DOTA 2 Preview

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In the history of gaming, never have so many, owed their inspiration to the work of so few. From its humble beginnings as a custom map for the real time strategy game Warcraft 3, the Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) gameplay mode has become a staple of modern day gaming and an excellent example of how strategy and RPG elements can be blended to make for a fantastic game type; MOBA, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.

Nowadays there are many clones, recreations and inspirations of the original map, including: Demigod, League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth and the upcoming mod for Blizzard's Starcraft II. Because of this it's both surprising and unsurprising that Valve would want to tap into this lucrative, but rather crowded gaming sub-genre. However, they have the guy that worked on the game from 2005 until he was picked up by the gaming giant: IceFrog. He's been beavering away at the sequel to his maintained masterpiece for at least a year, though how long Valve themselves had been laying the ground work is unknown.

While this is not a game that has a strong story built into it, there has been some hints as to a slightly different setting. In the original map the two opposing factions were known as the Scourge and the Sentinel. However in the sequel they've been renamed as the Radiant and Dire, and placed in a universe of Valve's creation. Perhaps this was to avoid legal issues (as there has been some patent grabbing in recent months within the DOTA sphere), but more likely it was to expand the original premise of the game and to allow Valve to reshape the heroes and their battles to a more distinct face off. In starker contrast, the Radiant are a light and "good" faction that are nature focused, while the Dire are considered the evil side, with a Volcanic theme.

Valve plans to explore the backstory of each of the playable characters through comics and short online films to give a much deeper feel of what's going on in the DOTA world. This is similar to the hero spotlights given in League of Legends; though it's questionable how interested the majority of the player base is. If there is one universal rule of thumb in the gaming world, it's that multiplayer gamers are usually in it for the gameplay. Single player gamers are often more narrative driven.

Technology

Bringing the gameplay of DOTA from an engine like that found in Warcraft 3 to Valve's Source engine, has been the main focus of DOTA 2 development. Of course this not only brings massive graphical improvements in the terms of aesthetics, but everything is a lot cleaner. There were some complaints that the Warcraft III engine could occasionally cause confusion due to its design, as well as there being some inerrant bugs and issues that persisted, because in reality, the game mode was merely a map within a game itself.

Impressively for such an advanced engine (in comparison to the original DOTA's), Source needed some tweaks of its own to incorporate the fluidity of some of the characters. This included high-end cloth simulation, as well as improvements to global lighting and to the Steamworks platform. Of course, these changes and the new engine do mean that the system requirements are higher than previously, though if you've updated your PC graphics within the past 3 years, you shouldn't have any problems running it.

DOTA 2 hardware requirements are:

Minimum

Operating System: Windows® 7 / Vista / Vista64 / XP / Mac

Processor: Pentium 4 3.0GHz or AMD Athlon equivalent

Memory: 1 GB for XP / 2GB for Vista

Graphics: DirectX 9 compatible video card with 128 MB, Shader model 2.0. ATI X800, NVidia 7800 or better

Hard Drive: 3.0 GB of free space

Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card

Steam

Recommended

• Operating System: Windows® 7 / Vista / Vista64 / XP / Mac

Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz or AMD Athlon equivalent

Memory: 1 GB for XP / 2GB for Vista

Graphics: DirectX 9 compatible video card with Shader model 3.0. NVidia 8800, ATI 3870 with 512MB memory.

Hard Drive: 3.0 GB of free space

Sound: DirectX 9.0c compatible sound card

• Broadband Internet Connection

• Steam

While these specifications might be quite a jump from the original DOTA's humble requirements, IceFrog has said that they tried to do several things at once: update the game to a more modern standard, allow those with older PCs to keep up and let those with high end systems to scale well. So far Valve and the chilly reptile consider themselves quite successful.

However it's not just graphical changes that this sequel will see; Steamworks brings many of its own advantages. Some of them are thanks to the clones and similar games released by other studios, as Valve has been given some inspiration of their own on how to encourage a competitive atmosphere as well as newer players. One of the age old problems with DOTA was the fact that it was a hard game to pick up. While basic character play was as simple as the original strategy game it was based off of, learning all the combinations of items and group tactics that could be employed by different heroes was mind boggling to new players. To aide this, Valve have introduced the coaching system. This allows for more experienced gamers to play alongside newer ones and give them one on one advice via voice chat. The veterans of the game will also receive special bonuses for their efforts.

On top of this, matchmaking will be vastly improved thanks to the Steamworks backbone of the game. Players will be matched up with those of similar skill level using the automated placement system. As it stands though, there is no word on whether this will be ELO based or some other traditional ranking system, but it's incredibly necessary to affect a true competitive environment. However, this ranking system will only be utilized for "ranked" matches, while there will also be unranked, single player and bot matches for practicing and perfecting tactics. Players will also be able to communicate with, invite and join friends by using the Steam buddy system.

Gameplay

IceFrog has said himself that there won't be any fundamental changes to the gameplay of DOTA 2, but that this sequel is the true continuation of the original map. That means that whatever official direction the DOTA universe is going in, this sequel game will be taking it there. That said, for now at least much of the in-game content remains unchanged. This includes: character names, map design, abilities and items, meaning that the core gameplay mechanic is almost identical. This will allow veterans of the original game to smoothly transfer over to the new standard, as well as drawing in old DOTA fans that previously moved on to other titles like League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth.

In regards to the future, the Source engine much more easily allows further development than the Warcraft III World Editor and by making DOTA a game in its own right, it allows for the addition of extra maps, game play modes and more, with much less hassle.

The gameplay is pretty similar. There are old DOTA staples like "denying" (where a team member destroys an allied structure, or kills an allied creep in order to deny an opponent the kill rewards). The game also seems as fast paced as the original, with heavy emphasis on team work. Jungling as well as standard creep farming seems to still be a useful practice, as well as the use of spawned minions to aid you in that respect.

In most senses, the gameplay seems to have remained relatively intact and that's what most DOTA fans were hoping for.

Summing up

As it stands, in the pre-beta, we've-only-seen-the-one-tournament-with-half-the-heroes stage, DOTA 2 is shaping up to be a pretty good game. There are still plenty of things that could improve or go wrong before release, but as it stands, the major wants of fans of the original, and the genre have been met:

Retain the feel of the original
Use a similar visual style while updating it for modern hardware
Keep the gameplay fast paced and team focused

Allow for better matchmaking

Improved communication among players

The only question now is, will Valve make it a free to play a title like League of Legends (and recently Heroes of Newerth), or will they make it a standalone purchasable title? Normally when it comes to multiplayer sequels this would be a bit of a no-brainer, especially since Valve will be the ones fronting the server costs. However, with the original being free, Valve might have a tough time convincing people to come up with the cash when the gameplay is so similar. If you have a dedicated gaming group on DOTA that frequently plays other top clans, you might not see much need to move to the new platform.

Either way, expect an open beta to begin in the next few weeks, with the MOBA genre set to get that little bit more competitive when IceFrong and Valve's DOTA 2 launches in early 2012.

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