“Is It Too Late to Learn X?” aka a Newbie’s Decision to Start Playing DOTA 2

So I have to confess I only reliably recognize Juggernaut in this picture... (I had to go look up Crystal Maiden and Rubrick there.)

In the last couple of days, I’ve decided that I wanted to devote a little time to gradually (very gradually) learn a game that I’ve always felt was too enormously deep, time-consuming and overwhelming for a complete newbie to grasp.

In part, this was born out of reading the umpteenth post on the GW2 reddit of someone asking “Is it too late to join in / learn this game / pick this up now?” or “Help, I’m overwhelmed, I don’t know what to do!” or “I have no motivation / talk me into continuing with this game / etc.”

  • No, for heaven’s sakes, it’s never too late to learn to play a game (or learn anything, in fact) until the servers shut down (or your mind’s server shuts down.)
  • Yes, it’s a big game (or topic), overwhelm is natural, you’re not going to be an expert after fifteen minutes of reading about something, be patient with yourself and take it slow and learn bits and pieces at a time!
  • *spreads hands helplessly at the last* Ultimately, your motivation is your own business. We can certainly help to encourage or inspire you (in general) or advise or coach you (on specifics), if you’re open to that kind of thing. But if you’ve decided that something else is more attractive and worth focusing your attention on at this time, go do that thing first, no point hanging on to this thing like a sinking ship when your interest or motivation isn’t there.

(And for the Newbie Blogger Initiates, this totally applies to you too, re: joining in or learning to write and blog regularly.)

I decided that I want to have a sort of solidarity of experience with these unknown newbies or irregularly returning players, a bit more of a shared understanding of what they’re going through, and to try and record that beginner state for myself and for others on this here blog.

I’ve played GW2 for 1000 days, apparently.

I vaguely recall that there was a time where I fumbled around with putting weapon skills together to effectively do damage, where I had to stop and read all the tooltips and actively figure out “which button should I press first? then the next? and the next?” and then proceed to test out this chain on the next 100 karka or so (hey, solo karka shell farming is a thing, ok?)

I took this screenshot today. I just turned off the UI and killed two karka without dying.

I took this screenshot today. I just turned off the UI and killed two karka without worry that I might die. I was busy adjusting the camera with my right hand to get a nice angle and then lifting it to press PrintScreen repeatedly, the left hand was running on automatic.

These days, the muscle memory is just -there-. Shift+E triggers my F1 skill, providing 3 stacks of might, and lighting the next thing I hit on fire. 2 sends me Flashing Blade teleporting into whatever I’m targeting, conveniently blinding its next attack. I let the auto-attack of sword take over, only controlling my positioning via strafing to make sure I hit, while avoiding getting hit as best I can. I trigger 3 if I want a projectile burst and a shield to absorb.

In a split second I decide if I need to use my defensive focus skills or utility skills to protect myself (which are on longer cooldown and usually only triggered for harder stuff, not regular open world mobs), if not, I may weapon swap to land a smite, immobilize and head back out of range with scepter autoattacking, throw a spike burst with torch for a little more dps or cone AoE a group as appropriate, or just be lazy and let sword finish it off via autoattacks.

I don’t even have to think about it. I just do it.

Conversely, a newbie (or someone unfamiliar to the game) may be squinting their way through those couple of paragraphs, going “WTF? I didn’t understand a word of that? Well, no, I understand each word of English, but put together, those sentences contained zero meaning to me.”

So I’ve decided that I want to start at that total ground zero on a game that I’ve always admired and enjoyed watching the pros go at it, but never felt I had sufficient time to learn and do it any justice, DOTA 2.

League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth or Smite fans may be all “:(” over this decision, but I can’t learn four different games as a newbie, I gotta start with one first, and dammit, I want to learn the big granddaddy of them all.

(Also, I had about a weeks’ worth of exposure playing the first DOTA with some friends, so a few hero names are not completely alien to me.

And I love the pomp and shininess around the International, and the slickness of the whole client that turns messing around with cosmetics in the store, reading up for more information and spectating into a mini-game or sport itself – it’s nuts, you can spend money on DOTA 2 without even having played a single match yourself and still feel like you had fun, following your celebrity heroes or doing all the other stuff spectators do for other sports, like speculate/discuss/bet on match results or what not.)

