The issues surrounding Dota 2 are news to few and Valve have done something very unusual in creating this game. While it is the case that Valve have taken what were essentially mods and created full-blown games in the past, a practice now often seen in the indie movement, in this case they have taken a mod so deeply entrentched in a specific game and its world that controversy was bound to follow.
And, to an extent, I can understand the backlash by Blizzard, original DotA fans, Riot Games and others over this. It does seem a bit strange for Valve to take Dota 2 like this without getting a more workable response from the community as well as Blizzard. They only ever recruited the lead developer from the past 7 years, there were two developers before IceFrog, one of whom was the creator of what is the almost exclusively played version of the map. That creates a pretty strong case against Valve’s claim that they can register Dota 2 as a trademark.
Valve have a problem as it seems Blizzard are very willing to take them to task over the Dota 2 trademark claim and I think, as much as I dislike anything part of the great beast that is Activision, Blizzard are in the right about this one. The disappointing thing is that I have played the Dota 2 beta and Valve have a great products on their hands but I can’t help and wonder whether Valve’s aggressive push forward in developing and trademarking this while these issues remain was a bit more shrewd and manipulative that it might appear to some. Valve don’t normally have a reputation for developing something so polished, so quickly.
Certainly, Valve’s Dota 2 will come out in some form even if Blizzard wins its case and I have lost all ability to see Valve as the little guy fighting the big bad beast here because, as small as they are compared to what they now go against, they aren’t little and they should have forseen these problems. I just don’t trust Valve to throw straight dice in this. The questions I wonder are, if Valve wins this upcoming battle, will it affect Blizzard’s own DotA efforts or any continued development of the original Defense of the Ancients? With Team Fortress, Valve hired anyone and everyone who was part of the modding team and it wasn’t tied into one game’s world or mythology so deeply. IceFrog’s claim to the DotA trademark is suspect at best and the game is so bound up with Warcraft III that I can’t see Valve winning this one. At the end of it all, though, I am cheering for Blizzard on this one and I think it’ll be a good thing if Valve don’t get that trademark.
I saw it coming that they would go free to play a long while ago. They’ve been gearing up to it with the in-game store and the earlier F2P burst on Steam was a precursor. I feel ambivalent about it for the moment, but we’ll see what happens.
Looks good, but I’m uncertain of the long-lasting appeal.
Developed by: Valve Corporation
Published by: Electronic Arts
Reviewed on: 5th May, 2011.
Presentation: Graphically, it’s been fairly polished since the days of the original Portal, but the visual style remains true to what the first game gave us.
Atmosphere: Again, as with Portal, the atmosphere follows its predecessor and remains true to its spirit. This isn’t, in the least, a bad thing as it allows the game to take the thematic content of the original and expand on the storyline and puzzles.
Control and Mechanics: Compared to Portal, the controls aren’t much different and the mechanics are pretty much what you’d expect from the original. In an age of overly complex controls for FPS games, it is refreshing to see something more basic.
Who should buy this: Those who are fans of innovative physics-based puzzle games, those who really loved the original, those who don’t mind a lack of replay value.
Who should avoid it: Those who expect it to be a better experience than Portal, those who can wait for a drop from the somewhat steep release price, those who don’t like the fact that Valve seem to want to milk whatever extra cash they can.
If I have to give a score: The first Portal was a 4 and while this is a great game, and a worthy successor with new content and tasty future DLC, the game isn’t a Portal beater, but it never needs to be and it is a great game 3/4.
Portal 2 is a great game with which I can only find two faults. One of those is relatively minor and the other is something beyond the gaming experience itself. First, as with Team Fortress 2, there is a system of microtransactions (for the co-op game) that one normally finds in F2P games. Secondly, while this should in no way detract from the fact that Portal 2 is a great game, it really doesn’t compare to the effect the original had upon its release and bears the burden of comparison.
