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DotA 2 Rekindles the Flame

by Tim Tarbet

Just last week, DotA 2 received one of the most extensive patches in it’s relatively short lifespan. Not only was there a complete remodel of one of the characters, but two of the most iconic heroes were reworked entirely, an entirely new item was added, and nearly everything in the game, from heroes to items to towers themselves, received some sort of tweak.

Speaking from a week’s worth of experience playing the game, I can say, fairly confidently, that nearly all of the changes were made for the better. Yes, the changes will take some getting used to, and the game’s meta has been fundamentally changed, but both of these are good things. A changing meta keeps the game fresh and interesting, testing skills and opening new play styles for experienced pros and newbies alike. And once the changes have all settled (and Valve stops it’s incessant patching; I swear, I downloaded 3 patches in as many days), the game will be better for it.

Reworked Heroes

Perhaps the most profound changes were felt in the hero arena. Nearly every hero in the game received at least one tweak; most were considerably buffed or nerfed. While we won’t be going over each and every hero’s change, here are the ones we thought changed in the most profound ways, ways that significantly altered them from the way they played before, either for better or for worse. Some of these heroes have been buffed. Some have been nerfed. Three have been changed so fundamentally that they’re now almost different heroes altogether.

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Bloodseeker

Bloodseeker is one of the heroes that was changed in an almost fundamental way. Before the patch, Bloodseeker was little more than a right click hero. Depending on the situation, you might drop your ult, but most of the time you just ran up to someone and started ripping their face off. This made him both less enjoyable to play and relatively limited in his team fighting capacity.

That’s all changed, now. Bloodrage has been completely reworked, and Blood Bath has been replaced with Blood Rite. At first glance, everything is still there: Bloodseeker still has a skill that increases damage, he still heals for a percentage of a slain unit’s health, and he still has a silence. How this happens, however, is fundamentally different.

Bloodrage, for one, has been entirely reworked. While it still increases the damage the unit deals, it no longer has a damage over time, nor does it silence. Instead, when it’s cast on a hero or creep, it increases both the damage dealt as well as the damage received, as well as healing them for a percentage of the maximum health of anything they kill. Not only that, but it increases every type of damage that the unit or hero would deal, up to and including spells. This makes the spell useful in a much wider variety of ways. For example, Bloodseeker can cast it on a friendly hero, such as a Sniper, to give him a 40% damage boost to not only his right click, but to any spells he casts. A max level Shrapnel deals 67 damage a second instead of 48, and a max level Assassinate deals a whopping 917 damage. Dedicated nukers, like Lina and Skywrath Mage, become even more lethal, dealing a truly massive 1,330 and 1,960 points of damage with their respective ults. A truly skilled Bloodseeker could potentially use this skill on his enemies as well, making for ideal ganks where the enemy hero doesn’t even get to respond before he’s dead. In fact, at max level the skill lasts for 12 seconds, while the cooldown is only 6 seconds, meaning that Bloodrage can be active on any two targets at a time. Who these targets are can range from fight to fight and from game to game. One situation it might be better for the Bloodseeker to cast it on himself and an ally, increasing his team’s damage output by a wide margin. In another Bloodseeker might cast it on a particularly dangerous enemy hero, enabling his team to focus the hero down before they can do significant damage. Finally, due to it’s short cooldown, Bloodrage can even be cast on Roshan. This is a considerable gamble, but it might allow the team to take down the beast and claim the Aegis that much faster.

Bloodseeker’s second skill is entirely new. Before it was a passive that healed Bloodseeker for percentage of the total health of anything he killed. This ability has since been rolled in with Bloodrage, and the DotA developers took the opportunity to create something entirely new. What they came up with is Blood Rite.

Blood Rite is a skill that costs 100 mana with a cooldown that ranges from 29 to 20 seconds, depending on level. What it does is it draws a large sigil on the ground over the course of 3 seconds. Once the 3 seconds is up, the ritual completes, dealing a significant amount of pure damage to, and silencing any hostile unit in the area. The large radius of the skill, as well as the high damage and long duration silence (6 seconds at max level), means that Blood Rite can be used for anything from initiation, to counter initiation, to area denial, and even to discourage pursuit. The long wind up time means the skill can be difficult to use at times, but it can also be used to your advantage. For example, if your team is assaulting a tower or barracks, you can cast it in the general area, presenting your foes with a bit of a catch 22. Do they stay and try and defend despite the damage and silence, or do they fall back and wait for the spell to run it’s course, but let allow your team unrestricted access to their defenses? If you’re lucky, the team will split, with half going in and half falling back, allowing you to pick off a few key members of their team and rip their defenses apart.

