It’s hard to classify this review. On the one hand, Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) is a custom map for Warcraft 3 that has been around for four years. WC3 itself has been around for almost five years. This might qualify it as “best game ever” status (and it indeed received this status). The flip side is, DOTA is still actively maintained, has a huge community, and has a number of sponsored leagues, including at various Blizzard events. More bizarrely demonstrating the cult status of DOTA is the work of Swedish DJ Basshunter. Accordingly, given the active maintenance and evolution of the game, it’s hard to give it the necessary dinosaur status a Best Game ever has.
Regardless of what you call it, DOTA has been amusing gamers, including myself, for a very long time. It is, by an order of magnitude, the most popular Warcraft 3 custom map. The ongoing support and development of the map, particularly in today’s age of ADD gamers and game mod writers, is amazing. Most people give up after a few months. DOTA wasn’t different in this regard, but has always has a continuous team where if one developer dropped off the face of the earth (such as the map’s original designer, Eul), others have stepped up to keep the map, and community, alive.
DOTA is pretty simple in concept. You control a single hero, chosen from 80 possible choices. Although there are certain hero “types” that are similar, the skill sets are sufficiently different so as to require different play styles. Each character has three regular skills and one super skill, and can level up to 25 at the highest. You have six item slots, which can be filled with various items (some of which can be combined to form more powerful items). In the past, certain heroes were substantially more powerful than others, but nowadays the game is sufficiently mature and balanced that there are few truly “imbalanced” heroes.
The map features three ‘lanes,’ with defensive towers and a steady spawn supply of computer controled grunt troops known as “creeps.” The game features up to five humans to a team, and your goal is to push out the lanes, into the enemy base, destroying their command structure (Tree of Life or Frozen Throne) for victory. The map has sufficient twists and turns between the lanes, in conjunction with some “neutral creeps” to give plenty of playing space, and lots of opportunities for ambushes (or “ganks” as the l33t kids call it).
The strength of DOTA is replayability. With 60+ heroes and almost 100 items, the game has nearly endless combination that keep it from getting old. There are several ‘match types’, such as “all random,” where all players get a random hero, or deathmatch, where you auto random into a new hero upon death. Because of the many different potential hero combinations, your play style will differ based on the characters your team gets vs. your opponents team (as will your item and skill builds). The map’s developers continue to this day to update with new versions, adding new heroes and new items. This has managed to keep the game fresh, even after years and hundreds, if not thousands, of games played.
The biggest knock against DOTA is that human beings are asshats. What does that have to do with the game? Well, for a game of DOTA to be truly fun, all players need to stick it out to the end (and play at least reasonably competently). Unfortunately, battle.net is filled with 13 year old morons, so people will frequently do any of the following:
– Quit after dying
– Quit after they get a hero they don’t like in a random game (why they’d join a random game knowing there are only some heroes they like is beyond me)
– Suicide to hurt their own team
– Leave because they knew they had to go 10 minutes after the game started
This sort of behavior ruins at least 30% of all games played. This doesn’t even touch upon the problems of known maphack and drophack programs, which are also rampant.
To fight back, the community has come up with a few tools. There are some anti-hack programs which are mostly utilized in league play (the kind of leagues with cash money prizes and such). There are programs such as banlist, which allow users to create lists of quitters, slackers and idiots that can be shared with other users, creating an asshole database. Unfortunately, on battle.net, user names are free to create, so such lists are only of moderate value.
Other groups, most notable among them being “Clan TDA,” have formed in house channels with bots that monitor access, creating “qualification” systems that discourage random ass-hattery. Even TDA has its own elitist quirks which are cumbersome for some players (such as their refusal to play quick mode games). Ultimately, as with any free service (and when dealing with other anonymous gamers on the internet), a player has to figure out what tradeoffs will make their game experience acceptable.
Despite all this, DOTA has had amazing staying power with the community. No matter what game I’ve been playing for the past four years, DOTA has always been a bulwark of my gaming time. My biggest gripes are the quality of other players, and that new version don’t come out fast enough. But given the quality of new versions, the quality of map balancing, and the consistency of new versions (up to 6.38b at the time writing this article), the level of service far surpasses that which many commercial companies provide. I truly hope that this Best Game Ever continues to flourish as a community, regardless of how outdated WC3 might become.