So at some point last week I noticed that a large portion of my Steam friends had been playing a lot of Dota 2. This prompted me to throw my name into the lucky beta selection hat, and the very next day Valve sent me an invite!

For the uninitiated, the original DotA was a community developed Warcraft III custom map, which went on to become arguably the most successful project of its nature ever seen. In fact, it spawned an entire new genre, and is credited as the direct inspiration for subsequent commercial projects, such as Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends and Demigod.

 

Valve’s Dota 2 announcement a while back came as a surprise to many, mostly because the developer had nothing to do with the original DotA. They did, however, hire DotA mastermind IceFrog to lead development on the sequel.  As a result, Dota 2 is extremely similar to DotA. The gameplay and map remain unchanged, and DotA veterans will recognize the character list, items and abilities.

So what does Dota 2 bring to the table? Well firstly, it LOOKS like a game made in 2012. Characters are rendered and animated beautifully, and the terrain and vegetation on the maps is equally impressive. While the graphics have been significantly updated, they have not been bolstered to the point where they in any way inhibit gameplay. It’s always easy to see what’s going on, and the frame rate is constant even on less robust gaming machines.

The sound is also glorious. From the environmental detailing to character voices and the various selectable announcer dialogue – it’s all top notch.

The interface is extremely slick and intuitive, and it introduces a healthy dose of new functionality. It incorporates your friends list from Steam, so you can always see who of your friends are in-game. It also allows you to chat to them, create parties and even spectate your friends’ games. Matchmaking is straight forward, and it’s super easy to team up with your friends and go looking for games together.

The menus also include a “Watch” section which allows you to browse a range of tournaments that are currently online, and jump in to watch the world’s best go head to head. There is also a “Learn” section which has a detailed explanation, complete with training videos for each hero and item. Then there is the “Customize” section, which allows you to buy special items that allow you to customize the look of each hero when you use it.

Valve has essentially done everything we could really imagine to build out the Dota 2 experience, and I for one am proper impressed with what they have done, and are still doing – bearing in mind the game is not complete.

In terms of actually playing Dota 2, it feels a lot like DotA. The biggest difference is that it is far more “noob” friendly. In each match you are given suggestions for buying items, and the locations for the secret shops are pinged on the map if you try to purchase something that is not available in the regular shop. The item shop also presents you with a handy diagram that you can use to combine regular items in order to build the more powerful ones.

All in all, I personally couldn’t be happier with what Valve is doing with Dota 2. They seem to be maintaining the core gameplay, while building in a range of really awesome peripheral tools and improving the game’s usability.

Head on over to Steam’s Dota 2 page to sign up for the beta if you want to try it out for yourself.

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