Dote Night: Foreseer’s Contract And We Need Megawings

A spectral explosion

Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart.

The current big news in the Dota 2 community is the kerfuffle surrounding the Foreseer’s Contract. A short comic heralded the event on Friday and served as an introduction to the newest hero on the roster, Oracle (you can find him in the test client at time of writing but not in the regular game).

Why does the coming update make players – myself included – so concerned?

As per the comic, Oracle sees into different timelines and watches his own deaths, seeing them as warnings rather than definite slayings. To that end he tasks Phantom Assassin with killing his would-be murderers before they have a chance to make good on their plans.

This is Oracle

Valve haven’t released confirmation of exactly how the event will be implemented and across which game modes but it looks like a Phantom Assassin player will be tasked with killing a particular foe in order to fulfil a contract. Successfully doing so will, in turn, lead to rewards for her or his team. The fulfilment of more and more contracts will evolve Phantom Assassin’s weapon.

There are a number of concerns which are feeding into the kerfuffle and you can dig into those over on the Dota 2 subreddit. They mostly revolve around a few key points. One is that the Foreseer’s Contract is mentioned on the ‘find match’ screen for both normal and ranked game modes in the test client.

It’s not mentioned in a definite “This mode will have a contract element in it” but it’s presence is enough to concern players who worry that matches which affect their MMR could be significantly disrupted by having particular heroes targetted or built with an objective other than winning the overall game in mind. MMR is problematic as a game mode and as a method of self-evaluation anyway, but given so many people put stock in it, you can see why the prospect of making it harder to cohere around a set of game objectives is causing unrest. As an FYI, there’s a god in Smite called Kali whose passive works similarly in that it selects a random target and if Kali kills them she gets a health and gold bonus but that’s an established part of her skillset rather than something which intrudes on regular play.

Not a definite statement

Another element I’ve seen mentioned a lot is pay-to-play. The patch notes for Foreseer’s Contract involve an arcana – a fancy item set – for Phantom Assassin called Manifold Paradox. It’s a really cool-looking set which adds a bunch of custom effects and animations when you’re playing the character. It also costs £20.99 (discounted by 20% until 7 December) and the patch notes have the line: “Purchase this item to initiate the Nemesis Assassin Event in your matches.”

Generally Dota 2 events like Diretide, Wraith Night and so on have been free to participate in rather than linked to the purchase of fancy hats. The idea of tying an in-game event to an expensive arcana runs counter to how most players – myself included – think of Dota’s monetisation model. I generally define it as a free-to-play affair where all the things you spend money on are purely for cosmetic effect. They don’t change the game but they do make me happy for various reasons and that’s why I don’t begrudge the microtransactions – they feel entirely optional.

There was only one time I can think of prior to this where I was bothered by Dota 2 monetisation and it was with the Immortal Treasures as part of the TI4 Compendium. It wasn’t a pay-to-play situation but it was the first time I felt like I was being punished by not spending money. Essentially, you got more Immortal Treasure drops the higher your compendium level. Playing regular games and completing challenges meant levelling slowly and probably not getting all the item drops while buying points meant leveling rapidly and getting everything.

Add the idea of pay-to-play – no matter how the mode ends up being implemented – to the fear that Nemesis Contracts will spoil regular game enjoyment and you can see why the community is on edge about it, anxiously awaiting a detailed explanation from Valve. As for Valve, I’d assume they’re keeping a close eye on Reddit to see how the speculation is being greeted and possibly tweaking things in reaction to community feedback.

I appreciate this post has thus far been about concerns – and ones which have yet to be proven, despite how they touch on interesting areas like game purity and monetisation when it comes to MOBAs. That’s why I also wanted to talk a little about an aspect which caught my attention more positively and that’s the weapon evolution of Manifold Paradox.

From boss to really boss

As it’s billed in the patch notes the blade will evolve and change colour as PA fulfils more and more contracts. There are concerns around that kind of incentivisation but broadly I’m really interested in weapons and character skin evolutions which alter as you play.

It’s rooted in an idea I was mulling a little while ago when on a team with someone playing Tiny. Tiny is a rock monster who grows in size as you level up his ultimate. That means when you start the game he’s a slightly goofy-looking rock child and by the end he’ll be a craggy beefcake. It’s an obvious physical manifestation of how well that specific game is going and an indicator of some of your levelling choices. I started thinking about items which denote types of match-specific progress in some way. Perhaps clothing sets which deteriorate over time or with a certain number of kills? That way you could look over at, say, Dragon Knight and tell by his biffed-up shield and scratched-up armour that he’d been in a lot of fights.