My vague goal is to gradually learn enough about the game that I can watch the International streams (sometime in July or August, apparently, so that’s a loose deadline) and appreciate more of what’s going on, without having to rely on the newbie announcers to hold my hand each step of the way.

I’d like to be competent enough at the game that I can meet a random friend or colleague and go “Oh, you play DOTA 2 too? Cool, let’s play a friendly game together” and not look like a colossal ineffectual flailing idiot, ie. attain average to good levels.

To be frank, I see this as very much a process that will never end.

I have no illusions about becoming some top-ranked player on the global stage, nor any aspirations towards that end. I don’t need a high MMR or some platinum diamond super-black definitely-not-copper-or-bronze trophy rank (or whatever they’re using to depict high-level play.)

I generally don’t seem to get noticeable adrenaline or dopamine boosts from winning and am thus not attracted by nature to competitive play. I’m fully aware that I’m going to drop in and out of this like all the other games I’m fond of. (eg. Minecraft, Path of Exile, Don’t Starve Together are all out of the immediate loop right now. Still enjoy ’em, just not ready to dip back into them yet.)

What does draw me like a beacon is an intense curiosity about the learning process – I kinda want to observe the progression from n00b to decently competent – “just how do people learn things?” and the thrill of having something new to explore, new concepts to understand and practice and slowly attempt to master (if ever. Work-in-progress.)

It turns out that the topic of learning is a big thing in education circles, as well as games, and I’ve been going down one rabbit hole and another of reading and watching videos about this fascinating meta aspect while trying to get at least one game of DOTA 2 finished each day, so that I can -eventually- complete this massive tutorial chapter that requests you play 5 games vs bots, and 10 games vs humans, each game probably lasting 45 minutes on average, give or take 15 minutes.

I’m discovering a lot of interesting stuff. Now I just need sufficient time to synthesize concepts and put it all together in short enough coherent blog posts.

It’s gonna take a while.

But that’s what I’ve been up to in the last few days, so do expect topics along that vein in the next month or so, once I finish up with CoH nostalgia and the NBI.

(Not to mention, GW2 will probably throw a spanner in the works with some mindblowing expansion-related revelation or other, just when I think I’ve got it all sorted out.)

NBI/GW2: Screenshot Safari #2 (#NBI2015Safari)

So here’s a freshly taken screenshot for Murf’s NBI screenshot challenge.

I was originally going to rummage through my old City of Heroes screenies for the theme Heroes and Villains, since ol’ Murf has a fondness for that game last I checked, but eh, that seemed a bit too straightforward when folks are busy playing around with puns and such. (Maybe I’ll find a cleverer theme to match to a CoH screenie within the next two weeks.)

It so happened that I was practising dungeon soloing again today, this time managing a CM story solo, which took a slow and steady but relatively safe 40 minutes (taking it leisurely since it was a first time try, there are Youtube vids of much faster solo speedrun times).

Since I was by myself, I watched the cutscenes and was reminded of the whole human Ministry schism again where both factions think they’re on the side of right when it comes to dealing with the charr – except one wants to make peace with them and the other one would prefer to slaughter them all.

I finished the dungeon and found I had extra time on my hands so… you know, why not practice AC story again?

It was at the end of that dungeon when I really started -looking- at the scenery and realizing that:

a) One almost never looks UP in a dungeon. The Ascalonian Catacombs was surprisingly cavernous in places and made for some nice screenshots.

and b) Hey… what’s this small blue glowy thing here? Hang on… is that…

…the sword that caused the Foefire?! And have I been running past it a million times in groups when running Kholer in explorable dungeons? (Not sure if they removed it there though.)

But certainly I’ve been blind-spotting past it when running AC story mode, even when alone. (Cos the red name mobs are over that way and hitting the ‘skip’ button for cutscenes is an automatic reaction by now.)

So since I was happily alone with no one waiting for me, I decided to take the time and grab a screenshot that did it some justice.

Rytlock, Sohothin and Magdaer

Rytlock, Sohothin and Magdaer

As for the theme, well, you gotta be a bit of a GW2 lore nerd.

