Hands-on with Blizzard DOTA: Tweaking the genre it created

Blizzard DOTA
Mat McCurley is on loan to us from WoW Insider, which dispatched him to BlizzCon 2011 just in time to bring us this hands-on with Blizzard's upcoming MOBA!

Blizzard DOTA has been reborn! We first experienced the StarCraft II module back during BlizzCon 2010, when the game felt like a very different affair. Now, Blizzard DOTA has been more streamlined to make for a unique and new playstyle. While the basic gameplay of the tri-lane DOTA maps stays similar (with two forces of minions ever-locked in eternal combat moving up and down lanes), there are changes that give the game a bit more dynamic player control.

Everything is tongue-in-cheek, from the ridiculously fun story of the Blizzard universes mashing together and heroes from each being used by lords to fight for their amusement, to the trailer that announced the game would be coming "soonish," in typical Blizzard fashion. Blizzard knows its audience and what we all expect. There's even a space goblin selling you wares out of his rocket!

There are fours roles a Blizzard champion can fulfill: tank, DPS, support, and siege. Tank characters have crowd control and lots of health, as you would expect. Arthas, Muradin Bronzebeard, and Stitches the abomination, all from WarCraft, are the playable tanks. DPS roles are fulfilled by StarCraft favorites Kerrigan, Zeratul, and Nova. Support characters heal and buff and are represented by Uther and Thrall from WarCraft and Tassadar from StarCraft. Siege characters are a new archetype, with Warfield the siege tank, the Diablo Witch Doctor, and the symbiotic Za'gara playing the long-range game.

Siege characters make for an interesting addition to the meta gameplay. Towers in DOTA games are big obstacles to overcome during the flow of the match; more focus is placed on defending towers from extremely long range bombers. I was playing as Warfield in the siege role and was vital to my teams' pushes across the map when I hid myself in brush to ambush wandering heroes.

Blizzard DOTA
Blizzard DOTA borrows the brush concept from League of Legends nicely, allowing players to hide in wait for passing enemies or to set up quick ganks and skirmishes. The QWER 1234 skills, abilities, and items control scheme is in effect, so jumping into Blizzard DOTA will feel just as natural as playing LoL or Heroes of Newerth. There is a "mount up" ability bound to "T" that, after a short cast time, puts your hero into mount mode and increases his speed dramatically until he's attacked. This mount-up feature makes it easy to get back into lane without a teleport spell. "B" will, as usual, recall you back to the starting area.

The jungle area, where neutral creeps and monsters provide challenges and extra gold and experience for players, is still there -- with a twist. Neutral minion camps exist, and after a player kills all of the creeps in the game, he can capture the point and start spawning new minions with his default minion waves. This creates another game of jungle control in which keeping control of certain minion camps means big bonuses to the team with the best vision and control.

Warfield has some pretty fun abilities. His Q ability puts him into an immobile siege mode, increasing his range and damage dealt at the expense of movement. W's attack is a point-blank knockback that allowed me to shoo away melee characters who were getting up in my proverbial grill. E's attack launches a cone of mines that explode when a minion or hero steps on them. Finally, the ultimate ability R is a far-range incendiary round on a short cooldown that lays down patches of fire that hurt friend and foe. It was on a short cooldown, but if you put too many down, you're going to impede your team as much as the enemy. Warfield was a fun hero to play and required a lot of movement and positioning.

Finally, items are not upgraded from building progressively complicated weapons and armor. Instead, players buy an item and then upgrade that item by purchasing additional levels for it. For instance, if I purchase an HP regen ring, I have the option to upgrade it to levels 2 and 3, which give more bonuses without taking up more inventory space. There are only four inventory slots and many fewer items than in other games, but the system makes item selection more about adding to your character's skills rather than giving you new abilities.

Blizzard DOTA does not feel as hefty or as complete as League of Legends does mostly because the aesthetics of the game have more in common with the original Defense of the Ancients. Blizzard DOTA looks and feels like the best StarCraft II mod out there, ever. It feels like DOTA felt when I first played it. It is not HoN or LoL, games built from the ground up, but rather it's a project that the people who love these types of games wanted to make.

This article was originally published on Massively.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.