This new skill set synergies with itself as well. Now, instead of casting Rupture before you put Bloodrage on yourself, the most effective thing to do is to Bloodrage yourself, which gives you a 40% damage boost on your physical attacks as well as your spells, then cast Rupture on someone, then finally Blood Rite. Not only will the hero you’re ganking have to chose between the damage from Rupture and the damage and silence from Blood Rite, but his team will be forced to watch from afar unless they want to risk the wrath of a Bloodseeker while silenced.

Bloodseeker’s other skills received only minor tweaks: Thirst now gives both sight and true sight on a hero who has less than 30% health, and the bonuses that it grants are proportional to the hero’s remaining health, rather than being a flat bonus once the condition is triggered. On the other hand, Rupture no longer deals an initial burst of damage, but it lasts longer and comes off cooldown faster.

All in all, the changes made to Bloodseeker make him almost a completely different hero. Most notably, now he’s a team player, as he can serve as either a team’s primary or secondary initiator, as well as buff his teammates without making them sacrifice their spells. Additionally, these changes means that Bloodseeker remains useful even if he doesn’t get as much farm as he would like. While he is definitely still a carry, and much more useful with items, his abilities make him valuable to a team even if he loses the laning phase. Before it was always a bit of a gamble with Bloodseeker: if he gets an early head start, he’ll have a very lethal mid and late game, but if he doesn’t get ahead fast it could throw the entire game in the opponent’s favor. These changes soften that dichotomy, allowing for more flexibility when using the hero and widening him up for a larger array of team compositions.

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Phantom Lancer

Phantom Lancer was also completely reworked, focusing more on creating massive amounts of illusions and confusing the enemy rather than bullshit escape mechanics. Juxtapose has been reworked, and both Doppelwalk and Phantom Edge have been replaced. While these changes don’t change Phantom Lancer quite as fundamentally as the changes to Bloodseeker did, he still feels like a new hero.

The most impactful change to Phantom Lancer’s skill set is the replacement of Doppelwalk with Doppelganger. Where Doppelwalk was simply an outright escape mechanism, Doppelganger is much more complex and less easily countered. Before it was standard practice to buy Dust of Appearance or Sentry Wards as soon as you knew that you were going up against a Phantom Lancer. Since Doppelganger doesn’t turn the Lancer invisible like Doppelwalk did, this is no longer necessary, because instead of turning invisible, Phantom Lancer instead disappears from the battlefield, along with all his illusions within a fairly wide radius, for about 1 second. Then Phantom Lancer and his illusions reappear in random locations near where the spell was cast with two additional illusions. The first new illusion deals no damage, but takes damage as if he were Phantom Lancer himself, while the other deals 20% damage, but receives 600% damage. This juxtaposition makes the Lancer extremely confusing to fight, even if you have a good amount of AOE, as one of the illusions is virtually indistinguishable from Phantom Lancer himself. You essentially have a 50% chance of targeting the right one. While this skill isn’t quite as reliable as an escape mechanism as Doppelwalk was, it gives Phantom Lancer a more varied and flexible that fits the flavor of the hero even better than the original.

The second new skill in Phantom Lancer’s repertoire is Phantom Rush, a passive with a cooldown. What this skill does is it allows the Lancer, as well as all of his illusions, to charge targets that are at least 300 units away. When he does this, his speed is temporarily increased to ludicrous levels – 800 units a second. This gives the Lancer the ability to jump on just about anyone he pleases in the blink of an eye. On the other hand, it can also get him into some pretty sketchy situations if he’s not careful, and at low levels it has a pretty long cooldown.

