Review DOTA 2 (10 Years Edition)

Review DOTA 2 (10 Years Edition)

Developing a successful competitive game in the market is a challenging endeavor. Sustaining and ensuring its existence for a decade with a continuously active community? This task is even more formidable than we might imagine. Remarkably, despite being best known as the creator of Steam – the world's largest PC digital game platform at present – Valve possesses products that effortlessly meet these criteria. We are referring to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, whose player count continues to surge despite its aging, Team Fortress 2, which uniquely defies obsolescence, and the reigning star of the MOBA genre – DOTA 2. DOTA 2 itself has just celebrated its tenth anniversary!

Dota 2 Overview

After undergoing a 2-year beta period, DOTA 2 was officially launched on July 10, 2013, as a fully-fledged competitive game. This full release was marked by a substantial roster of complete heroes and a monetization process that, at the time, began to take shape after several editions of The International were held. As an esports game that managed to stand its ground amidst the onslaught of numerous competing products, even though it couldn't quite claim the number one spot due to the undeniable dominance of Riot Games' League of Legends, it's certainly intriguing to observe the trajectory of this game's development over the past 10 years.

So, what has DOTA 2 managed to deliver over the past 10 years? What keeps us, as one of its "veteran" gamers, hooked? This review will provide a more profound insight into the experience it brings forth.

Originating as a mod for Warcraft 3, later adopted by Valve as a distinct competitive game product while collaborating with the mastermind, IceFrog, DOTA 2 was warmly embraced right from its beta days. Initially distributed through invitation emails that even found their way onto auction sites at high prices, DOTA 2 has been actively evolving from year to year, discovering fresh forms while building upon the essentially unchanging foundation. No matter the shifts, its core gameplay always revolves around the endeavor to destroy the "Ancients" situated at the heart of each faction. The clashes between the Dire and Radiant can erupt anywhere, as they rightfully should.

To be honest, while we've spent 10 years enamored with DOTA 2, we did venture into trying out other MOBA games. We delved into experiencing and understanding League of Legends and Mobile Legends Bang Bang. However, it's hard not to acknowledge that, in our eyes, DOTA 2 remains a far more intricate product. It's not just about the hundreds of hero characters that can be utilized and combined, but also the "minor" elements that, when nurtured, contribute immensely to victory. This pertains to the information warfare with precision placement of "eyes" like wards and sentries, the frequency with which you chase available Runes, and the skill to simultaneously perform creeping and deny tactics. Denying, for those from other MOBAs, presents an opportunity to finish off your dying creeps to nullify a certain amount of EXP and, in total, gold that could end up in the hands of enemy heroes.

Not To Complex And Not To Simple

Review DOTA 2 (10 Years Edition)

The complexity also arises from the existence of unique heroes like Invoker, Meepo, Lone Druid, and Visage, who go beyond merely controlling and observing a single character unit. We're talking about Invoker with attack combinations that resemble those in fighting games, Meepo who presents a high risk-high reward character that makes you control as if handling 4 characters at once, and Visage and Lone Druid, who remain challenging even if somewhat "simpler". While we can't be certain whether such characters are available in competing MOBAs or not, DOTA 2 clearly continues to push and ensure that the presence of these heroes requiring high mechanical skills and more "brutal" micro-management remains intact. They even make sure these heroes can synergize and synchronize with other hero combinations, even at a competitive level.

To make it clear, from the first minute it entered the gaming industry until 10 years later as of the writing of this review, DOTA 2 has been a highly complex MOBA game that requires not only learning but also gradual acclimatization, which isn't difficult to spend over hundreds of hours just to achieve. We ourselves have invested approximately 7,900 hours in this game and are still far from reaching a "medium" level of performance. Starting from the highest level as Ancient and now falling to the Crusader level, DOTA 2 is a dynamic medium that will consistently demand your full attention.

However, in the past 10 years, Valve has also clearly aimed to achieve one thing with DOTA 2 – to make it much simpler. Because it must be acknowledged that at many points, this game is so complex that it becomes nearly impossible to attract new gamers to ensure the community remains alive and vibrant. Even through tutorial modes that have been revised several times, imparting the "basic knowledge" about DOTA 2 might still elude these new gamers.

The good news? At least Valve's simplification efforts with DOTA 2 have touched on the right areas, resulting in an enhanced gameplay experience rather than uprooting its core identity. A small example? The addition of UI elements to provide specific information about status effects affecting a hero, as well as making combinations for advanced attacks easier to achieve. All veteran DOTA 2 players surely recall how they used to automatically calculate the duration of their stun effects in the early days of the game's existence before they unleashed their advanced skills. Now, with a clear information bar, such necessity is eliminated. Although there was some initial debate when this update emerged, suggesting that it was "simplifying" DOTA 2, it ultimately became a Quality of Life (QOL) update that is now welcomed with open arms.

