Last time when I talked about DOTA 2 I more or less went into where it falls among online multiplayer games and their learning curve. I didn’t really talk about my own actual efforts to learn how to play the game.
I may have noted this a bit last time, but a big reason DOTA 2 is so challenging for me in particular is because I have played basically none of the games it’s related to, the closest thing being the original StarCraft back in the 90’s (that being an analogue to Warcraft, from which the original DOTA was modded). I’ve never seen a competitive action RPG rigged up within the mechanics of a real-time strategy game before. Trying to make heads or tails of DOTA 2 from that perspective has led me to look at it as something resembling the mental portion of a fighting game — the one kind of multiplayer game I understand most of all, combined with the cooperative aspect of something like Team Fortress… or something like that.
Even after I figured out which button does what, while trying to learn what the heck to do when you encounter an enemy player (read: bot, I haven’t actually played DOTA 2 online yet), I started thinking about it in terms of spacing and a perpetual search for holes in the opponent’s defense while maintaining your own. Fighters are more or less about waiting for your opponent to choke first and take advantage of that. In the few DOTA 2 bot matches I’ve played I’ve gotten a couple points by finally learning to stay behind friendly creeps and waiting for the CPU to over-commit.
Still, this ignores the most major difference with DOTA — teamwork.
I make the Team Fortress comparison because fighters are one-on-one and TF is pretty much the only shooter I’ve played where every mode basically requires a team to communicate and synchronize in order to get anything done at all. This also makes games like DOTA rare in how little you can really do in games with the CPU. You can hone the basic mechanics and have a lot of fun playing against the CPU in fighting games and most shooters, but any mode in DOTA without teammates really is just a practice pen.
For me right now one of the hardest hurdles to get over in DOTA is the whole escalation system — leveling up within each match. It started to remind me of why I don’t touch multiplayer real-time strategy games — knowing that if I haven’t built certain structures with certain weapons by a certain number of seconds into the game, I’ve already lost. Being at level 8 towards the end of a DOTA game where everyone else is at level 18 gives me a similar feeling. It’s this that also makes death especially punishing in this game since not only is there a countdown to respawn, but you potentially miss out on vital experience points, possibly making death a permanent setback.
Playing with bots means I can at best only react to what the rest of my team is doing and where they’re going, and I learned the hard way that DOTA is a game where you really can’t do anything on your own. This is probably why Valve put in the “co-op with bots” mode, like another step up from just purely playing with bots.
I still think that the very fact that learning how to play DOTA 2 requires you to read and watch so much material outside the game itself makes it possibly the most inaccessible non-simulation game ever. That’s not even counting the game’s own multiple tutorial steps like the incomplete quest mode, singleplayer bot mode, and co-op bot mode, as well as its 100 playable characters. I could not imagine a fighting game with 100 characters.
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