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.
Having spoken so much about Dota in this column (as you would expect) and having made it the subject of a Have You Played…? it occurs to me that I've never really done a post aimed at newcomers thinking of trying out the game. Until now!
There are plenty of beginners' guides out there but Dota 2 itself now contains a bunch of tutorial missions and quests. With that in mind I've spent the last Dote Night of 2014 having a good old poke about in the tutorial missions and seeing how well I think they explain the game.
So you've downloaded the game and booted it up. Excellent work. Now you'll need to answer a question or two. That's because current Dota 2 actually makes some gestures towards user friendly-ness. I remember glaring at this screen when I saw it earlier on a smurf account and thinking "you people don't know how easy you have it! Why in my day we had to walk twelve miles up the lanes in the snow and no-one could afford boots etc etc etc"
ANYWAY. The game will ask you what your level of experience is and you can tell it whether you're a total novice, whether you've been playing Dota 2 for ages or whether you've played another game of the same ilk – HoN or LoL or similar. Putting it on the complete novice setting will take you through to the tutorial sections. If you clicked a different option and can't find the tutorials just open up the play tab and then pick "training" from the left hand side.
The first is a video which gives you an overview of the game and explains the basic setup of each match. You're one of a team of five, you're trying to push into the enemy's base and destroy a building called an Ancient and you have access to a number of resources to help with that. It doesn't go into any real detail on how a lot of things work though so bear in mind that even though it covers a lot of ground I don't think it offers up enough information for playing. It also uses an older version of the Dota 2 map so things like Roshan's lair will be in a different place when you get into the game.
The first two tutorials have more of an RPG element – creeps demand your help, you have to rendezvous with other heroes who have gone on ahead and you fulfil specific quests. What you're learning as you do so is applicable in the main game, it just feels a bit odd knowing how divorced the main game's matches are from these tightly choreographed experiences. Tidehunter scales a cliff and destroys a bridge in a couple of set pieces which I really liked and a friendly parrot follows you around telling you what to do. In real Dota, Tidehunter would have used a blink dagger to turn up unwanted and unannounced (instead of any of that clambering nonsense) then unloaded a shit ton of stun in the form of his ultimate, Ravage, while all his mates proceeded to rush in and clobber you. The parrot would probably be replaced by someone on text chat saying "OMG Y?????????!!!"
I feel like a number of the basics are explained effectively – last hitting, how you earn experience, the general importance of a character reaching level 6, staying behind the creep line where possible to minimise the damage you take from creeps – those sorts of shenanigans. That said, some ideas are hinted at and then just left dangling. For example, runes are mentioned in the introductory video but none of the tutorial sections ever broach the subject. There's also a thing you can do which is called pulling. When you pull creeps it means you get them to notice you by dealing a bit of damage and then moving away so they follow you. In the tutorial this is actually mentioned and you use it to drag some creeps over to where your own creeps are standing and thus get the latter to start dealing damage.
In the game proper you can use pulling to make sure there are no creeps in a neutral spawn area which tricks the game into thinking all of those creeps are gone and spawning another set. By doing this a few times you can stack up sets of neutral creeps ready for another hero (or yourself) to farm them for gold and experience. You can also pull one of these stacks to the lane creep wave to divert and manipulate that flow a bit. I appreciate that's a bit advanced and it's more about exploiting a mechanic in the game when it comes to stacking but I'd say there's no harm in mentioning these other uses exist, especially since they're a big part of play once you start improving and on a professional level.
After a couple of mechanical tutorials you've got a Sniper vs Axe lane exercise, a lane practice where you attack and defend towers using heroes from the Limited Hero pool and then it's on to bot and then human games. There's a last hitting introduction and practice option as well, although having started working through the tutorials that has now disappeared from mine which is irritating. I suspect that's because the game now thinks I need to play against real people for the first time before I progress or something odd but I thought I should mention it in case it's playing up for other people too.
The thing is, although the basics which *are* communicated are done so pretty effectively there is an overwhelming amount which gets omitted. The runes thing is one, the importance of Roshan is another, then you've got warding, jungling, how you understand and select items, what being a strength or intelligence or agility hero actually means in terms of how characters build, how roles work... It would be a lot of effort to add those tutorials in and keep them up to date (that Sniper tutorial is going to need a complete overhaul when the Shifting Snows patch hits because it changes the way shrapnel works). But they're all important parts of how the game works and I feel like at the moment the gulf between what the tutorials teach you and the point at which the training section introduces full matches is too vast. I can't imagine not feeling totally overwhelmed at that point - and at so many points afterwards - as the onus is firmly on the player when it comes to deciphering the reasons things are going wrong.
Luckily there's a whole host of information out there which has been put together by a passionate community. Build guides are available in-game and, depending on the author, the description text can help you understand why you're putting points into particular skills or building items. There are also the character information pages on the Dota 2 wiki, the extensive discussions of particular heroes and strategies over on Reddit, willing tutors and knowledgeable folk lurking on forums and messageboards, huge numbers of explanatory videos on YouTube, professionals streaming (and sometimes explaining as they go) on Twitch, Purge's famous 'Welcome to Dota, you suck' introduction... the list goes on.
But in terms of things I think the game itself should provide, I'd really like to see training modules for picking/counterpicking and for item and skill builds. When I say that I don't mean talking in terms of there being a "correct" answer in those situations. I mean trying to give players the ability to look at situations or team composition and realising what might be missing – Are the other four chosen heroes melee? Do you have any reliable stun abilities on the team? Do you accidentally have three junglers? Obviously you'd still be free to go with your wonky-as-all-hell lineup but you'd be doing that with a bit more knowledge on your side as to why it might be harder to pull off a victory or figure out lanes. It's the same with item builds. There's no right answer because in an ideal world you're building in response to the game you're having, making choices which fit those unique circumstances, but one of the most frequent panics I've seen in new players is over what the hell to buy with their gold. It would be great if the game offered a bit more on that front so the wall of icons in the shop didn't feel nearly so daunting.
With that in mind, I figured I'd end this column with a request to anyone who plays Dota 2 – what is it that you wish you'd known when you started playing Dota? Perhaps by collecting those things here it might help make a newcomer's life easier!
Here's mine: I wish that in those first few games I'd known about primary attributes. Each hero is assigned either strength, agility or intelligence as their primary attribute. As well as influencing how the hero is best played, when you add points to that particular attribute (usually by buying items) you also increase your hero's attack damage. Once I understood that, Dota got a whole heap easier.