Let me expand on one of these points first before I write about what makes the game worth playing. The microtransaction system here is fairly trivial compared to TF2. Team Fortress 2 has in-game chests you can open with real money to get, potentially, items that have in-game effects like a gun that fires faster (albeit normally with a trade-off). This means that not only are people with cash to burn getting edges via paying extra cash, but that the game has microtransaction elements within the game itself that make themselves overt when I’m just trying to play the game.
Portal 2 avoids this extreme by making the available items aesthetic-only, there are no super-powered portal guns or extra-high jump boots, just things like hats, extra gestures, and so on. What it also does is restrict the acquisition and advertisement of these items to the item shop. There are no in-game chests that you’ll come across or anything like that, though it should be noted that there were not in Team Fortress 2 originally.
Call me cynical, but this effort to keep a paying customer paying also finds its way into design changes in elements returning from the first game: logos, cubes, the beloved companion cube and even the two main characters themselves undergo design changes that will no doubt trickle their way into merchandise. It’s an unhealthy obsession Valve have there and I really wish they would seek professional help, it’s not as if they need the extra cash all that much.
But that brief rant aside, the game is great. First of all, it takes the tried and tested formula of the first game and builds upon that solid foundation. A lot of the same old tricks are there at first, but the game blossoms with new features like liquefied moon rock that allows you to make a portal on an otherwise unusable surface or a bridges made of hard light that can travel through portals. These features are really what expands and adds depth to the game, making it move beyond the first game.
Besides that, there is the expanded plot and that takes a more prominent role here. One of the original game’s endearing features was the vast amounts of discussion about what the game’s plot hinted at, whether Chell was a clone, what of the things GlaDOS said were true or false, whether the companion cube was sentient or not. This game expands that effect by allowing a much greater access to information about the origins and nature of GlaDOS or Aperture Science and its insane founder. Like the first game though, it leaves enough gaps for player speculation to fill.
With a nicely expanded setting and interesting new quirks to the puzzles, the single-player does a good service to the original, but the game also sports the co-op mode. This involves a sort of story-mode progression that takes place after the single-player playthrough (though can be accessed from the start, albeit with potential spoilers). Two bots are each equipped with a portal gun and forced to work out a variety of puzzles together.
This is where a lot of the fun of the game lies, but the very nature of the game means that the puzzles aren’t going to repeatedly offer you a challenge, once you’ve worked them out you can’t just run through them again for the same challenge. What this also means is you cannot really play this through with someone who has already beaten the game entirely as you won’t be able to work out the game by yourself, just watch as they direct you in what to do.
Which leads me to my last point of criticism, one thing that added replay value to the first game was the challenge mode. This curiously missing from the second game and it would be interesting to see how the game would implement a two-player challenge mode. Further, it would be great to see expanded multiplayer games with the portal concept, like a team-based game perhaps based on getting and taking the companion cube to a certain spot or setting up traps for enemy team members. The first (free) DLC for this game promises new replay value and a return of the challenge maps (and, hopefully, advanced maps). This is something the first game had and is noticeably lacking from the second game.
All-in-all, it depends what expectations you take to the game. It’s great, there’s no denying that though I could easily see a few people thinking the price tag is a bit steep and the item shop is a bit of a silly move that strikes me as pointless. Making me pay extra for minor content in a game whose price tag is already a little on the high side isn’t going to work, Valve. If you are not an early adopter type and can hold off for a better price, do so and this game will not disappoint you. It’s just that it always ends up compared to its predecessor, which came out of nowhere and hit like a thunderbolt. It isn’t going to wow most of you like Portal did, but do not let that spoil a great game.
Portal 2 is out now and available via Steam or boxed retail. Price is £29.99 on Steam.
I’m abandoning main news in order to push for more separate news articles, leaving more room for quick-cap news here.
* Opposable Thumbs talked about the story and aftermath of the controversial Potato Sack promotion for Portal 2.
