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The Backlog: Defense of the Ancients & League of Legends

Backlog Dota Featured

Having a stack of old games that have gone un-played for years isn’t so much of a problem with single-player games.  Those stories are waiting to be heard, and those dusty old disks are happy to sit on the shelf until someone finds the time to play them.  This isn’t the case with online games.  Wait too long to play a moderately successful online multiplayer game it could turn into a ghost town with only one or two lonely, desperate players logging on to see if anyone wants to play.  With extremely popular games, the online community grows smaller but more intense as casual players lose interest, leaving behind only hardcore fans who have been playing obsessively for years.  Defense of the Ancients falls into the latter category.  It has been around for nine years.  It’s a mod for Warcraft III made by hardcore fans, and it can be downloaded for free.  Anyone with a copy of Warcraft III can play it, and just about everyone has… except for me.

Despite having the old Warcraft Battlechest in my possession for nearly a decade, this is a mod I never tried. I’m terrible at online strategy games.  Having been crushed many times in the regular online modes of Warcraft II, Starcraft, and Warcraft III, I had little desire to add a new level to the depths of my humiliation.

Apparently there aren’t a whole lot of other people out there who suddenly become curious about it.  New players to Defense of the Ancients will find themselves up against an army of hardened veterans with little regard for nurturing the noobs.

This is especially sad because DotA is a very complex mod.  Players will need to do their homework before joining a match.  Anyone who just downloads the game and jumps into a match will find themselves in a world of alienation and confusion.

Players with any degree of patience can find guides on the official DotA website that will make their early experiences less brutal, but it’s still a game that takes a very large amount of time to play with any degree of competence.  It forgoes the base building of Warcraft and the like.  Rather, players find themselves in a pre-built base that makes its own army of “Creeps” who head out on their own to try to capture a similar base on the other side of the map.

These AI minions are content to pummel each other endlessly, but this is where the humans come in.  Players control Hero units that are extremely powerful.  They gain Experience Points, and earn gold by fighting minions, leveling up and buying equipment like in a role-playing game. The developers have been steadily adding in new heroes, items and features for years, resulting in a ridiculously complex experience.

When playing it for the first time, I felt the same way that I assume grandparents feel when they listen to kids talking about Pokeman.  There’s a swarm of carefully-balanced characters who each have their own special powers, and all sorts of loot. Figuring it all out requires deciphering a whole new language.

The basic gameplay ideas behind DotA were used as inspiration for a self-contained game called League of Legends.  This is made by an assemblage of people who worked on DotA and some former Blizzard employees too.  It can be downloaded for free and doesn’t need a copy of Warcraft III to play.  While it isn’t exactly like DotA, it’s very similar, but more accessible.

Obviously aware that the game was a little daunting to new players, League of Legends takes thing in the exact opposite direction of DotA.  It has a tutorial that takes players by the hand and explains every little step of the game, then praises players for doing anything.

Wow!  Good job!  You walked from one giant X on the floor to another giant X” exclaims the easily impressed narrator as players make their way through each step of the tutorial, just like a nanny cheering on a baby who managed to make it through the night without wetting the bed.

Experienced players can skip these tutorials and get right to the more difficult steps.  It very easy to imagine new players being introduced to the genre by League of Legends, before jumping ship to the more hardcore experience of Defense of the Ancients.

League of Legends only released about three years ago, and has been steadily gaining momentum.  It has the Pokémon-like quality of DotA, in that there’s a gigantic roster of playable “Champion” hero units to discover and master.  While DotA is a free mod maintained by a group of people who really, really like Warcraft, League of Legends is an actual commercial product.

The money in League of Legends is made by selling new Champions and alternate skins for them.  This collecting and customization is quite tempting, but players can also buy stuff just by playing the game.

Even though it is a hard genre for new players to get into, it’s very easy to see how DotA and League of Legends are addictive.  After just scratching the surface of both, LoL is definitely staying on my hard drive and that old Warcraft III disk will stay in my disk drive for a while too.

Only last week, Blizzard and Valve came to an agreement about Dota 2, the sorta sequel to Defense of the Ancients.  Valve has kept Dota 2 in a closed beta for quite some time now, but with the legal disputes over, and Valve having permission to release their game under the title Dota 2 title, it’s likely to become available in the very near future.

However, in the meantime, gamers who still haven’t tried this brand of Action RTS game should definitely take a few hours to cut their teeth with League of Legends, and there are plenty of reasons to grab a copy of Warcraft III, DotA being just one of them.

This week gamers got their very first sneak peak at the new Unreal Engine 4!  I’m sure that Epic Games will find all sorts of things to do with it, maybe even make a new Unreal game.  Of course, I haven’t played a game in that series since the original Unreal Tournament back in 1999.  Next week on The Backlog I’ll take a look at how the franchise has grown in the last twelve years.


Charles is a proud contributor to Default Prime, as well as the Xbox/ PC Department Lead at Player Affinity, a reviewer for The Indie Game Magazine, and a Special Agent at the U.S. Department of Electronic Entertainment.

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