Magdaer was the sword that King Adelbern used to cast the Foefire, wiping out his enemies, the invading Flame Legion charr about to take over Ascalon City, but also damning all of his people in one fell swoop, turning them into ghosts trapped in undeath.

Rytlock’s decidedly charr take on the Foefire

Martyr hero or mad villain?

That theme pretty much encapsulates the entire charr – human relationship for the past couple hundred years. Depending on your perspective, one or the other are villainous and the other side are the good guys.

And even now, when there are folks on both sides looking past those old hatreds, you still have the recalcitrants on either end – Separatists and Renegades alike – who are now seen as the troublemaking villains… except if you’re on their side, then they’re the freedom fightin’ heroes.

Heroes and villains, all.

Edit: Sheesh, I forgot the prompt thingy. Which NPC in your MMO could be seen to be heroic or villainous, depending on how one frames their story?

GW2/NBI: Dungeon Soloing Is A Lot Like Writing

Wurms, wurms, they're everywhere....

Dear Reader,

You will not believe how many times I have pressed backspace or delete on this post.

I have a half dozen false starts and zeroth drafts of things I could say, and things I might want to say, while maybe these other things that I did type to myself should be left for my personal viewing.

I tried coming at the topic from a million and one angles, all of them maybe sort of potentially viable, yet somehow not yielding up a complete post.

Not yet. Not quite.

In the end, I just went back to my blog and forced myself to hit the “Add New Post” button and told myself I am just going type the first (but hopefully not the last) post on this topic directly into the post editor.

(If you could call continually pressing backspace to erase a turn of phrase and retyping a new one “directly,” that is.)

So, prior warning, this post is going to be rough around the edges. Not slick. Not smooth-sailing and superbly easy to read. Rough. Blocked. Start-and-stop and probably just as much struggle to read as it was to write.

The act of writing this post has been amazingly similar to my attempts to learn how to solo dungeons (or a dungeon – let’s keep our goals modest here.)

False starts, lots of deaths, intense frustration at certain ‘stuck’ points, a lot of thinking and trying and maybe some success and an equal or greater amount of failure and surrender (for now.)

You know, it’s not something that is often publicized.

Writers hide the struggle against the blank page, generally proffering only the finished product for an amazed public to ooh and aah over – unless you talk in-depth with writers on their craft or read books specifically on the art and craft of writing to begin to understand how the whole process works.

(And bear in mind, that process is different for different writers, of course. Some plan every last scene, some type by the seat of their pants, and so on. Whatever yields a ‘readable’ product at the end – I can’t even say ‘finished’ because it never is finished, for some writers.)

Looking into the art and craft of the GW2 dungeon solo reminds me a lot about the above.

Solo dungeon runners proudly show off their final product, a beautifully cut-and-edited video of their best and most impressive speedruns. Who can blame them? Watching flawless victory is a lot more entertaining for an audience than sitting through the many hours it must have taken them in real time to perfect their technique to the point where they can record their final product. The point, after all, is to show that the mountain can be conquered, not the many many falls it took to get to the peak.

The ordinary layperson tends to fail to grasp this concept.

They see the finished product and they think, “All right, I want to write the Great American Novel! In a month! Cos Nanowrimo is a thing!” Or they expect flawless nuggets of verbal gold the moment that they begin writing. Or they demand that their favorite authors churn out books like a factory for them.

Basically, they expect perfection in a multitude of unrealistic ways, and it’s a bit of a letdown (understatement of the year) when they don’t quite get what they expected.

Confusing the whole damn affair further are the bystander comments, some of which may very well be true for them (“yeah, I finished my novel during Nanowrimo! It’s awesome! I’m getting it published next month!”, “I just sit down and start typing every day and I got 50,000 words! Actually, 100k! Cos you know, I’m naturally a member of the wall-of-text club!”) or just internet exaggeration, who knows… but may very well not be true for you in specific.

So here we have a big morass of maybe helpful and well-meaning advice, some of which may or may not work for you, mixed with a quarter-pound of just plain look-at-me-my-prowess-is-better-than-you trolling and a lot of ill-formed personal expectations about how long it might or might not take, how successful or not it’s going to be, and somehow, from there, you try to sift through and eke out some information, some strategies on things you might possibly try, and then the bottom line is… you’re just going to have to sit your butt in the chair and try it out for yourself and see what works or doesn’t work for you.