* One of the iconic Abe games (Oddysee or Exoddus) is getting a new HD remake sometime in the future, it has been confirmed. We can hope this’ll find its way to the PC.
* THQ’s Red Faction: Armageddon has been delayed by a week, no explanation has been given but last minute bug fixing is suspected.
* After disaster after disaster, F.E.A.R. 3 has been pushed back again from its already amended release date to later in June.
* EA’s latest Need for Speed entry, The Run, has been detailed and dated for a November release.
* Players will be able to download the Brink server software via Steam before the game’s release. Bethesda have also offered an FAQ about the configuration of the server.
* With their recent woes, JoWood have received a helping hand from GoG.com who are selling JoWood titles with up to 75% off this weekend. With a little luck, this’ll help keep the wolf from JoWood’s doors.
* John Romero has started work on a new Facebook game. The game, Cloudforest Expedition, will be the second game that Romero makes on Facebook and is expected this Summer.
* Lord of the Rings Online creators Turbine are merging their US and EU LOTRO servers, relieving Codemasters Online of their duties maintaining the EU servers on the 1st June.
* After a bumpy ride with Alpha Protocol, but success with Fallout: New Vegas and preparations to ship the new Dungeon Siege game, Obsidian Entertainment have apparently gone through a round of layoffs.
* Mojang have released details about the modding plans to be implemented in Minecraft Beta 1.6.
* Bethesda have released details of the changes from Oblivion to Skyrim. Looking at some of the changes (especially to attributes), I don’t think this’ll be the breaker in my downward preference for Elder Scrolls games (from Daggerfall onwards, anyway).
That’s all for this week. See you after the weekend.
I know I have my pre-order, do you?
Quick cap news
* League of Legends developers, Riot Games, announced that 100% of sales on the Akali character would go towards relief in Japan. Also, a rare copy of Final Fantasy Tactics is being auctioned by Play for Japan.
* Value have upgraded Steam’s VoIP system by using the SILK codec most commonly found in Skype, increasing bandwidth but allowing much greater quality.
* Crytek are still pretending that they think DRM is at best “a minor inconvenience” and about trying to stop piracy, using simple arguments that have already been knocked out.
* Darkspore gets delayed for another month, but news of an open beta should keep the waiting bearable. New date is 26th April.
* Bioware have warned that SWTOR beta scams have been appearing on the net. Watch out any would-be beta testers that you aren’t getting a raw deal.
* Battlestar Galactica Online was BigPoint’s biggest game launch so far and success was attributed to strong community involvement.
* UKIE welcomed the new budget benefits being offered to UK developers. The benefits are designed to increase investment and encourage smaller developers to grow.
* EA are getting rid of physical copies of manuals in favour of electronic-only copies.
* Deep Shiver has given a very convincing reason why the child violence in the trailer of Dead Island is acceptable. However, there were assurances that there would be no children in the game.
* Finally, the Torchlight MMO will not be charging a monthly subscription, with developers Runic Games arguing that model is no longer viable.
In a twist of fate, Gearbox announced that Duke Nukem Forever will be delayed a little longer. This means everyone can stop the “it’s finally going to be released” and switch to the “it’s fated not to be released” jokes. Randy Pitchford later explained the delay as trying to bring the game more up to scratch. There was a reveal of a tongue-in-cheek game which lead to the usual sort of responses that most of us are tired of, and once again, Penny Arcade states the obvious and wins my heart.
Also, Peter Molyneux has once again followed his old tactic of slamming his last game to make his next look better. This after Molyneux had already apologised for leading game journalists on a merry chase half the time. Game journalists themselves were unsurprised by his interview. Molyneux also, strangely, claimed that Minecraft was the best game he played in the past ten years, giving rather unusual reasoning, which implies a distinct lack of gaming on his part (not that Minecraft is actually bad, I can just think of a lot better). This shows that Molyneux can occasionally ramble on semi-coherently about games that are not his.