IceFrog and Valve also tend to ensure that the DOTA 2 experience, at least in terms of how it feels to play a hero, is much more interactive than merely targeting creeps and heroes. One of the solutions they've adopted is the hesitancy and consistency to continually ensure that heroes with too many passive skills are now transitioning into active skills. Some truly have distinct functions, while many others have only had active effects layered upon them. For example? Sniper's Take Aim now allows him to perform timed headshot actions, or how Wraith King now has an active skill to summon his skeletal forces on top of his passive life leech aura skill.

With all the steps they have taken, DOTA 2 finds itself at a unique crossroads that, fortunately so far, has prevented it from being uprooted from its core identity since ancient times. On one hand, there's the demand that it should be simpler to ensure that newcomers can come and enjoy it and master it as quickly as they can, ultimately guaranteeing a strong community. Meanwhile, on the other side, there's the need to keep it as complex as it can maintain to prevent the game from being detached from its roots. For us personally, IceFrog and Valve have done well in sorting through and selecting what needs to be modified.

Playing a game for thousands of hours consistently over at least 10 years might be something that many gamers can't fathom, especially those who occupy themselves with annual releases or single-player games. Rationally, for gamers outside the realm of DOTA 2, whose core gameplay, notably its three-lane system, has not undergone significant changes, this could be seen as a recipe for absolute boredom. But in reality, for those who dive in and become immersed, DOTA 2 is a game that continues to evolve, grow, and transform.

Dota 2 Mechanics

Growing and evolving because every year they consistently inject new heroes into it from various roles. Flexibility is also consistently upheld by each new hero, which sometimes still opens up space for players to play them in roles that are far different from what IceFrog and Valve themselves envisioned. These heroes immediately have a significant impact on the game dynamics that were previously unavailable, especially if they grow into their own meta. This sense of growth and evolution doesn't just come from heroes; it also emerges from so many modifications and reworks of older heroes, in some cases even happening completely. Don't believe it? Just look at how a hero like Techies, who was so despised and limited in the past, is now solid enough to be included in the roster of major tournaments as a capable support.

One thing that might not be understood by those who are unfamiliar is the fact that DOTA 2 is a game that is constantly changing, especially with the presence of major updates. The gameplay concept remains the same, involving the destruction of the Ancient with three different lanes, but various new elements injected, discarded, and replaced within it are always ready to offer so many unique scenarios that never fail to refresh and intensify the experience simultaneously.

No need for "significant." We remember how at one point in DOTA 2, IceFrog introduced an item called "Iron Talon" that could instantly cut down a substantial percentage of HP from Creeps, including Neutral versions. With just this one item, the dynamics of DOTA 2 lanes suddenly changed. In just one night since its introduction, the "Jungler" role, heroes who were merely focused on clearing jungle creeps instead of aiding lanes, emerged. Or consider how IceFrog's decision to remove the "Poor Man's Shield," which could block a certain amount of damage for melee carries, suddenly made the support role more effective and recommended for engaging in HP reduction battles in the lane. "Small" things like these can lead to significant impacts.

Furthermore, we also see how some updates now have the potential to "trim down" the average length of matches, making them much shorter instead of having to endure battles that last a minimum of 40 minutes. For instance? Instead of sharing a single courier, each hero now has their own courier for item delivery. Or how every hero now has the chance to be equipped with more effective and lethal types of abilities through an item named Aghanim's Shard, which can be bought at a lower price. This is now supported by the Aghanim's Sceptre item, which can be even crazier on some heroes. IceFrog has also managed to make many heroes that were once irrelevant due to end-game limitations in terms of stats and items remain functional until the end of the game, thanks to the introduction of systems like Talent and Neutral Items.

Here is where DOTA 2 truly shines. You won't have difficulty finding DOTA 2 gamers who spend 1-2 hours of their time reading through the series of patch notes available in various major updates, as this is an essential part of the experience. Skipping it? Not feeling like reading? Well, you'll automatically fall behind compared to other players. These patch notes can contain highly technical and mathematical details, ranging from the amount of Gold gained from hero and creep kills, item additions and reductions, to hero skill changes. Or what's even crazier? Updates that can transform the entire terrain, making it 40% larger with the introduction of new outposts, as seen in the latest patch.

For DOTA 2 gamers, when this happens, it's as if you're being asked to "learn" DOTA 2 all over again, regardless of the fact that you've been immersed in it for the past 7-9 years, for instance. And that's why it never fails to feel refreshing, no matter how small the update is. Remember, even adding 1 Armor to a hero can change the existing team composition meta and influence your matchmaking experience.

As a gamer who was in the Heroes of Newerth era when DOTA 2 hadn't been announced yet and DOTA 1 at that time felt so old and classic, the experience of each battle in that game often felt incomplete and unsatisfying. Why so? Because in HoN at that time, you could vote to surrender based on a majority voice, which would automatically end the battle and award victory to the opposing team. Although this option only became available after a certain time limit, it still remained a choice that could be taken and sometimes exacerbated the toxic behavior. The good news? This absence is not present in DOTA 2.

