Dota 2 is far from ready for release, needs to help beginners navigate learning curve

Dota 2

If you’ve been watching Dota 2 video streams or, even better, managed to get an invite to the closed beta, you’d have noticed that Dota 2 looks and plays like an extremely polished game. Nearly all of the game’s major mechanics have made the transition from WarCraft III to Valve’s Source engine intact, to the point where competitive teams have said that they do not find switching between Dota Allstars and Dota 2 a problem.

That’s not to say that the game is perfect. There are many bugs still being discovered on a daily basis, as can be seen by the number of reports made in the Dota 2 developer bug forums. Only half of the full roster of 108 heroes have been implemented in Dota 2, reducing the variety of heroes greatly and changing the metagame significantly. Many elements of the menu and interface system still need improvement or are yet to be implemented in the case of player profiles and match records.

But more than that, the biggest thing missing from Dota 2 are features to ease new players into the game. There’s simply too much to learn — last hitting, lane control, ganking, warding, jungling, runing, and so on — that it quickly becomes overwhelming to newcomers. Which do you learn first? How do you go about doing it? And on top of that, you’ll be constantly struggling with the in-game shop menu system and, if you’re a casual RTS player, developing the necessary keyboard and mouse coordination to do make your hero do what you want it to do.

These problems only get worse when you try to pick up the game with friends, who are already competent players. As Dota is largely a team game, where there’s an expectation of having to work together for victory, very soon you’ll get the feeling that all you’re doing is holding them back and contributing nothing of value. At worst, you’ll be made to feel like you’re the scum of the earth and shouldn’t be anywhere near a computer. As it stands, Dota 2 is a game for veterans of Dota, or for sadists who like to punish themselves.

That’s my personal experience. I was, at best, a mediocre Dota Allstars player who stopped more than two years ago and never truly got into the more nuanced areas of gameplay. As reporter who has covered numerous Dota games over the past three years, I was familiar with the general concepts of lane control, the importance of controlling the amount of gold farmed by each team and what each role in a team line-up was supposed to do. None of that was useful when I was actually playing the game and being confronted with an unfamiliar UI and control scheme.

I get that when you’re picking up any game, there may be a steep learning curve, especially in a game like Dota, which has given birth to an entire genre of competitive games. That is why I don’t mind putting myself through the grind of countless deaths and losing streaks to get better. My problem is that there is next to nothing in the game right now to help new or beginner-level players to get better in the game. The game’s shop interface is far from intuitive, and there’s no tutorial or hint system to help you navigate it. You don’t get any guide in helping you to nail the basics of moving and using your hero’s abilities either, you’re left alone to discover it, for your team mates to tell you, or for you to search for guides out on the web.

Dota 2 Drow Ranger

I used to play Dota... until I took an arrow to the knee.

Of course, the current Dota 2 beta isn’t really meant for beginners. At this point, the beta seems more geared towards getting experienced players in to playtest so that Valve can get the game mechanics nailed down. My friends have also commented that the general level of play is far better than the Dota pub games you can find on Garena, the top choice for most recreational players in the region.

And Valve did indicate to Game Informer in October last year that they are going to integrate an interactive guide system directly into Dota 2, which will highlight suggested item purchases or displaying useful information during a match. Also to be included is a coaching system, probably similar to the one used in Team Fortress 2, to allow veteran players to help out new players by providing in-game direction and support.

I’m personally hoping that Valve will go one step further and create a playable tutorial where you’re taught about various aspects of the game, such as how to control your hero, how and why to use couriers, basic techniques of last hitting, warding locations and so on. Even better would be including hero-specific challenges, much like those found in fighting games like Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 3, where you can be shown how to use a hero’s skills in various situations.

In a complex game like Dota 2, where the learning curve is steep and can be incredibly daunting — especially since all games are team games where people will come to rely on you in one way or another — these are absolutely essential features to have. Valve thinks these are essential features too, as they have indicated in the Game Informer feature. It’s a key way to differentiate Dota 2 from other similar offerings like League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth while not having to constantly hand-hold beginners, keeping core gameplay intact.

Right now though, there’s no sign of these beginner-friendly features being implemented at all, indicating that the final release of Dota 2 is still months, if not at least a year away.

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