Into the Murky Depths: Dota 2’s ‘Siltbreaker: Part One’ Campaign Review

Posted in Kulturecade by - July 06, 2017

If you have me on your Steam friends list ( X X X Grump X), you’d probably see me spending most of my online time playing Dota2 (although PUBG has been taking up a lot of my time lately). I’ve been playing Dota and its derivatives for many years and apparently I’ve put a few thousand hours into Dota2, though I’m sure half of that has to be from idling at the menu, right? It’s one of my favourite games that I always like to unwind with, either with friends or playing solo.

So you can imagine how excited I was to hear that Valve is planning to release a full, specialised campaign as part of this year’s International Compendium pack. Custom maps and alternative game modes have been a relatively common treat from Valve to the Dota2 community over the years, usually coinciding with real-world events such as Christmas and Chinese New Year. However, there’s never been anything as ambitious as a multi-part, narrative-driven experience before.

Now, amongst the storm of hype and news that has been pouring out of E3, this campaign has been released and is titled ‘Siltbreaker: Part One’. So how does it compare to custom game modes from Dota2 and other MOBAs, such as last year’s Yearbeast event or Battleborn’s PVE ‘campaign’? And more broadly, can story-driven, campaign-style gameplay work for MOBAs?
Launching the Siltbreaker game mode opens up a comic book-styled introductory sequence that sets up the premise of the campaign: a mystical creature locked-up in an underwater jail has taken over the joint, and it’s up to a crack team of four Dota heroes to go in there and sort things out. As with most of the artwork in Dota, the hand-drawn aesthetic of the comic sequence looks great, and although the basis of the story isn’t exactly unique, it’s enough to provide some level of context for the campaign events that are to follow.

Once you load into the game, you are presented with a vastly reduced character select screen for you to choose a team of 4 – though if you want to actually beat the whole thing, you’ll be picking between six or so viable heroes (more on this later).

After you’ve decided with your teammates on the perfect squad formation, the game begins. You start off by teleporting into a map that will look very familiar if you’ve ever played a Diablo game. In fact, Siltbreaker as a whole can be rather aptly summarised as Dota-flavoured Diablo. You’ve got a fog-covered map that reveals as you explore and large, enemy-filled areas that funnel down to corridors to take you to the next location. You kill enemies to gain experience for leveling up, and you collect gold that you use to buy better gear. Sounds familiar right?
Each area has a unique set of objectives required to progress through the narrative, whether it be rescuing trapped soldiers or escorting an NPC through enemy territory, and most of these are rather mundane. There are a few movement-based puzzles to solve that require team communication, which actually spices things up a bit, and there is a unique boss fight at the end of each zone that can be difficult if you don’t work together.

It’s these boss fights that are the most challenging and in my opinion, the most interesting parts of Siltbreaker. They’re all quite difficult. However, I think the final boss of Part One is just too damn hard. I’ve tried multiple times with a variety of groups and team compositions. However, it seems that you need to have certain hero combinations in order to beat the final boss, which really sours the experience in my opinion.

On top of the previously mentioned campaign objectives are sets of optional bonus objectives that reward loot and compendium points depending on how well you do. These bonus objectives are challenging to complete, which motivates players to communicate, strategize and work together. Also, you don’t need to beat the whole campaign to receive these rewards, so it can be fun to build a team that will excel at a particular objective without having a chance at beating the final boss.

Overall I really like Siltbreaker as a bonus game mode for those that bought the compendium. I found it to be quite fun, very challenging and it has plenty of replayability. I’m also impressed with the quality of the level and enemy design – it’s cool to see so many Dota characters retooled as enemies or NPC’s to fit into this hour-or-so adventure.

However, I don’t think newcomers to Dota2 will have the same appreciation for Siltbreaker as I do. The playable characters haven’t been rebalanced for the Diablo-style gameplay, so they feel frustratingly slow and underpowered for the first half of the game, which could be unappealing for those that aren’t familiar with Dota’s mechanics. Also, even though the story hasn’t concluded, from what I’ve seen so far the narrative is the least interesting aspect of the campaign. I can picture an engrossing narrative taking place in the Dota universe, and Siltbreaker is a good step in the right direction, but where they go from here, I’m not sure. We will have to wait for Part 2 to find out.

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He is a gaming staff writer for Kulture Shocked and the site’s unofficial southern hemisphere correspondent. When he’s not on the run from customs for importing Mortal Kombat games, you can find him slapping the bass in his Psych-Rock band Neptune Estate or enjoying the beautiful Queensland weather from the safety of his couch.
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