Unless you’ve been avoiding a good chunk of the gaming internet, you’ve probably heard of DOTA, or Defense of the Ancients. One of the most popular video game mods ever created, it remains so popular that worldwide tournaments are still held, even years after its release.
For those who haven’t heard of it, DOTA is a free mod for the venerable Warcraft III. It is played online via Battle.net as a team strategy game.
The learning curve of DOTA is pretty rough–there are just under 100 playable “heroes”, each with four abilities. Added into this mix are two key skills a player must possess; choosing the ideal item combinations and recognizing how to fight against other heroes. The map itself (pictured below) isn’t very complex, but almost everyone playing the game knows the map by heart, along with where to buy each item. One negative aspect of DOTA is the community. It is quite possibly the meanest, most egotistical, and least friendly community I’ve ever been a part of. People will make sure to inform you if you are doing badly, and how horrible you are at the game. If you are new and hoping to try DOTA, make sure you only join noob games to start out, as those people should be much friendlier. If you know someone who plays, let them know you’re interested and hopefully they will be kind enough to teach you the ropes of playing the game.
The game fits no specific genre; in a way it has created its own. The best way to describe the genre of DOTA is as a fast-paced, team-based hybrid of RTS and an RPG. Each game generally takes between 30 minutes and one hour to play. Each side has 5 human players who select heroes to play as for the duration of the game. The goal of the game is to defend your primary base structure from the enemy team. This is the yellow dot on the map below.
The game consists of each team defending their base as NPCs (known as creeps) push the lanes to attack the enemy base across the map. A creep is a basic unit that is very weak and expendable, but they spawn in constant waves. These creeps blindly charge from one end to the other following the lanes located on the map above as red lines. Each base contains six creep spawning buildings located on the map in blue. They are normally called “racks”. As these creep spawning buildings are killed, the team who destroyed them gets their creeps improved. Once all 6 creep spawns are destroyed, the game is for the most part over as the creeps become so strong it is next to impossible to fend them off. In order to help fend off the enemies from attacking your base, you have three defensive towers per lane. These defensive tower are located on the map as purple dots. These buildings cannot be rebuilt and do not respawn. They do regen hit points over time although it is fairly slow. The heroes, played by humans, are what change the tide of the battle. The heroes help fight in a lane and kill the enemy creeps, leveling up and purchasing new items to make them stronger and better equipped to fight the ensuing battle.
So you’ve mastered DOTA, and you’re getting bored with it or tired of the relentless community; where do you go from here?
Seeing the popularity of this niche, some gaming companies have begun making standalone games expanding on this genre. In April 2009, Demigod was released, the first stand alone DOTA-esque game to be released. Since then, there are two other games announced and in beta that also have attempted to create their own versions of DOTA.
When Demigod was first released, it suffered from connectivity problems; Stardock has addressed the issues and the game is stable and awaiting new heroes. The game was released with 8 heroes, and still… currently only has 8 heroes. From my information, the plan is to provide the players with at least three new heroes for free. It is my opinion that, while a great game, it cannot compete with the others in this roundup because of the limited number of heroes. While Demigod presents a nice change of pace from DOTA, but with the limited selection of heroes, this game gets boring a bit too quickly.
Stardock hasn’t given up, however. They pushed developer Gas Powered Games to make improvements and have implemented their own changes as well. For one, the game was originally going to be released without a chat interface, which Stardock implemented themselves.
For those of you who are very observant, you will notice that on the hero selection screen, you can scroll down. In doing so you find two hero slots per side that are filled with a question mark to indicated they will be added in the future. The question on my mind, of course, is exactly how far into the future? There are two types of heroes in Demigod–Assassins and Generals. The assassins are generally better equipped to kill opposing heroes than generals. The Generals’ strength, on the other hand, is that they are able to purchase items allowing them to spawn and control summons.
The game also contains a few different modes. These modes include Conquest, Dominate, Slaughter, and Fortress. Conquest is your default “destroy the main enemy building”. Dominate is king-of-the-hill, based on controlling the flags located across the map. Slaughter is a deathmatch mode with the winning condition of a certain number of kills. Fortress is a mode wherein you defend a certain control point.
