Nostalgia in the PC gaming world is a dangerous vice. When games die they’re rarely left to rest in peace, more often buried in that weird Pet Semetary graveyard the game industry owns. Often they come back and some come back ‘wrong’, resulting in some hideous abominations in recent memory. It fails to alter the fact that nostalgia is still a very powerful force in marketing games. Much of the time that feeling of nostalgia is short lived or bitter tinged but just once in a while something comes along that delivers. DOTA2 might be just that something.
The original DOTA (Defence Of The Ancients if you don’t know) was an extremely popular mod for Warcraft3. It was basically a 10 person PvP RPG combined with tower defence with a bewildering array of playable heroes and usable items (which can combine to make better items). The basic goal is to kill enemy heroes and enemy ‘creeps’ which are spawned by both bases and run along three paths towards one another. Level up your character’s abilities to make them and your team more lethal. Ultimately the goal is to destroy the opposing team’s towers and base but this can only be accomplished by good teamwork.
While I wasn’t a big fan of Warcraft 3 (for some reason the change in art style between 2 and 3 bugged me) I did play a lot of DOTA at LANs during my younger years. Initially I played just because everyone else was, but I quickly grew to love the intensity and depth of the gameplay. I never learned to play it that well because I only ever played at LANs but I still found it highly addictive despite my lack of skill. After a while though I stopped going to LANs and DOTA faded into the mists of time.
Until now. I got my DOTA2 beta key a little while ago. First off I’d had it for a week before I realised my spam filter had eaten Steam’s email. With bated breath I installed it hoping that for once my nostalgia would be gratified. The story of the game’s inception and indeed the history of the DOTA mod is somewhat scandal ridden and stormy. Suffice to say that two previous games have emerged that laid claim to the DOTA heritage (League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth) and multiple corporate skirmishes fought over the name itself. Blizzard still plan on producing their own version of the game. But in the midst of this Valve’s development team featuring ‘Icefrog’ of original DOTA fame succeeded. From the ashes of conflict rises DOTA2.
I jumped in and played a few shamefully bad multiplayer games reminding me just how complex DOTA is and how much I sucked. Then I got lucky and managed to reconnect with the old LAN crew, accompanied by a crash course in remembering how to play and learning more about the game. To survive, caution is your watchword, knowledge is king and the optimal builds and item sets for each hero are discussed and argued on forums with ideological fervour. While the complexity is bewildering the player is aided by the game which actually lists all recommended items for your character to highlight the best choices. This isn’t to remove your free will so much as to give you a little direction in the mass of content.
One thing has become clear during the hours I’ve played of DOTA2. This is possibly the smoothest transition I have seen of a game from one engine to another and definitely one of the best transitions I’ve encountered of a mod to a full fledged game. It recreates almost perfectly the feel of the original DOTA with the only exception being the graphics which have softened a little and gotten a whole bunch prettier. The huge list of heroes is still being completed with planned releases of 2 new heroes a week up until the release date which should see the entire DOTA hero catalogue included. It’s all there, it feels the same, its not the walking dead or some possessed game corpse.
DOTA2 isn’t the gaming revolution. Its just a perfectly balanced intricate and fun machine which almost flawlessly captures the essence of what made DOTA such a compelling mod. The gameplay, the content, the loot and the insane twitchy mouse button destroying gameplay are all there and perfectly replicated. So if you ever enjoyed DOTA go forth and revel in satisfied nostalgia, we don’t get to enjoy it often!