I’m going to go out on a limb here: DotA Allstars (doh-tah) has got to be the best non-mmo multiplayer game I’ve ever played. If I were a big-shot game reviewer I would declare it the best multiplayer game ever. Prior to DotA, I felt that Counter Strike Beta 6 (before the cheaters), NeverWinter Nights (lan party or persistent worlds) and Star “who needs some gas” Craft had a three-way tie for the best multiplayer game ever made. It’s hard to compare apples to oranges, but dota brings elements of all three of these games to the table and blows each of them out of the water. If I had to pick one game and throw all others away, I would spare Defense of the Ancients Allstars.
If you haven’t played dota, please allow me to clue you in. Dota isn’t a commercial game. Dota is a custom map for Warcraft 3. To play it, you need to buy a copy of the “Warcraft Battle Chest” which includes the Frozen Throne expansion for WC3. To get a game going, download the map (link above), open WC3, go to BattleNet and click on Custom Games. You’ll notice that more than half of the custom game action on BattleNet is Dota.
Dota is one part real-time strategy, one part team strategy and one part roleplaying. Unlike regular real-time strategy games, you only control one character, your hero. You pick this hero at the beginning of the game and you have to stick with it the entire game. Dota has about 50 heros to choose from, each with their own level track and special abilities. To help your hero you can buy items and recipes that combine items to make new items. The possibilities for item/hero combos are endless.
Dota is played with two teams, up to five players each. Typical games are 3v3, 4v4 or 5v5. Each team has a base in opposite corners of the map connected by three main arteries and a few offshoots to help you get between them. Each team auto-spawns creeps that run down the arteries and meet eachother somewhere in the middle. The goal of the game is to slowly tilt the balance of the creep fights closer and closer to the other team’s base, eventually bringing the creeps into thier base and hopefully destroying it.
My favorite feature of dota is the play time. Dota fixes a major problem I had with StarCraft: if both teams were good, the games could end in a stalemate. I once played a StarCraft game that went on for 5 hours and the only reason it ended was because someone had to go to the bathroom. Dota is set up perfectly so that the games rarely go past an hour, typically games end within 45 minutes. This happens for a number of reasons, but mainly because the creeps and heros get so strong that eventually one team can’t handle it. Sometimes the balance of power shifts so much that all seems to be lost, but this is what makes for exciting dota: the big comeback. Some of the most exciting dota games I’ve played are ones where a few teammates dropped out because they thought all was lost, so the other team gets cocky and starts slipping up, then we make a huge comeback. Good times.
Dota isn’t without problems. I think if dota were it’s own stand-alone game it wouldn’t sell millions of copies until a few problems are fixed.
The first major problem is leavers. Some people don’t like losing, so they leave the game at the first sight of getting pwned. Although the rest of the team can loot their items, if they were a total noob that doesn’t buy them much. Here, there’s not much dota can do because the game is at the mercy of the WC3 game engine, but if I were to make dota a stand-alone game I would allow people to join games in progress. If someone leaves, another should be allowed to take their place, much like Counter Strike and other team FPS games. A lurker/observer mode would help facilitate this–you could tag in/out with lurkers if you’re about to leave.
The second major problem is lag. RTS games completely freeze when one person is experiencing lag. Here, dota could take a lesson from FPS games again and just NOT completely freeze the game. Since dota is pretty much single-character it doesn’t matter much. Just lag the person, let the other people pwn them, and then they’ll leave. Since you’d be able to join a game in progress this wouldn’t be such a big deal. I really hate that WC3 doesn’t have a built-in latency checker when joining a game. Stand-alone dota would definitely need one.
That’s about it. The only problems with dota are things dota can’t do anything about.