Yeah.

Writing is a lot like that.

Dungeon soloing is a lot like that.

The stuff you read on Reddit asking about dungeon solos tends to come from innocent yet ambitious individuals who think it would be cool to be all super-elite and solo things like Arah and oh yes, make lots of $$$$ in the process, because selling Arah paths is a thing. How can they start learning how to do that?

(I’m sure writers have smashed many a forehead – theirs or the askers’ – against a hard surface when yonder innocent yet ambitious individual lets out that they think that writing a book would be a great way to earn royalties, make money and become super-famous and awesome like their favorite celebrity writer, and what would be the fastest and most efficient way to do so?

Of course, confusing the issue is that there do exist exceedingly prolific writers who write by a set formula and churn out bestsellers or the next bodice-ripper with a regularity you could set your watch or calendar by, and novices of their particular subset of craft can and do successfully join them in their $$$$ accumulation.)

Of course, not every individual asking on Reddit is exactly like that. Some of them do recognize there is a serious learning process involved and are merely trying to get any helpful advice they can from individuals or experts that have already walked the paths they’re hoping to travel on. Anything to make that very challenging learning process a little easier or a little more structured or just a bit more scaffolded, like out of the many dungeon paths there are, instead of blindly throwing oneself at all of them, are there any that are more doable or slightly easier to learn than the rest, and so on…

…except the answer may apply to the individual that suggested that X is easy, but not to the person receiving the answer… (maybe due to the class being used, maybe just due to individual player differences, whatever)

…well, they recognize that too, but they just want some guidance or a direction they can try, regardless. Which also makes perfect logical sense.

So you have people trying to be helpful, and people earnestly receiving that helpful advice, and then they go ahead and try it and…

…well, I don’t know if there’s a gruesome car wreck or if there’s great success, because again, this totally boils down to the individual yet again.

Which leads me to the interesting problem of trying to decide how exactly I should blog about my attempts at dungeon soloing…

Trust me, there are a lot more car wrecks at this present moment.

There’s no way I’m writing an ‘expert guide to dungeon soloing,’ as much as some people might like, because a) I’m definitely not expert status at this point in time, and b) I guess I lean slightly more to the exploratory school of thought that kind of cringes at the thought of people rote following a preset solved-by-someone-else tactic without real understanding.

To me, that seems to contravene one philosophy behind trying to solo a dungeon, which is to test yourself and your understanding of your class and the game mechanics and how best you might arrange things so that you can get through a particular encounter.

(Obviously, other people may have different philosophies in play. Some may enjoy purely the execution / reaction aspect of the exercise, and see no problems with imitation being the best form of flattery. Some may simply want to give themselves the best chances of success by being as optimal as a number-cruncher has calculated for their class. Some don’t give a damn about any glitches or exploits because lol, it’s up to the devs to fix the bugs in their game, if we can break it, we’ll use it, that’s what players do, we’ll do it fast and easy and painless.)

To be frank, I’m still trying to figure out where I stand on the various spectrums of these philosophies, which leads to a great degree of confusion in planning.

My life would be a lot simpler if I prioritized fast, efficient, painless like some other players. Ape everything – class, gear, traits, movement and positioning strategies – and just practice understanding fight mechanics + reaction time, everything else has been solved for me.

I think the problem is that I’m curious about too many damn things at once.

I want to know how it feels on the builds that I already have. I want to know how it feels on the ‘optimal’ builds. I want to adapt and customise new builds to solve various encounters.

I kind of want to figure out how to adapt various strategies for a different class (because look, every class has ranged and melee attacks and lots of blocks and evades and there’s always dodging) or to figure out other viable strategies (a warrior might dps and evade but maybe my guardian can reflect), yet I don’t have an issue with imitating a strategy that works either, especially if my attempts at new solutions aren’t working out that well.

Then there’s my damn morality about glitches and exploits. They make me cringe, in more ways than one. I don’t like the easy way out. I don’t like breaking the game or an encounter just to do something painlessly. And I sure as hell don’t want to get banned for an exploit.

