta – and it continues to prove that Valve has yet to lose their way when it comes to producing fun and well-made games. Read on to learn more about it.
A Brief History of Dota
Dota is an acronym that stands for Defense of the Ancients – a top-down multiplayer game that resembles the Real-Time Strategy (RTS) genre at first, but streamlines the gameplay from controlling an entire army to controlling a single Hero. Dota wasn’t the first to have this sort of gameplay, but it sure popularized it, garnering millions of fans all over the world before spawning similar games like League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth.
The inspiration for this game type can be traced back to Starcraft with a custom map called Aeon of Strife, but Dota as it stands was not truly conceived until Blizzard released Warcraft III. Using the map editor, a modder named Eul created the first incarnations of Dota. As time went on, the project passed hands through multiple developers, the most notable being Guinsoo (who later went on to develop League of Legends) and IceFrog, who is the current and only developer for the map since 2005.
Introduction to Dota Gameplay
The game pits two teams of five players against each other. Each team has a base with a central structure (called an “Ancient”) and the first team to destroy the other team’s Ancient wins the game – hence the game’s title. There are three pathways (called “lanes”) that connect the two bases and waves of soldier units (called “creeps”) are spawned on a periodic basis to travel these lanes, clashing with the opposite team’s creeps as they fight their way to the enemy’s base.
Each player is given control of one unique unit (called a “Hero”) that they can select at the beginning of the game. There are over 100 different Heroes to pick from – divided into Strength, Agility, and Intelligence types – and each Hero has four unique abilities (a couple have more), some which provide passive benefits and others which are actively used. By killing creeps, leveling up, purchasing items, and making strategic decisions, the players vie for control of the map so they can ultimately break into the opposing base and destroy their Ancient.
The Rise of Dota 2
At some point, Valve approached IceFrog while he was still just an amateur modder and offered him a position at the company as a lead designer. Their intent was to take the Dota custom map and create a true standalone version of it for widespread consumption. The main benefit, of course, was that the game would no longer be constrained by the limits of the Warcraft III map editing system, and I’m sure the promise of a salary didn’t hurt either. IceFrog accepted the proposal and the whole deal was made official in October of 2010.
As mentioned before, Valve wasn’t the first to aim for a standalone version of the game. Riot Games released League of Legends in 2009 and S2 Games released Heroes of Newerth in 2010. Both of these games have modified the original Dota gameplay in order to suit their own unique flavors – much to the chagrin of Dota’s hardcore fan base – while Valve’s aim is to recreate the game in a way that is true to the original while forging past the limitations of the Warcraft III engine.
So Why Should You Care?
Dota is played by millions of fans all over the world from North America to Asia and beyond. While LoL and HoN have created games that are fun in their own way, many will say that there is only one true DotA, and that true version is the one maintained by IceFrog. Players have come to trust IceFrog as one the who truly understands what makes Dota, Dota, and with IceFrog spearheading Dota 2, it’s already obvious that the core essence of the game is being preserved.
Last year, PCGamer stated that “Dota 2 is doing rather too well for a game that hasn’t been released.” Back then, even though the game was still in closed beta, it consistently sat in the Top 5 Steam games by player count, even beating out games like Skyrim and Counter-Strike: Source. Today, Dota 2 consistently holds a simultaneous user count beyond 300,000 – which is monstrous compared to the second ranked game, Team Fortress 2, which has 70,000 simultaneous users – and Dota still hasn’t been released.
And if you’re into the competitive gaming scene, Dota 2 is making rounds all over the Internet with tournaments and leagues popping up everywhere. For three consecutive years in a row, Valve has thrown a global-span tournament fittingly named The International with a boasted prize pool of $1.6 million. This year’s The International 3 currently has a prize pool of over $2 million and it continues to grow larger thanks to crowdfunding.
Here’s the kicker: Dota 2 is FREE. Not just free-to-play-but-you-have-to-unlock-Heroes, which is the monetization scheme used by alternatives (LoL, HoN, etc.), but full access to every gameplay feature without ever paying a cent. In fact, the only things you can purchase are cosmetic items for each Hero (to customize your appearances) and tournament tickets that allow you to spectate in-game tournament matches. For all intents and purposes, Dota 2 is truly a FREE game.
So do you want to play? Awesome! Dota 2 is still in closed beta (with a planned release at the end of summer 2013), but you can easily get a beta key if you look in the right places. Reddit’s /r/sharedota2 is a wonderful place to get a quick key for yourself or a friend. On Steam, you can join this group and ask for a key OR you can utilize the Dota 2 Dispenser bot. For the old-fashioned, you can just sign up for beta and wait for them to send you an invite.
If you’d like to follow the Dota 2 community, check out these Dota 2 websites compiled by Dave.
Image Credit: Concept Art by Dota 2