With the PA item, it makes sense that Valve want to incentivise their event, but I’d prefer it if the effect was visible to allies as a game progression thing. Plain for the first part of the game then blue animations for level one, purple for two and a fiery orange for three. It would be an aesthetic reward for progress on the part of the player and a legibility function for allies, while opponents could maybe just be treated to a default animation.

I was reminded of it again over the weekend while talking to Stewart Chisam, president of Hi-Rez because, as part of their Smite odyssey (a crowdfunding element linked with their World Championship event). there’s an angelic skin for the god Thanatos. Over the course of a match the skin gets more and more extravagant, moving from a basic armored guy with simple white wings to a super-boss killer with the fanciest scythe this side of a music video, shoulder pads so tall they could have an airplane’s eye out and translucent megawings.

I mean COME ON

In short, I really like the idea of battle having an effect on the heroes and changing them in subtle ways. It’s aesthetically interesting and adds to the legibility of the game. It also neatly sidesteps a bunch of concerns about incentivising abnormal or atypical gameplay.

9 Comments

  1. abardam says:

    I just want to say I really liked the writing in this update! Oracle’s lore was fun to read (link to dota2.gamepedia.com) and so are his responses (TIME PUNS), even the backstory of PA’s new weapon had a lil paragraph for it. It’s not award-winning literature, but writing isnt usually the focus for multiplayer-only games like these, so it’s nice that they put in the effort!

  2. mmmgoodgravy says:

    I’m really glad to see someone raising these concerns and equally impressed that valve would link to this commentary on the Dota Recent News column. Seasonal events in Dota have always been disruptive, not least to the economy, and these arcana items have represented a huge cash cow for Valve at the expense of almost every other commodity in the game.

    At the level of gameplay, anything that turns normal matches of dota into achievement whoring opportunities is just rotten for the community. I thought the same of the all-hero challenge, but here the threat to gameplay is tied up with a valve profit-taking agenda that can only sully the game’s reputation and FTP claims further.

    Let’s just hope it doesn’t take a Volvo Gif Diretide-like meme to bring them to their senses (of decency) this time around.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      equally impressed that valve would link to this commentary on the Dota Recent News column

      That’s simply a matter of the article having the correct tags. If you trawl through that feed you’ll be much less impressed when you find it containing page after page of PC Gamer articles with no connection to Dota 2 at all (mainly 100% League of Legends articles) because PC Gamer know how to bait clicks better than most.

  3. PedroTheHutt says:

    It’s worth pointing out that PA currently has a 30-ish% pickrate in pub games (as can be seen on Dotabuff), so even if everyone who picks PA bought the arcana, it’d only ever impact 1/3 of your games, and in reality it’ll be considerably less. And even if it occurs, you always have the choice of just ignoring the mini-event, it seems to be rather fluffy anyway. That said, Valve has never been scared of running experiments on their multiplayer games, and this could very well be a once off, especially if they receive a ton of backlash. But just remember that this is most likely a temporary event and won’t be around forever, odds are that by the time the year is over we won’t even bat an eyelid anymore when a PA with an arcana appears since for the gameplay it’ll be no different than a normal PA appearing.

    On the notion of evolving items, they’re not entirely new, as far back as Starladder season 5 there have been couriers and/or item sets for heroes that change their appearance depending on how many games of a tournament, team or specific player you’ve watched, although this is indeed the first time that an item’s appearance hinges on how well you’re doing in a game. And it’s something that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of as time goes on.

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      It’s worth pointing out that PA currently has a 30-ish% pickrate in pub games (as can be seen on Dotabuff)

      Which has increased 7% since this update was announced. Not even released yet, simply announced on the dota2 blog page & it’s already caused that much of a hike in her average pick rate. Once it’s released, it’ll be over 50% easily. She’s already the 2nd most played hero in the game, beaten only by Pudge & well ahead of the newbie favourite Sniper.

      Thankfully we play Captains Draft.

  4. Horg says:

    The only possible outcome I can see from this PA game event interfering with regular games:

    Hit join game
    Ready up
    All pick
    [Insert colour A] insta picks PA
    [Insert colour B, E and G] have left the game
    This game is now safe to leave

    As with the Techies launch, it’s time to bunker up with another game for a few months until this all blows over….

    • PedroTheHutt says:

      That’s quite the exaggeration, it only took two or three days before the Techies pickrate started dropping significantly, by the end of their first week they weren’t even in the top five picks any more. And even then, Techies had a winrate of about 40% at their release, climbing up to their current of about 45% over the course of the first month, so yeah, the insinuation that Dota 2 was a literal minefield slash hellhole for two months after the Techies release is quite overstated.

      For the rest, I refer to my post above.

      • Horg says:

        ”That’s quite the exaggeration”

        There is at least a fourfty percent chance I wasn’t being entirely serious.