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. THIS WEEK, however, she will be telling you all about her exploits with the All-Hero Challenge:
Currently I am staring at the cliff face which is the All Hero Challenge in Dota 2.
It's the official version of the A-Z hero challenge where you work your way through all the heroes for a sense of personal achievement and a digital trophy. It was added as a stretch goal for sales of the 2014 International Compendium (a kind of digital stickerbook, fantasy league and prediction tool all rolled into one).
I tried to do the real A-Z challenge back when it was underground and not an in-game option, except I decided to start at Z and work my way backwards. I think I brute-forced my way past Visage and up to Troll Warlord before being distracted by something that was fun and didn't ruin the games I had with my friends.
I decided to go back to it because my hero knowledge has ended up so patchy due to there being a handful of heroes I adore playing. The rest were increasingly becoming background mulch. I'd read the updates and patch notes and think "huh, interesting" about this and that. But I'd never need to put that knowledge into practice because of not playing the hero so it would drift away and I'd only remember things like buffs after I died to them. Ooops.
How the All-Hero Challenge works is that everyone works their way through the same list of heroes in the same order but the start point on that list is randomised. I started on Tidehunter – he's a tanky initiator with a fantastic ultimate. It's called Ravage and it sends a bunch of tentacles shooting upwards from the ground in an area around him which stun and damage enemies. It's absolutely horrible to be caught in, particularly when Tidehunter has an item called a Refresher Orb which resets the (long) cooldown on the ability. Provided you have enough mana you can therefore submit your foes to a double dose of tentacled unpleasantness.
The big problem with starting with Tidehunter is that Puck comes next. You go from a huge, tanky leviathan who smacks things in the face and is straightforward in terms of his demands on your fingers to this fragile faerie dragon who's all about dodging, silencing and having a billion squillion active items.
I keep telling myself that learning Puck is good for me, that it will make me a better player in the long run, that perhaps I am destined to be a fantastic mid lane player capable of rivalling S4 with my Puck and I just need to unlock that potential. That stuff might well be true, but what is also true is that I got so frustrated and fed up with the sheer abundance of new things I need to add to my playstyle that I cried. On Skype. In front of people. It was so embarrassing.
I think the thing which bothers me about it the most is that I worry I'm ruining games with my friends by subjecting them to the learning process. One of my regular Dota crew is a skilled mid player so when we play one of my Puck games I'm necessarily pushing him out of mid, replacing things like his comfy early gank potential with my own fledgling (and a bit wonky) gank predictions.
If you're not sure what I'm talking about, playing mid means you're generally the second priority for gold and experience after the carry. You want to get levels as fast as possible while also trying to out-do the opposing mid-laner. That means trying to bully them out of the lane or force them to not be able to get the last hits on a creep. It means being better than them at securing the runes which spawn in the river. It means exploiting their mistakes and it means knowing when to move to other areas of the map in order to secure kills. If you mis-time any of those things you risk being killed or losing out on vital gold and experience.
No pressure then.
Learning mid while learning Puck feels like learning to ride a bike while inside a tumble dryer. As the Dota 2 wiki puts it: "Expert use of Puck's abilities will let you appear out of nowhere, suddenly leave your enemies crippled and disadvantaged, and get away in the blink of an eye - but mess up your timing or misjudge the situation, and there is little left to save this fragile Hero from death."
Puck's abilities are as follows:
There's a magical orb which you fling in a straight line and it does damage to enemy units it hits. You activate that by hitting Q and then clicking the direction of travel. You can press D at any point to teleport to the orb's location so you can see how that would be useful. You fling it out, it does damage and then you can choose to teleport, perhaps to escape or perhaps to land in front of the enemy hero so you can use more of your skills or bodily block their escape. You can use skills and items between pressing Q and pressing D as well.
Puck sort of excretes a little puff of magic dust which deals damage and silences nearby enemy units. Being silenced means that a hero can't use their active hero abilities. That includes spells which are already in the process of being channelled like Witch Doctor's ultimate ability. It'll also do damage to creeps
This ability lets you vanish into another dimension where you're immune to harm. You disappear from the map and there's a little pile of glitter that marks when you'll return. You use this to dodge hits that would otherwise do you damage, or to shift out just as Pudge tries to hook you towards him – things like that. One of the nicest synergies with Puck involves Phase Shift and an item called a Blink Dagger – it's a kind of short range instant teleport. If you take damage you have to wait for 3 seconds to use the Blink Dagger. Phase Shift at its highest level lets you stop taking damage for 3.25 seconds so you hide out in an alternate dimension, come back and blink out of trouble.
This one is kind of like a magical toddler harness that deals a bit of damage. If the heroes it latches onto move too far from the cast point they end up stunned and take more damage. You can use this to trap enemies within a certain area or try to force them to flee and stun themselves.
One of the recommended items for Puck is a Scythe of Vyse. It's gives extra mana and mana regeneration and it's generally called a sheepstick because you can use it to turn a character into an animal (it was a sheep in the original DotA but now it's a pig) so you'll need to remember to use that. There's also a Eul's Scepter which whirls a unit up in a cyclone (as well as giving extra movement speed and a bit more mana regen). That's in addition to things like a Shiva's Guard (protection against physical damage plus it slows and damages) and a Dagon (hello burst damage).
Making sure you use items at the right time combines with using abilities in the right order and at the right times plus a bunch of mid laning awareness and map traversal.
Puck is insanely fiddly, is what I'm trying to get at. That he follows such a tanky and relatively straightforward chap as Tidehunter represents not so much an ability spike as an ability asymptote, zooming off to infinity.
After Puck will come Ursa. Ursa is a bear who hits things in the face. I have no idea if Valve intend Ursa to be a reward for the exhausted All-Hero Challenger as they finally get some respite from Puck duties. Maybe. Or maybe there is no real logic to any of the cycle of heroes.
To just round out this entry, I've been thinking about whether the All-Hero Challenge is useful in terms of learning new heroes. I definitely like that there's a way to earn check marks against heroes as you learn them in-game. It doesn't guard against just scoring a lucky win and it doesn't mean you necessarily "learned" that hero though.
Here are a couple of my own suggestions for achieving something along those lines but it would be cool to hear yours:
The first is about learning particular skill combinations. The game's training has a last hit mode where you can practice getting last hits, but I'd like to see challenges for individual heroes. For Puck that would be "avoid 10 Pudge hooks with Phase Shift" or "cast Illusory Orb, Shift to avoid a hook and then teleport to the orb 5 times". There's actually a game like that for Invoker – it's a third-party thing where you have to key in all his different skill combinations against the clock.
The second is to have the All-Hero Challenge but with three heroes on your check list at any given time. If you're having trouble with Puck you've also got Ursa and Magnus. That way there's a better chance that you'll have an option you can pick to fit in with real line-ups in pub matches, plus you don't have to stop doing the challenge if one hero is really hard. You'll still have to do them eventually, but at least there's a bit of variety within the challenge.