It makes me bloody frustrated to go look up a video about how someone else has solved this problem and oh, the answer they’ve taken is to glitch something. Argh. Of course, they glitch it because the alternative is utter painful hell, and I find that out the hard way, and then I wind up stuck and dead-ended and frustrated.

Yet I’m sure that I’m not an extreme on the glitch morality scale, because I don’t have issues with things like skipping encounters by running or stealthing past, or using corners to block line-of-sight and pulling and leashing or constantly readjusting and making use of AI pathing to reduce damage taken. Those seem to be normal things that most everyone does in dungeons.

And frankly, I don’t have personal moral issues with using height and ranged attacks to get past an encounter (done it before in other MMOs, the system is supposed to declare the mob invulnerable or let it regen back tons of hp if that’s not kosher, standing on a rock or tree to shoot things feels like a natural human thing to do, the very point is that I’m trying to be hard to reach here, mobs could be given a ranged attack or some kind of cc to get us off the perch, it feels good and intended to outsmart a melee mob) but since Anet appears to feel that abusing the Z axis ventures into exploit territory, I avoid using that as a valid solution in GW2.

Kite around the mulberry bush, it is. No standing on the mulberry bush. Pft.

And I’ve followed the mulberry bush entirely off the point because I’m no wiser about how I should blog about my turtle-slow learning process.

I thinking that I may not want to show pictures and strategies and a breakdown of each encounter, because doh, that leads to blind imitation, right? (Or some bastard leaving me a note in the comments about how I’m doing it ALL WRONG and you should DO IT THIS WAY INSTEAD cos GLITCHING IS FASTER.)

And yet, I have a piss-poor memory and if I don’t make a record for myself about how far I’ve gotten through with each dungeon, and the strategies I figured out for how to get through it, I’m liable to forget what the hell I did and have an utterly miserable time the next time I try to make progress or practice.

And yet, maybe leaving some kind of record of the process is valuable for those that want to come after, in the same exploratory spirit, since what works for me may not exactly work for them, right?

And maybe it would be helpful to get comments and suggestions on areas where I am stuck, or having trouble. (Yet well-meaning comments can sometimes be helpful and sometimes infuriating – like trying to get someone to comment on or edit your writing. Maybe they have a valuable point. Maybe they should just go stuff it instead.)

And yet it would be kind of exceedingly stupid to publish a thorough solution that an ArenaNet dev can look through, decide they don’t like something about it, and proceed to get it fixed in the next patch, causing mass consternation (no small amount of it from myself either since that would invalidate a hard thought out strategy.)

I think “conflicted” and “confused” are good words to describe my present state of mind, yes.

Dunno, no real answers. Can’t decide.

If anyone is curious, at this present point in my experience, I would recommend AC story as a good starting point to learn dungeon soloing.

After all, it’s the only one I’ve managed to get through, start-to-finish.

Did have some deaths while learning, but they seem to be easily avoidable deaths with practice. My guardian main gets through it pretty easily. I tested it on an older guardian alt for fun, and that character also managed to get through it while in knight’s gear and berserker trinkets.

The upscaling makes it fairly forgiving to somewhat wacky, not quite optimized builds, with zero food or consumables.

Tried it on a sinister necro for fun, and wow, it hurt a lot more. It’s probably my lack of familiarity with the class and precise dungeon mechanics (which tend to get masked on guardians since they’re so block-filled and heal-y) but it was also eye-opening to try and figure out how to solve it from another perspective.

No, Eir, -I- need help. Your job is just to be a meatshield.

No, Eir, -I- need help. Your job is just to be a meatshield.

(Got super-duper frustrated when the Lovers bugged out on the necro. They became immune to conditions. Vs a NECRO. In SINISTER gear. It was fucking awful and repeated massacres for a long while. Nearly wanted to quit and decided to just give it a few more shots, switching over to zerker and a stabby dagger. Had to essentially waypoint kamikaze to get past the bug.)

Rate of return, beyond satisfaction in completing a dungeon by yourself, is not very high though.

No real NBI prompt for this post. Just this one thing: Give yourself permission to write a sucky post and get it done. All just part of the process.

And yeah, this advice may or may not work for you.

Only one way you’re going to find out.