Valve has finally rolled their engine and interface overhaul for Dota 2, subtitled Dota 2 Reborn out of beta as of yesterday. Among the best features Reborn adds to the game is functionality for user-created custom game types, which mod-makers had been tinkering with for a while now thanks to the workshop tools released last year. Since then, both Valve and the community have managed to create some fun, interesting, and strange games to play within Dota 2, and if you’re just now downloading the Reborn update, here are a few of the best mods out there to get you started.
Back in the old StarCraft games, there were lots of games like this. They were called “bounds,” and they were sort of like a collection of those sections in games where you’d have to wait for the right moment to walk through, say, a row of thwomps that were all on a timer. Omni Party isn’t just that. It’s a collection of a few of those moment and some Mario Party-style mini-games. It doesn’t have the greatest lifespan and won’t take too long to outstay its welcome, but if you need a short break from playing regular Dota 2 and play some more Dota 2, Omni Party isn’t half-bad.
It’s a shame more people haven’t been able to play this mod, mostly due to it lacking dedicated servers. Curse of River’s End is a brand new map for playing regular old Dota 2, and the amount of work that’s gone into it is astounding. It replicates all the intricacies of the classic map—there are lane and neutral creeps, side and secret shops, and Roshan has a new spot on the map as well. It also looks beautiful, taking on the aesthetic of a medieval town instead of a magic forest (though there are some incongruent American blue mail boxes strewn about). It may not be as delicately balanced as the actual map, but it’s worth checking out for the sheer effort put into it alone.
Dota 10v10 isn’t Valve’s first mod for the game (more on that in the bit), but it’s something players have dreamed about since Dota’s early days—what if each side had ten people on it instead of five? The result is that the game can barely hold that many people; not only is the regular balance of which heroes should focus on getting gold and which should focus on fighting or helping their team thrown out the window, people just disconnect a lot. Probably because these games can be extremely lopsided and there’s no penalty for leaving a game, like this there is in Dota 2 proper. Still, the few matches I’ve played of it have been fun, and my team even managed to win a match when we had four fewer people than the enemy team.
This needs a lot of context, but even then it’s still very confusing. Apparently, the mod is based on another, vampire-oriented mod where the players are split up into vampires and humans. When someone on the human team dies, they become part of the other team, and so on. However, Petri Reborn coats the entire game with the tropes from Russian comedian Yevgeny Petrosyan and the show KVN—“”Club of the Funny and Inventive.” It’s hard to understand what exactly is happening (or what the joke is), but that was part of the fun the first time I played it. Now that I have, I think it’s an interesting mix of real-time strategy elements and character-based games like Dota 2, and I’m curious to learn more about it. It also helps that a lot of the ability icons are stock photos of business people and carpentry tools.
Valve’s own effort to create a new game type introducing people to the fun of modding is a good one. It plays completely different than regular Dota 2, but implements many of its elements in new ways—items and character choices still matter, which could actually help people learn how to think critically about what to buy based on their opponent rather than going for a tried-and-true tactic. It also irons out a lot of the boring bits of regular matches, orienting matches around fighting instead of amassing gold. Matches go by far more quickly, making it easier to squeeze in a game or two when you have pressing matters to attend to in an hour or so and can’t play a regular match.
Dota Imba tackles a very basic question elegantly: what if someone else were to take charge of balancing an intricate game like Dota 2? Every character in this mod (the roster size is much smaller than the actual game) has been given a unique, ridiculous twist that makes each of them feel like they’re way, way too strong. The level curve is faster, some characters have powerful instant kills, and there’s no respawn timer. Dota Imba is not only a blast to play, but it also gives you an extra appreciation for what a delicate art balancing a game this large is.
Skillshot Wars is far and away the best mod Dota 2 has to offer. It’s simple, fairly balanced in that every character is effectively the same, and chaotic the way every mod should be. “Skillshots” are skills that you actually have to predict enemy movement or set up with other skills to hit, and giving you access to nothing but these skills makes the entire experience feel like one tactical fighting game. And because the entire game is so simple to understand, it actually works as one of the best ways to get someone into Dota 2—at least enough to get used how the basic interactions with the game work. I’ve lost more time to Skillshot Wars than I care to admit, and I’ll probably lose some more to it now that Reborn has been fully integrated into the game.
Although it’s a year out, it feels like Dota 2’s custom game scene is just getting started. Will we get the next big mod that will become its own massive free-to-play game from this? Probably not. But when you have this many great options to poke around with one of the best games of all time, who cares?
Suriel Vazquez is a freelance writer who should probably cut a lot of people off at the pass by saying that all the “horde mode” mods he’s played haven’t been very good. He’s written for Paste, Kotaku, Vice and more and you can follow him on Twitter.