Gamers everywhere were rejoicing yesterday as Valve released the first official footage of their newest game, DotA 2, made more special by the fact that the footage was from a livestream of the first DotA 2 tournament ever.
To back up a little, DotA, or Defence of the Ancients, is a custom game mode for the Blizzard-made RTS WarCraft III. Although many mods of the game exist, there are none that can compare to the popularity that DotA has with the gaming community. Influential to the point that it has spawned its own genre of video game,1 and been the inspiration for the similar titles League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth, DotA has actually become a feature at worldwide tournaments, including the Asian World Cyber Games. To say that this is just another mod is an immense understatement.
For a bit of background on Valve, they have been the brilliant minds that havebrought us titles such as Half-Life, Left 4 Dead, and Portal. For the most part these are all games that are saturated with narrative and feature inventive, innovative gameplay. Valve has long been seen as a company that deeply cares for its fans, their constant release of new content for the [now free to play]2 shooter Team Fortress 2 being a prime example.
On October 13th of last year, Valve announced that they were creating DotA 2. IceFrog, a modder who maintained and developed the original game was hired by the company in 2009 and has since been working on the sequel.
That last word is one of my first issues with the game. The very usage of the name “DotA” with the addition of the “2” seems to state that this is yet another sequel to another already-owned property, such as Half-Life 2. This could not be further from the truth. While IceFrog did help a great deal in furthering the game, as a mod it belongs to the community that helped create it, the hundreds of men and women who suggested heroes or contributed icons or penned lore for the heroes they loved playing as. The name, of course, was chosen simply for familiarity, which brings me to my next point.
In order to ease players into the transition from the WarCraft III mod to the new and improved DotA 2 Valve needed more than just a title. According to Game Informer:3
DotA-Allstars‘ roster of 100+ heroes is being brought over in its entirety. The single map games take place on is functionally identical to the one that you can download for free today in the Warcraft III mod. Items, skills, and upgrade paths are unchanged. Some hero skills work slightly better due to being freed from the now-ancient Warcraft III engine, but Dota 2 will be instantly familiar to any DotA player.
Along with the heroes being brought over were their models. Since the world editor in Warcraft III only allowed for so much customization, unit models from the game itself were used in DotA. Instantly recognizable after years of playing the mod, Valve chose to make their heroes look as close to their blockier counterparts as possible.
The first, Prophet [known as Nature’s Prophet in Dota 2], features the same beard and horns, as well as facial tattoos. What was even more disconcerting, however, was the name of the image file for the latter, “furion_lg.png.” Furion is the name of the original hero, and is actually taken from a character in WarCraft III itself.
The second is known by Dazzle in both games, and clearly depicts a troll-ish kind of creature with a skull face tattoo. The colouration is extremely similar.
The third, called Storm Spirit by both, gets only slightly more original. Instead of portraying a humanoid panda DotA 2 instead changes the character to a human, albeit wearing extremely similar garb.
Valve has always been a company that pumped out solid, original content, and watching the tournament replays of this game made me deeply upset. The Anti-Mage attacks just as he always did with long, curved blades on each hand, Leshrac gallops swiftly forward on all fours, torso rocking back rhythmically as usual.
I could point out countless similarities, especially to character design that has always been distinctly Blizzard’s, but I won’t. The fact of the matter is that the easiest way to familiarize a gamer with something new is to show them exactly what they’ve seen before. A muscular red orc with a topknot hefting an immense axe remains exactly that, even with sleeker graphics.
DotA 2 is a game that has a very large number of players waiting to get their hands on it. The genre is only growing more and more popular, and Valve has found a way to successfully cash in on that market. It’s just a shame that this was the way that they chose to do it.
1. See? There’s even a Wikipedia page on it! <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dota_genre>
2. Seriously, no strings attached. <http://www.tf2.com/freetoplay/>
3. Source to this and much of the other facts in this post: <http://www.gameinformer.com/b/features/archive/2010/10/13/dota-2-announced-details.aspx>