Demigod has eight different playable maps. These maps vary from three to five players as a recommended size, which is something that sets Demigod apart from the other DOTA games. Overall, I have found these maps to be very balanced, and it’s a lot of fun to have the ability to play on a different map. Generally speaking, all the maps are symmetrical making sure neither side has the advantage.
The items that are available for purchase in item shops also need some work, as some items have a ridiculously low chance to proc effects, some as low as 1%. In addition to equippable items there are also consumables.
Another interesting feature of Demigod is that the heroes have talent trees. This is one of my favorite aspects of Demigod over the other DOTA-like games. These talent trees allow each hero to be played multiple ways, preventing your opponent from knowing exactly how to counter or deal with your hero. On average you can only select somewhere been 50% to 75% of all the talents, depending on your hero. This allows great customization and unique sets of talents to be created.
Heroes of Newerth (HoN)
For those who are huge fans of DOTA, this is your game! Think of Heroes of Newerth, (I’ll abbreviate it to HoN from now on), as DOTA 2.0.
In HoN, which is still in beta, there are currently 59 heroes, two just added this past weekend. About half of those heroes are remade DOTA heroes. They have also added around 10 heroes that have a combination of abilities from various DOTA heroes. The gameplay, items, and heroes are an almost exact replica of DOTA with a few key differences. The value of this as stand alone game over DOTA consists of the following:
- Something new: DOTA has been around for a long time now, and while new heroes and adjustments are made, DOTA is still has the same graphics, with the same old Warcraft III voices and models.
- It’s a copy of DOTA: This allows those who loved DOTA to be able to start in a game where they have played and know the maps, items, and heroes.
- No restriction on UI: As a standalone game, HoN is able to take elements from Warcraft III that they did not like and revise and recreate them into something much better. Two examples of this are the shop menus and built-in ban list.
- Finding games: No longer do you have to search for custom games of DOTA within Warcraft III, as every game is DOTA! Along with this comes the filter options for finding games.
And now onto the content!
The “Searching for a Game” screenshot speaks for itself. There is a multitude of filter options, along with a list of games and a chat window. There are now 3 options for games, noobs only, noobs allowed, and pros only based on a player’s level and stats.
One of the new features that is very cool is the Steam-like overlay (usable within the game) showing your friends list, clan, and the stats of a player who you have selected. The stats feature is especially helpful since you can tell who the noobs and the pros are based on stats. They have also implemented a much-needed ban list. The ban list allows you to avoid people that you strongly dislike or have been harassed by.
Games are now hosted by discreet servers, not individual players’ machines. This allows games to persist even if the host disconnects or leaves the game. The host has a whole slew of options, allowing them to move people around as they please or kick people they do not want in their games. They have also created an autobalance feature allowing the host to even the team win percentages the best it can. The host can also lock people so they will retain their positions even if autobalance kicks in.
The new hero selection screen seems to works pretty well. All the heroes are in the center while the players are on the outside, sorted by team. For the various game modes the selection screen changes, but generally speaking looks about the same. The dice icon is the button you click to get a random hero. The user is also able to swap heroes. Swapping works by clicking the little circular button next a player’s icon (located on all but the dark green hero on the right side of the screenshot). Once you have clicked the icon, the person who is wanting to swap with you then clicks on your icon and the swap is made!
Leveling up is based on those little buttons above your abilities in the bottom center of your screen. The score window on the top is active at all times, and shows the respawn timer on each hero who has died. The hero’s stats are easily read by hovering over them to the left of your hero’s portrait. One somewhat hidden feature that many people overlook is in the top left corner–the allied teammate’s portraits. With these portraits it has 4 dots, colored green, blue, grey or red. The four dots are the hero’s four abilities, green if the moves are able to be used, blue if mana is needed, grey if unpurchased, and red if they are on cooldown. This way you know if your allied heroes are able to help, at a glance.