The last change they made was to replace Phantom Edge with Juxtapose, which, considering they were essentially the same skill anyway, is a pretty wise move. The new Juxtapose does just about everything that the old Phantom Edge does, but better, increasing the Lancer’s chance of spawning illusions from a measly 20% at max level to 50%. That’s right, a max level Phantom Lancer now has a 50% chance to spawn an illusion every time he hits something, which is a whole lot more than before. Additionally, he can have 2 more illusions than he used to, for a total of 10 illusionary minions, and each of his illusions has a flat 8% chance to spawn more, regardless of level. However, this power comes with a cost: illusions now take 150% more damage, deal 4% less damage, and only last for 8 seconds. This means that Phantom Lancer will no longer be roaming around with a miniature army of replicas; instead, he has to start fresh with every new fight. Given how quickly he can spawn illusions, this is unlikely to be a problem, but it does make it a little easier to gank him when he’s off on his own.

The changes to Phantom Lancer, to me at least, seem a whole lot less comprehensive than the ones to Bloodseeker. The new Phantom Lancer still plays almost exactly like the old one, except with more consistency in both flavor and performance. He is no longer hard-countered by wards or dust early on, but he still spawns illusions like it’s going out of style and has trouble with surviving large amounts of AOE damage.

Riki

While Riki wasn’t technically one of the heroes that was completely overhauled with the latest patch, the changes that were made to the hero certainly merit some consideration.

The changes to Riki’s character were, all things considered, relatively simple. The developers simply swapped Riki’s Permanent Invisibility with Blink Strike. Additionally, being invisible now gives Riki bonus regeneration, because the sneaky bastard wasn’t hard enough to kill before. This passive regen doesn’t stop when he’s revealed, like Slark’s does, but only when he actually leaves invisibility.

Having Passive Invisibility available from level one drastically changes how Riki is played, as well as how he is countered. Getting Passive Invisibility early on gives Riki the ability to at least garner a decent amount of XP, even if he loses the lane early on. Additionally, the passive regen means he can stay in lane even after a failed gank attempt. It also means that enemies laning against Riki absolutely must buy either Sentry Wards or Dust of Appearance early on if they hope to contain the sly bastard.

The changes to Blink Strike are a little more complex. Instead of having a cooldown, the skill now works on charges which replenish over time. With each successive level the amount of damage Riki deals, as well as the maximum number of charges he can have at any one time, increases, to a maximum of 90 and 5 respectively. While this seems like a nerf rather than a buff, as the old Blink Strike gave Riki 120 bonus damage rather than only 90, it also gives Riki almost unparalleled nuking potential, as well as an incredible amount of maneuverability. Since the new Blink Strike has essentially no cooldown until you use all the charges, this means that a skilled Riki can use this skill to either hamstring a vulnerable opponent at unprecedented levels by simply chain casting Blink Strike, or to jump around a teamfight like a rabid monkey, spreading damage around the entire enemy team and avoiding incoming damage with impunity.

All in all, the changes to Riki make him a much more interesting and deadly opponent. Strangely enough, however, this also makes him a lot more vulnerable to being countered, as Blink Strike was both his main form of damage and his escape mechanism. Under level 6, Riki almost can’t survive a gank, so long as the enemy team carries either Sentry Wards or Dust of Appearance. This can provide the enemy team a distinct psychological and gold advantage, as being repeatedly ganked early on can make players play poorly throughout the game, or even give up entirely. I have a hard time feeling bad about this, though, as the people who willingly play Riki are almost universally slimy bastards who’ll leave their teammates in the dust at the first sign of danger, or only join in a teamfight to steal the last hit.

Other Hero Changes

While Riki, Phantom Lancer, and Bloodseeker received by far the most attention out of all the heroes, a good number of others saw some significant changes as well. Some of these changes are bigger than others, almost fundamentally changing their roles in the team as well as how they are played. Others are relatively minor, more of a tweak than anything else. We’ll only be covering the heroes that have been changed the most. The majority of them have either new effects to existing Aghanim’s Scepter upgrades, or are entirely new ones.

