Blizzard DOTA First Look Preview - Playing With Stitches

Blizzard hopes to simplify the MOBA genre while staying true to its roots. We play a few rounds and see how much has changed.

"Hardcore games for everyone." That has been Blizzard's mantra, and at this year's BlizzCon, it is sticking to it with its upcoming massive online battle arena game: Blizzard DOTA. This game stays true to the genre's established format while streamlining some of its more cumbersome areas. It also brings together an all-star cast of Blizzard heroes and villains. Thrall, Kerrigan, and even Diablo III's Witchdoctor are all included. We got the chance to play a few matches here at the show; read on for our impressions.

A relatively young genre, a MOBA game is about you and your team of allies leading individual heroes into battles. They level up, collect gold, equip items, and (most importantly) try to kill the enemy team's heroes. Along the way, they must destroy enemy turrets and, ultimately, the enemy's keep; thereby, ending the game. Waves of lesser units are deployed on both sides to support the heroes. Compared to the genre's other entries, the moment-to-moment combat in Blizzard DOTA is very familiar: Heroes have clearly defined roles and teamwork is a must to achieve victory. Where it differs is in the other mechanics--items, last-hitting minions for gold--that could be seen as cumbersome by new players.

In our first game, we loaded up Stitches, a damage-soaking tank modeled after Warcraft III's abomination unit. Its abilities were hook, a skill-shot projectile that physically pulls the target toward Stitches; shockwave, a cone-shaped burst of damage; devour, which consumes an enemy minion (doesn't work on ally minions) and heals Stitches; and putrid bile, which is its ultimate skill that slows and damages enemy units near Stitches. We didn't see a passive skill for any character.

The scoreboard only displays each team's cumulative score.

The first thing we noticed was that the map was very similar in layout to Summoner's Rift in League of Legends. There were three lanes lined with friendly and enemy turrets, as well as jungle areas between the lanes with brush for characters to hide in and neutral monster to slay. There was even a river cutting through the middle of the map. The next thing we noticed was that we were completely broke. Lacking any starting gold, we summoned our mount and road off to the top lane.

Each character in Blizzard DOTA can summon a mount to increase its movement speed. The summoning takes about three seconds and lasts until the champion attacks or is struck. Once we started killing enemy minions, we found the focus on last-hitting has been reduced. In other MOBA games, if you don't land the killing blow on a minion then you didn't get the gold. Here, all we had to do was be near an enemy minion when it died to earn some currency. However, if multiple allies were present, the gold earned from the kill was split among them, even if we made the last hit.

With some coin in our pocket, we teleported back home (another ability shared among the cast) and visited ye olde item shoppe. This could be the game's most controversial split from the genre. Instead of having dozens of items for players to analyze and memorize, the shop consisted of three stat-boosting items and a handful of specialty items (most with active effects). The stat-boosting items provided a permanent enhancement to health, damage, or mana/cooldown reduction and could be purchased multiple times. Most of the specialty items could also be purchased multiple times to increase the item's rank (and its effectiveness).

The user interface was clean and easily conveyed information.

In the jungle space between lanes, there were monster camps that, when captured, would supply our team with powerful new minions. Our enemies could capture these camps as well--four camps total--so we had to keep an eye out for it. Our match with Stitches ended in a tie (the demo had a time limit), but from what we experienced, matches were shorter than in other MOBA games. Whether this is from a lack of experience or a design decision remains to be seen, but we're thinking Blizzard wants to keep it shorter. And in true Blizzard fashion, a release date isn't set, but you can expect news of a beta in the coming months.

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