Defense of the Ancients: Seven Years and Counting

28 Apr 2010

After Demigod's launch, two more independent studios started developing their own Defense of the Ancients clones: Riot Games, with the help of former DotA designer Steve "Guinsoo" Feak launched League of Legends, and S2 Games developed Heroes of Newerth.

Both games have shown significant potential. League of Legends takes the RPG elements to the next level by adding a leveling system outside of the game itself. Basically, the more you play (and win), you'll earn points to buy new heroes to summon on the battlefield, skills to help you within a match, and runes that enhance your heroes. Playable heroes in League of Legends are changed every week, giving you 10 new heroes to experiment with, from a total of 48. As your summoner (essentially the stat-tracking system of the game) gains more experience from winning games, you get "influence points" that you can use to buy the heroes that you like, so that they are always available to you. Another way you can acquire your favorite heroes is by purchasing "Riot Points" via a microtransaction.

LoL gives the player a single merchant building, with well organized items, making for a much more user-friendly experience. The number of items and item recipes is a lot larger that DotA, though, so you have many ways to experiment with your hero's progression.

The map in LoL brings some new mechanics to the table, such as tall brush that allows you to hide your hero from enemies and a bunch of neutral creeps in the forest that drop temporary enhancing runes when killed. But it also lacks some great features that the original map has, such as a dynamic terrain, with trees blocking your vision and pathing as well as map elevation (dis)advantages.

Unfortunately, the game is not balanced in its current state. There are heroes that can kill you with one spell, and others that, frankly, are pretty much useless. The parts that give DotA its highly competitive spirit are also sadly lacking, such as the ability to "deny" players and the lack of gold loss when you die. As far as art style goes, the graphics in League of Legends are a bit cartoonish for my taste, though fun to look at and practical in that they don't create the chaos that the more pronounced and exaggerated graphics in Demigod and Heroes of Newerth can sometimes inspire.

Moving on, you may or may not already know that Heroes of Newerth has just gone into open beta. I had the opportunity to get into the closed beta a few months ago, and from what I've seen, the game still has some way to go before becoming "all it can be". However, my first impression is that from the three DotA clones, this is the one that promises the most.

To start with the good, HoN gives the player from the start the same great perks that DotA offers: a wide variety of heroes (many of which are original DotA heroes, if slightly modified), a similar layout of the land, and nearly identical gameplay features. Plus, it offers a more user-friendly interface and more than sufficient graphics.

The most important new features that HoN brings to the table are tracking of individual statistics, in-game VOIP, and GUI-streamlined hero selection. The game also uses a client-server model, resolving many connectivity issues that DotA has (since the Warcraft III engine uses peer-to-peer).

The gameplay, as I said before, is pretty much the same as DotA. Heroes are more or less the same (although for the moment less in number) and the redesigned map uses the same basic three-lane layout. What is a bit different is the neutral creeps in the forest connecting the lanes. In DotA, the forest creeps give an advantage to heroes that are better early on in the game at killing creeps, but in HoN they are a lot harder to kill thus presenting only slight bonuses later in the game when you are able to kill them efficiently.

Where, in my opinion, HoN fails is in the same category that also makes it a bit better than DotA - graphics. Don't get me wrong, the graphics are nice, but the effects make the game, as I mentioned earlier, chaotic. I am a five year "veteran" of DotA and I still managed to get a bit lost and dizzy during big fights. There are just so many colors, waves, and explosions all around that it takes much of the focus off the actual combat itself. With time and experience a dedicated player could get used to it, but sometimes slower, more basic effects are better for a game that actually wants to get to competition level, like DotA has.

In conclusion, let me just say that Demigod, League of Legends, and Heroes of Newerth all make for fun experiences, but if you are a gamer looking for a challenging game that involves teamplay, strategy, and reflexes, DotA is still the best way to go. There have been some recent rumors that DotA's "IceFrog" has signed a deal with Valve Software, and will be leading a team "to help do more for the DotA world", but at the moment there hasn't been any sort of official confirmation. Here's to hoping!