Bane

Bane has been left relatively unchanged, except for the fact that his ultimate, Fiend’s Grip, is now further upgraded by Aghanim’s Scepter. In addition to the normal effects, such as increased duration, damage per second, and rate of mana drain, Aghanim’s Scepter also causes anyone who attacks Bane to be afflicted with Nightmare. When combined with Black King Bar, this means that Bane is virtually untouchable when he’s channelling Fiend’s Grip. Granted, the likelihood that a Bane would get enough farm to be able to afford both a Scepter and a BKB is somewhat remote, most likely reserved for either pros or games where Bane is disproportionately fed. Still, those of us who’re fond of the hero can dream, can’t we?

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Bounty Hunter

Bounty Hunter’s Shuriken Toss received a considerable buff. Now instead of being a one target spell, the shuriken will now bounce between all Tracked targets within a certain radius. While it will only hit each target a single time, it’s still a significant amount of damage, especially when you consider that a skilled Bounty Hunter can, potentially, have the entire enemy team Tracked at any one time. This means that any time a teamfight breaks out, Bounty Hunter will get a free Shuriken Toss on all of them, and maybe even two.

Chen

Chen is another hero gains additional benefits from buying an Aghanim’s Scepter. Now, in addition to reducing the cooldown of Hand of God to a mere 30 seconds, Chen is now able to use Holy Persuasion on ancient creeps. As long as he has Aghanim’s Scepter, he is able to control 1 ancient creep for each level he has in Hand of God, for a total of 3. Depending on how quickly he’s able to get his Scepter, this can be a game changing turn of events, as most low level heroes can’t withstand the onslaught of an ancient creep for long. Even late game, this can be useful for pushing towers and dealing some extra damage during teamfights.

Earth Spirit

Earth Spirit now gains a new ability when he purchases an Aghanim’s Scepter, which allows him to turn a hero into one of his Stone Remnants. He can do this once every 45 seconds, and can cast it on heroes regardless of weather they are friendly or hostile. The duration is only 3 seconds long, but while they are so enchanted they can be used in any way that a normal Stone Remnant would be. The duration ends explosively, dealing 300 damage to all enemy heroes in a radius. This opens up whole new possibilities for Earth Spirit, allowing him to work with initiators to start fights, or even to take enemy heroes out of the fight for a couple of seconds.

Elder Titan

Elder Titan also gets some Aghanim love this patch. Scepter will now not only damage and slow all those who are caught within the radius, but it will disarm them as well. This makes Titan’s already powerful ability much more rewarding. While Titan’s probably one of the most difficult characters in the game to initiate with, there’s very little that will start a teamfight off better, knocking out 35% of the enemy team’s health, as well as slowing them in one fell swoop. Add in that disarm, and you’re almost guaranteed a couple of kills.

Keeper of the Light

Keeper received a huge buff this patch, and a number of his abilities are considerably more powerful or more useful. The most striking buff Keeper received is the buff to Mana Leak, which now lasts an additional second per level and drains a flat 5% maximum mana per 100 units. Additionally, Keeper can now use Recall on invulnerable units, such as those affected by Naga’s Song of the Siren, and the knockback distance from Blinding Light has been increased by 150 units.

Lycan

Lycan, on the other hand, had his ult nerfed considerably. Shapeshift now has a 1.5 second transformation time, no longer grants an attack speed bonus, and the skill’s cooldown has been increased by 20 seconds at each level. The only consolation is that Lycan’s movement speed while Shapeshifted has been increased from 522 to 650. Despite the increased move speed, however, the changes result in a net loss, as Lycan will be able to use his Shapeshift less often, and it will be less useful as well.

Outworld Devourer

Outworld Devourer also gets a change to how Aghanim’s Scepter improves his ult, but that’s not the biggest change to the hero. Essence Aura has been reworked. Where before the chance to restore mana scaled with level and the amount restored stayed constant, it now works the other way around. Essence aura now has a flat 40% chance to restore a friendly caster’s mana from level 1, but the amount it restores ranges from 10% to 25%. This might not seem like a big net change, but it makes Outworld a lot more useful outside of middle lane, as long as you pair him with someone who spams lots of spells. Heroes like Bristleback and Shadow Demon can use their low cost, low cooldown skills to harass the enemy heroes out of lane, allowing Outworld to potentially get free farm, while Outworld’s passive provides them with the mana pool to do so. Additionally, Aghanim’s Scepter will now always trigger mana drain on Sanity’s Eclipse, draining opponents caught within the area of effect of 75% of their mana.

