Siltbreaker, a cooperative Dota 2 campaign event, launched its first act yesterday, and it's been driving my Dota group mad. Between the exponential difficulty spikes, impossible bosses, and wave after wave of enemies, it plays less like a jolly ol' game of Dota and more like a genuine raid.
A comic handles most of the exposition before you start: An evil force called the Siltbreaker could soon escape from its prison, and the various heroes of the Dota-verse have been called into action to stop it. The way to Siltbreaker's confines is beset by ancient evils, presumably spurred on by its growing power, and so you have to clear a lot of quests and bosses on the way there.
If you've been playing Dota since the WarCraft 3 days, Siltbreaker will feel at home right away — it plays a lot like Warchasers, the pack-in dungeon-crawling custom game. Four players team up to roam through a map, combing every corner for treasure and mobs, pressing forward with each new objective. There's a tinge of Diablo as well, though the game gradually becomes less about loot after the first 15 minutes, and more about handling the monstrous foes you have to tackle.
The hero selection has been curated for Siltbreaker, and of the few heroes you can choose, some have adjusted or completely new abilities. Drow Ranger loses her silence but gains the ability to fire her arrows in a cone, while Tiny's craggy exterior is replaced with a trample ability, similar to his skill in the Dark Moon event.
Half the challenge of Siltbreaker is finding the right composition to make it through some of the earliest stages. Unlike previous co-op events, this isn't a wave defence, but a full-on campaign. Distributing net worth, items and general team composition play a much larger role here. We soon found that Jakiro is invaluable for controlling the massive waves of enemies and whittling down mobs during boss fights. Drow and Templar Assassin's ability to hit multiple units in a line were invaluable, and Abaddon's shield made for both a valuable save and a handy dispel against enemies who stunned or silenced your teammates.
While the hordes are easy enough to handle, the bosses of Siltbreaker and even some of the major mobs are intricate. Learning patterns and managing your team's positioning is crucial. Frankly, Siltbreaker's best moments are when it plays more like an MMO raid and less like a wave defence or role-playing game. Dissecting each new area's tricks and foes is a challenge in itself.
More often than not, it leads to some tenuous situations. Playing in the matchmaking queue often results in players who don't play well with others, and even playing with friends in voice chat, it's easy to get frustrated with each other. One false move can wreck your run, as the Siltbreaker campaign's difficulty is a major roadblock.
Even for seasoned Dota veterans, Siltbreaker is very challenging. Things can quickly go from fine and dandy to sheer chaos. Spiders can grab teammates and carry them right into a nest, where they often die in seconds. Failing to dodge a single club hit from larger ogres can mean death, and letting an NPC die during an escort or defence is an insta-fail, losing upwards of an hour or more of progress and starting from square one again.
The sheer size of Act I of Siltbreaker is impressive, as you end up traversing shady woods, temple ruins and deserts. But since there's no "restart from checkpoint", a full wipe of all your team's lives means starting the campaign from square one every time. It's reminiscent again of raids, but the number of insta-kills is higher than most Destiny raids I've ever seen.
Most of my runs ended with sighs and quiet bitterness. Every failed run makes it a little harder to click the "Begin Campaign" button again, and more often, even my Dota-centric group were more inclined to play a regular match or switch to a different game entirely.
Rewards for completing the campaign are a little slim as well. Extra points into your battle pass is nice, and you get a chance at some rare cosmetics, but for the amount of effort put in, it hardly feels like enough. There will doubtless be a number of players who get the extremely rare Desert Baby Roshan courier as a reward and sell it for a few hundred on the Steam Marketplace, but those are outliers. For most, the greatest reward in Siltbreaker will simply be beating it.