"This isn't just another Dota 2 patch. This is Dota 3." So goes the running joke every single time a new, major patch lands in developer Valve's steamroller of a MOBA. Now, though, with the release of version 7.00 fans and pros aren't joking so much. The roundly numbered update really does feel like the game's biggest departure yet.
It's also the first departure for the loose series that boils down to more than just graphical or balance tweaks to a game that's been around as a Warcraft 3 mod for more than a decade. Valve has whittled away at the framework of that original game for years now, sure, but their product has always kept within the sometimes suffocating confines of that mod's age-old technology. So much so that for the longest time patches to Dota 2 and its predecessor, DotA Allstars, stayed in lockstep.
Now that the train conductors at Valve have finally pulled the big lever marked 7.00, however, they've finally been able to change tracks from one game to another. Update 7.00 isn't "Dota 3." Now that Valve is no longer feels beholden to the ways and rules of DotA Allstars, Dota 2 is finally Dota 2.
So fresh, so clean
Ironically, that's the most obvious when you look at graphical changes. The user interface, for instance, is so massively improved in 7.00 that it actually has an impact on gameplay. Before, Dota 2's UI mimicked the source material, Warcraft 3 — with fully a quarter of the screen taken up by health bars, character portraits, menu options and dead space.
The display has slimmed down considerably in 7.00. Less-used menu buttons have been nested as pop-ups in more important features, like the in-game shop, and most of that negative space has disappeared completely. That means more of the screen now shows the game itself — adding to players' awareness of the map at any given time.
There really wasn't any excuse for Dota 2's old heads-up display besides "because that's how the mod did it." That's more obvious than ever looking at the two versions side-by-side; it's clear to see just how much of an improvement the extra viewing space makes.
In some cases, however, Valve's commitment to copying the old DotA made a lot more sense. For instance, the company did its due diligence by bringing every playable character from the Warcraft 3 mod into Dota 2. That concluded in August of this year with the Dark Rift update that brought the long-awaited Underlord into the fray.
Valve promised that new heroes — entirely new, that is — would be added to the game after Dota 2 reached parity with its predecessor. It took a while, but 7.00 finally made good on that promise with Monkey King (although some will still grouse about the character not being "new," as he appeared as an NPC in Allstars).
It made sense for Valve to wait on making new characters until all the old ones made it into Dota 2. Most of the design work was already done for them, and it saved the developer from addressing long-time fans' nagging about when Techies, Winter Wyvern, or Arc Warden would ascend from now until doomsday. It's just as clear why they rolled out Monkey King with update 7.00, of all updates.
What's your number?
Dota 2 came into being with patch 6.70 — rolling over the patch number from the Warcraft mod. Until 7.00, "big" patches were marked by a 0.01 change to that number. Players and pros have been trained to squint at those changes since Dota 2 went into beta. So when Valve literally rolled the number over to 7.00 in a teaser trailer, fans didn't see the number itself, so much as the gap between it and patch 6.88 (the previous version of the game).
The number was a symbol signifying bigger-than-big changes, and got roaring cheers when it flashed onscreen at the 2016 Boston Major. The same goes for Monkey King who, as the first hero exclusive to Dota 2, might as well be 7.00's mascot.
Whereas other heroes were exciting because of all the ways people could think to use their abilities to tip the balance of power in Dota 2, Monkey King is exciting because nobody knows what to expect Whether you played the original DotA or not, there's no way to predict what antics players will get up to now that the hero is in the wild.
The same can be said about Dota 2's other big overhauls. Like the game's new user interface, Dota 2's new "Hero Talents" system rips out something from the olden days of DotA to replace it with something entirely new.
Previously, when a playable character leveled up and didn't have any abilities to pump points into, the player could increase their strength, agility, and intelligence by three points each. That had a miniscule effect on things like health and mana regeneration, as well as attack speed. Although it wasn't very exciting, or interesting.
Now, Talents give players more varied, interesting choices about how to build their characters in a given match. At level 25, for instance, the self-resurrecting Wraith King can either choose to remove the mana cost from his Reincarnation skill, or add an extra 20 percent to the amount of life he and nearby allies leech with every attack.
You never studied
Those might seem like the usual, esoteric numbers only die-hard Dota nerds ever care about. But remember that Hero Talents replace those much less obvious, more restricted stats boosts from Allstars. For more than 10 years leveling up in Dota 2 has always worked a certain way. Hero Talents not only change that system in a way that was likely impossible on the Warcraft 3 engine — they add choice to building heroes where there wasn't any before.
That'll have enormous repercussions as the pros math out how to mix these new Talents with existing items and abilities. Despite its San Andreas fault-sized seismic changes, 7.00 still includes plenty of those kinds of patch notes; the ones you need a graphing calculator and three years of calculus to fully grasp, and would make up the meat of conversation in the Dota 2 community with a normal patch.
Then there are numerous quality-of-life improvements in the middle — like a "backpack" that lets heroes carry more than six items — that should feel like massive overhauls in their own right. With 7.00, however, they're more like icing on the cake. Valve has included so many show-stealing changes all in one update, in addition to hyping it up with a brand-new character and a flashy number, that it really does feel like a soft re-launch for the game. Which is almost certainly what the developer wants.
They've spent years fulfilling their due diligence: Patching in old heroes, keeping the game perfectly balanced according to a set of rules written by other people, and gently nudging viewers towards an incredible competitive scene with prize pools the size of small lunar craters.
Now, though, Valve finally feels confident enough to truly start making Dota 2 its own. This "new" product isn't satisfied to just rearrange the map, and tweak some (admittedly big) numbers. It's stripping out the old to replace it with the new, and that won't likely stop anytime soon. Whether you think of it as "Dota 3," or the true Dota 2.