Phoenix

Phoenix has always been a hero with a high risk/reward playstyle, and the latest patch only augments that. If Phoenix buys an Aghanim’s Scepter, he can target an allied hero with his ult, drawing the affected hero into the Sun with it. If the Sun survives, both heroes receive the benefits, refreshing all skills except for ults, and completely restoring both heroes’ health and mana pools. On the other hand, if the Sun is destroyed before the heroes can be reborn, they both die.

Pugna

The game developers changed Pugna in a very subtle way. Now Pugna may cast Life Drain on allies as well as enemies, but instead of draining life from them, Pugna siphons his own life force into them. While this may not seem like much of a change, it can be potentially game changing, as it can make friendly carries virtually invulnerable. I’ve already been on the receiving end of this combo between a Phantom Assassin and a Pugna. The Pugna stayed far enough out of range that my team couldn’t reasonably reach him, and siphoned life into the PA at a faster rate than we damage her.

Sniper

Sniper received a minor nerf to his Headshot ability. Instead of causing a mini stun when it procs, the skill now causes a 100% movement and attack speed slow for .5 seconds. While it doesn’t really change much as far as how Sniper is played, it removes his ability to completely hamstring enemy channelers. Banes, Enigmas, and Pudges alike can breathe easier now when they go up against a Sniper, knowing that he won’t be able to interrupt their ultimates by simply looking sideways at them. As a consolation prize, Sniper’s Shrapnel ability had it’s AOE increased by 50 units.

Treant Protector

Even Treant got an Aghanim’s upgrade, even if it is a bit lackluster. If Treant purchases a Scepter, he gains a new ability called Eyes in the Forest. This is, essentially, the game’s most expensive ward. When Treant casts Eyes in the Forest, he enchants a nearby tree to give unobstructed vision in a respectable radius. Treant can use this ability about once per minute, and there doesn’t seem to be a limit to how many trees he can cast it on, nor does the effect seem to expire, which means he can pepper the map with as many enchanted trees as he pleases. Additionally, all enemy units within sight range of the enchanted trees are effected by Overgrowth whenever it is cast. Ironically, the Overgrowth effect from the enchanted trees is actually more effective than what Treant himself does, as the area of effect is larger, and the trees do 135 damage per second to units in their grasp.

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Map Changes

Heroes weren’t the only ones who saw changes. For the first time in DotA history, the map has been changed. That’s right. What was once immutable and unchangeable has finally, finally been modified, if only slightly. The most drastic change is where Roshan’s cave is situated, which has been moved to the opposite side of the bottom rune position. Additionally, the ancient creep camp on the Dire side has been shifted up to accommodate the change. Beyond that, many new paths have been opened up through what was once impassable wooded areas.

New Item

Additionally, a completely new item has been introduced, the Crimson Guard, which is built out of a Vanguard, a Buckler, and a recipe. It grants the wielder a number of stat increases, as well as a 80% chance to block a portion of incoming damage, either 40 damage for melee or 20 for ranged. Additionally, the item has an active ability, which bestows a shield on the user and all allied heroes within a 750 unit radius. This shield will block 50 damage from every incoming attack for 9 seconds, meaning that it is used much like Pipe of Insight. This is a perfect buy for any hero that already typically buys a Vanguard, as it gives the owner some very useful ability boosts, as well as makes them a key player in teamfights. Especially early on, this activatable can mean the difference between winning and losing a teamfight.

Flying Courier

Even the Courier has seen some rather drastic changes on how it works. While it’s still the same old lovable (or ugly, depending on the skin you have for it) item delivery service, but the Speed Burst ability has been completely reworked. Now Speed Boost gives the Courier a much larger speed boost for a much shorter amount of time, at the expense of increasing the cooldown to 90 seconds. This means that instead of hitting the Speed Boost button whenever you use the Courier, you only use it when you absolutely must have the item as soon as possible, or when the Courier is in danger. And no, just because you’re the team’s carry, that does not mean you get a free pass to use the Speed Boost whenever you damn well please. Don’t be a douche; reserve the minute and a half cooldown for genuine emergencies.