The item shop is much different from DOTA. You select an item to buy, and are offered a set of ingredients for that item. Once you buy all the required ingredients, they automatically merge into the selected item. Compared to DOTA, this is an amazingly simplified and convenient way to buy items. There is also the “stash” which is on the bottom right corner of your screen. It’s nothing fancy, but a nice improvement from the DOTA stash being a location on the side of the screen. It also allows you to disassemble items, and buy items while not at the shop or when your hero is dead. As of this past weekend, they have now added a set of recommended items for each hero! Also, the attack modifiers of DOTA are back, but this time they are color coded and clearly state which modifiers will and won’t stack. This fixes two of the main pitfalls that were consistently made by new players in the original DOTA.
League of Legends is a nice change from DOTA and HoN. It is a bit different while keeping many of the same concepts. It, too, is still in beta. The game has been progressing well, originally starting with a horrible interface that has been drastically improved, and some balance issues that have been fixed. I’ve been liking the game more and more as time progresses.
The graphics of League of Legends are interesting. They’re not bad at all, just different. For one, they are cel shaded. The graphics are very “shiny” and have a glow to them. There are some screenshots posted on the League of Legends site, although I do not feel the screenshots do the game justice.
The game has some cool and unique features compared to the other DOTA clones. You can access the talent trees outside of the frenzy of the actual game, for example. You also have the ability to create a set of runes, which provide in-game bonuses. The user selects different runes and puts them onto book “pages” for use in-game. The runes can buff any of the stats, but only very slightly; still, you can have roughly 18 runes.
The bases consist of 3 towers and three racks. Unlike DOTA the racks in these games respawn after a few minutes. When a rack is destroyed, the opposing team gains a very powerful unit that has very high health and a strong attack. Generally speaking, a non-defensive hero can solo one of them before having to go back to base and heal.
The game currently has 37 heroes, all of which are completely new and different from DOTA heroes. The game plays about the same as DOTA, but it is slower paced. The heroes are fairly balanced right now, while a few heroes are a bit lacking and could be dramatically improved. For a game still in beta with all new heroes, it seems to be progressing well.
Melee heroes were absolutely horrible when i first joined the beta. They would only get 2-4 attacks in before a hero ran away, and they were dealing about 1/4th the damage of a spellcaster. Having the disadvantage of being melee and the lack of damage hurt them dramatically. They have improved this, however, and now it seems pretty balanced between spellcasters and melee heroes. I’d argue it now leans slightly in favor of melee heroes although not enough to force everyone to play only melee heroes.
On choosing your character, you are able to select 2 “special” abilities which have about a two minute cooldown. Some of those abilities include teleporting a short distance instantly, running faster, slowing your opponent down, a small heal, and a warp to a friendly structure. I greatly like this aspect of the game since it allows another unique customization to your hero based on your personal preferences. I, for one, prefer the short range teleport and movement speed increase, as they are versatile for both attacking and running away.
The item shop is very well implemented. For new players, it will recommend items. The items also show what “bigger” items they can be used to merge into. This allows ease of figuring out what items are the most useful and versatile without having to look through all of the “bigger” items. The items are very user friendly for the new player, but some items can be hard to find. The items are sorted into categories, but you are unable to quickly see them all at once.
Almost every item has some sort of effect. In DOTA, most items are just simple buffs to stats while in League of Legends, most items have a special effect. For example, one item lets you gain 100% of your spell damage on your next attack, every time you cast a spell. There’s another item that allows you to deal 2% of your max HP on every attack. Items like these make item purchases a lot more fun. Creating different combinations of items can now be done for combos and have the potential to be beneficial for a plethora of heroes.
Which game should I buy?
If you’re a casual player who wants something completely new and unique, Demigod may be your game. If you’re a hardcore DOTA player, Heroes of Newerth is definitely your game. If you like DOTA, but have grown tired of the game and want something new, then League of Legends is probably the better choice. Overall I personally consider Heroes of Newerth the best game. For an experienced DOTA player, it is the most balanced, and has the smoothest and nicest looking interface, as well as possessing the most options. Demigod has a lot of new features for DOTA that have added a lot to the game, but with only 8 heroes, it gets boring fast. League of Legends is still in beta, and will be for a while. It shows great potential but since it is a completely new game, it does not yet have the breadth of content that HoN contains.