Blizzard DOTA was back on the floor of BlizzCon 2011 last week, after spending a year away from the spotlight being "completely rebooted." We played the game as soon as we possibly could, finding it to be a much more polished take on the popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) gametype.

"Last year we had basically the style of the art, and the look that we were going for," says Samwise Didier, Blizzard's Senior Art Director. But as I said when I played the early version of the mod, the game itself wasn't quite as polished as the look and feel. "This year," says Didier, "we really focused on taking the DOTA-style game and really making it our own."

Blizzard has done a few interesting things to the gametype that has made League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth so popular. But the most interesting may just be how the company plans to release it. Blizzard is going to make sure everyone has a chance to check it out, even if they don't own StarCraft 2. "We haven't figured out the details," says Didier. "But there will be a free-to-play Blizzard DOTA on our Blizzard Arcade. We don't know how many heroes there will be, or how many maps, but we definitely want to make sure that everyone knows it will be free-to-play."
What's Blizzard Arcade, you ask? That news was hidden in among all of the panda fanfare at last week's BlizzCon. The feature, originally known as the StarCraft 2 marketplace, in which players would be able to create and even sell their own custom mods and maps for the popular RTS title, has transformed into a concept called the Blizzard Arcade. Blizzard hasn't officially laid this all out yet, but the idea, says Didier, is that Blizzard Arcade is either free to download on its own, or included in the StarCraft 2 Starter Edition, which is already a free download from Blizzard's site.

In other words, Blizzard Arcade might work as a sort of "Blizzard Indie Games" platform, to allow players and users to make games with the StarCraft 2 engine, and then release them for sale to everyone else, including people who don't own StarCraft 2.

"If you buy Wings of Liberty, if you buy Heart of the Swarm, there'll be something for you too," says Didier. "But we want it to be like hey, Blizzard Arcade." Even if people don't play the current Blizzard franchises, they may find something in the smaller games to play that leads them into the bigger Blizzard titles. Unfortunately, there are no other details on Blizzard Arcade yet, not even a "soon" to serve as a release date, but presumably it'll be released alongside the upcoming Heart of the Swarm expansion.

Blizzard DOTA, then, will serve as a centerpiece for the new platform. It's a fun title -- gone are the trappings of StarCraft 2 completely, and what's left is a much more mechanically sound MOBA. There are even some nice innovations. Towers have limited amounts of ammo to them, which means that a prolonged siege is a huge threat, causing players to answer any big pushes. Mounts are a good addition as well, designed to replace the "boots" that other MOBA games sell to their players, and to give each hero another nice bit of flavor in the graphics.

Overall, Blizzard DOTA plays faster and looser than its similar competitors. "We've kind of taken out a lot of that kind of invisible high level gameplay that you needed to know to be the best," says Didier, "and we just started worrying about let's just make this a fun game."

Last-hitting and denying aren't in there at all, and all kill experience and gold is shared, whether you brought down another hero or just assisted. Creep camps interact directly with the attacking waves, too -- killing a "mercenary camp" won't just get you a gold bonus, but it'll actually add some high-powered creeps to each attack wave. And killing the Stone Golem group boss in the center of the map adds that very powerful unit to your next Tower attack as well.

Blizzard has also enthusiasically decided to play with multiple maps as well. Many DOTA games stick to just one or two maps, simply because the complexity of the game lies in the heroes' interaction rather than the map's layout. But Blizzard says it has a few new ideas (including things like setting a fight in Onyxia's Lair with the famous dragon as the group boss), and the StarCraft 2 editor makes for quick iteration.

What might be the biggest separation between this game and the other titles like it, though, is that these heroes are all Blizzard's: Warcraft's Thrall fights with StarCraft's Kerrigan against Arthas the Lich King, and so on. "This is our Blizzard fighter," says Didier. "We can't make a Street Fighter style game right now, so this is our Blizzard fighter. The Blizzard All-stars, is what I like to call it." Each DOTA clone has spawned its own famous and favorite heroes, but Blizzard's IP is obviously very powerful already.

While fans will certainly debate about which game out there is the best or most fun to play, Didier says Blizzard just wants to make a great game in this style. The original Defense of the Ancients mod was built on Blizzard's own Warcraft 3 engine, so the company has a stake in the history. "All of that great artwork and stuff that we built made a whole new genre," says Didier. "And Blizzard loved it so much that we wanted to make ours too."

After all, when Blizzard really enjoys games, Didier points out, great things can happen. "We all loved Dune 2," he remembers about the time before Blizzard decided to make its own RTS title. "Great things have happened since Dune 2 because we loved that game. We all loved Everquest -- and there's a lot of history now. So this is a new step for us."

This article was originally published on Joystiq.