When transitioning from HoN to DOTA 2, the absence of the surrender option in normal and ranked matchmaking (non-lobby) was initially seen as a drawback. Why? Because fundamentally, it turned what was clearly an uphill battle into a drawn-out affair, resulting in a frustrating experience rather than an enjoyable one. However, this perspective changed over time. The absence of a surrender button might be one of the best decisions made by DOTA 2.

Why is that? Because the most satisfying, adrenaline-pumping, and hair-raising moments are when COMEBACK situations occur. When, for reasons sometimes inexplicable, your team that was already down and seemingly impossible to win suddenly finds the momentum to "steal" strategic advantages bit by bit, ultimately leading to victory. Especially if this COMEBACK happens after you've endured the toxic behavior of enemies who arrogantly act as if they've already won. What's even cooler? This situation often occurs in major tournaments, including The International, making these moments feel even more exceptional. Remember how Miracle from Nigma protected his Ancient using Arc Warden's bubble when he was cornered, managed to turn the tide, and win? Such situations wouldn't happen if DOTA 2 gamers had the mentality of "Well, let's just surrender...".

What's even cooler? Valve consistently injects comeback mechanics that make this possible. A team that's in a dire position, for instance, will receive more gold and experience if they manage to kill the dominating team, bringing the equilibrium point between them closer and closer. Situations like this also compel the dominating team to remain vigilant and not squander their time and lives, even when they're at the top. What's more? Valve and IceFrog ensure that the team that's already cornered and helpless doesn't end up being mercilessly hunted down in their base. This prevents the dominating team from going into a "hunting" mode, solely for the sake of boosting their K/D, ranging from making the Fountain damage much more lethal to immobilizing Fountain-dwelling teammates to shield them from attacks.

Valve indeed deserves recognition for being responsible for introducing two content concepts that were widely disliked when attempted by other developers: paid cosmetic items and the Battle Pass. The paid cosmetic items they implemented through Team Fortress 2 in the past ended up becoming a common practice that is now accepted and even considered one of the earliest implementations of "NFT" technology in the world. As for the Battle Pass? First introduced in DOTA 2 to boost the total prize pool of The International, it later became tested by many other games as well. The good news? DOTA 2 at least executed both of these concepts effectively.

Over the course of 10 years using a similar monetization system, a two thumbs up is certainly well-deserved for Valve's commitment and consistency in ensuring that none of these paid digital items have any impact on your in-game performance. They are all purely cosmetic items that won't make you more skilled or proficient in battles. The injected variety is also increasingly diverse, not limited to just Arcanas that alter many different skill appearances; they've also introduced new categories like Personas that even change the entire model's appearance, such as Crystal Maiden, who now has a Persona as a dog.

However, it must be acknowledged that as it ages, at least in The International 2022, Valve's "greed" has started to become apparent. With the Battle Pass prices increasing or remaining high, the cosmetic content planned and prepared by Valve wasn't as rich as in previous years. It's not surprising that in such a situation, Valve ended up failing to maintain the streak of ever-increasing prize pools for The International, which had reached tens of millions of USD at one point, an impressive feat. Despite the criticisms, one thing should still be kept in mind – that at least all these items are ensured not to be something you "must" own. They still appear merely as options.

Another complaint worth discussing also relates to Valve's flexibility in costume design and cosmetic items, which, it must be admitted, has become looser as DOTA 2 ages. In its early existence, Valve had very strict conditions, where cosmetic items for heroes, for instance, had to share the same basic color combination and still had to make them instantly recognizable from a glance. This requirement is no longer in place, which at one point even led us to be confused about whether the hero we were facing was Viper or Dragon Knight in his dragon form.

Valve themselves have indeed expressed an interest in moving away from the Battle Pass system that has been the "fuel" for its main tournament, The International, over the last 10 years. With the same level of curiosity and optimism, we believe they will still come up with a similarly respectful monetization mechanism.


With everything we've discussed above, it seems clear that we will answer "Yes" to the question posed earlier, especially for veteran gamers who may have temporarily left the game. The complexity it offers has managed to endure as an attraction rather than something that would drive us to turn to other MOBA games. Moreover, evident through the consistent stream of updates that launch and change the existing dynamics and meta, DOTA 2 never fails to feel refreshing and challenging at the same time. Despite the fact that you've been playing it for 10 years, you're still far from "mastering" it.

But is it perfect? Certainly not. Reaching its 10-year mark doesn't mean Valve's job is done. First and foremost, they truly need to find ways to recruit new gamers to ensure the community remains alive and active.

Because it has to be acknowledged that compared to its main competitor - League of Legends, DOTA 2 does feel "lackluster." League of Legends is showered with a plethora of content appealing to the general public, ranging from cinematic trailers to idol groups like K/DA, which are undeniably effective. Valve did attempt to create a DOTA 2 anime in collaboration with Netflix, but it was quickly overshadowed by Riot Games' ARCANE, which is superior in every way. Valve can't continue like this, remaining silent while hoping that DOTA 2 grows and develops without more radical actions.

So, how about yourself? What is your opinion about DOTA 2 after enjoying it for the past 10 years?

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