Don’t worry too much, though. To compensate for how long the new cooldown on Speed Boost is, the Courier’s base speed has been increased by 80 points – from 350 to 430, meaning you’ll be getting your items almost as quickly as you would have before.

Rune Changes

Runes have also undergone a number of changes. Instead of a single rune spawning every two minutes, now a rune spawns at both locations simultaneously – one normal rune, (Illusion, Regeneration, Haste, Double Damage, or Invisibility) and one new Bounty rune. The new rune grants both gold and XP to the hero that picks it up. The amount the Bounty rune grants increases as time goes on, starting out at a relatively modest 50 XP and 50 gold. The amount of XP granted by the Bounty rune increases by 50 every 5 minutes of play, and the amount of gold increases by the same amount every 2 minutes. This new rune can be bottled just like a normal rune can, which means that the addition of this new rune opens up the possibility to have two bottles on a team, as long as both players can consistently get to the runes before their opponents can.

Additionally, every time the 2 minute mark rolls around new runes spawn and take the place of the old ones, regardless of whether or not the old one has been used. This means that whether or not anyone actually uses a given rune, it won’t be around for more than 2 minutes.

Other Important Changes

There were some other, relatively minor changes to some generally gameplay mechanics, in addition to the rather large ones mentioned above. These changes don’t effect the game quite as much as the others, but they’re still worth mentioning.

Glyph Changes

The Glyph of Fortification has been tweaked. Now whenever a Tier 1 tower is destroyed, the Glyph is refreshed, regardless of when you last used it. This will allow teams to use the Glyph to defend outer, less valuable towers, because if any Tier 1 tower falls, the the team can immediately use the Glyph to defend Tier 2. While this is little more than an inconvenience for most teams, it has some profound implications for teams consisting completely of pushers, a composition known as the “Death Ball.” Since the enemy team can conceivably defend every Tier 1 tower, it makes this sort of team composition a lot more difficult to pull off.

Damage Types

The last major change is how damage is treated. Now damage is split evenly into 3 different groups: Magical, Physical, and Pure. Composite Damage has been removed from the game entirely, and HP removal is now only used as an activation cost for things like Icarus Dive or Armlet of Mordiggian, and can never be lethal.

Each of the different damage types is defined by what reduces it, as well as what blocks it completely. For example, Physical damage is blocked by armor, just as before. Likewise, Magical damage is reduced by Magical Damage Resistance. Pure damage isn’t reduced by anything.

Apart from this is Spell Immunity, which only determines if a hero can be targeted by an ability or not, not how much damage he takes from the ability. Items that  previously granted Magic Immunity, like Black King Bar, now grant both Spell Immunity and 100% magic resistance, meaning that these items and abilities don’t really change all that much in the long run, except when dealing with abilities that both peirce spell immunity and deal pure damage. Thankfully, these abilities are rather rare.

To help with the transition, all abilities tooltips now have a field which tells what kind of damage the ability deals, as well as if it pierces spell immunity or not.

All the heroes in the game have been reworked with these three damage types in mind, but most of them stay the same overall. You might find some surprises here or there, though, so you might want to check the abilities of your favorite heroes for any changes.

The damage conversion has some profound implications for Tinker, though, as March of the Machines has been changed so that it can no longer pierce spell immunity, so we won’t see any more Tinkers farming the ancient creeps.

Fountain Changes

The final change that we’re going to go over is the change to the Fountains on each side of the map. To make it harder for the winning team to repeatedly “Fountain Dive” the losing team, the Fountains’ elevation has been raised, the vision range has been increased from 1400 to 1800, the attack range has been increased by 100 units, and the Fountains’ True Sight radius has been increased from 900 to 1200. This makes it a little bit easier on the losing team, as they can only be spotted if someone on the opposing team has a skill that will reveal the area, or if the opposing team is willing to jump in blind. Additionally, the added true sight radius makes it nearly impossible for invisible heroes, such as Riki to lie in wait just outside the fountain steps, as well as revealing any wards that the enemy team places too close.

Conclusion

All in all, this is probably the most comprehensive patch that DotA 2 has ever seen. Almost nothing was left untouched, and a good number of new additions were made as well. Best of all, all the changes seem to be for the better, either for flavor, balance, or just for keeping things fresh.

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