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A roundtable about Dota 2’s Siltbreaker multiplayer campaign

Why is it so dang hard?

A full map of Siltbreaker, most of which we haven’t seen, either, don’t worry.

The Dota 2 co-op campaign, Siltbreaker has finally reached fans’ Battle Passes after months of waiting, and years without such a mode. In it, players select from a limited hero pool and enter a brand new terrain with enemies awaiting. Wave after wave of enemies chase the squad, including bosses that are familiar but not new, as the players work towards the final bosses, victory and in-game goodies.

If we’re being real here, none were more eager to start it than my brand new co-worker Ryan Gilliam and me (Victoria Rose). Ryan is a relative beginner in the game, but he’s been hard-set on improving both his game and cultural knowledge since before I met him. On the other hand, I have over 1200 hours, but I am, in a word, trash. Still, the game mode itself is new — minus the heroes you play — so we figured we could swing it. We downloaded the patch(es, thanks Valve) and went in hoping that we’d be able to find a fun new journey.

Did we get the adventure we were hoping for? We’re here to talk about that:

Victoria: So, I did this the first night with you, and I went back and tried it again with a few friends. And it felt incredibly hard both times. Did you have trouble too?

Ryan: You know, I think Dota 2 might be one of those “hard games.” The base game is hard enough (I am very bad at it and I would like to apologize to every team I have ever been on) but this mode falls into the category of “maybe impossible.” I say that knowing that people have beat this thing in like 20 minutes, but still.

It certainly feels overly difficult, and I think a big part of that is the near constant swarm of wolves coming at you. It is so easy to get overwhelmed by pups, that you end up abandoning your objective to find the bridge. Then, you’re short on gold when you have to defend the town. Just as you are getting swarmed by enemies and your towers have been destroyed and you know its the end, that’s when the boss spawns.

If Siltbreaker’s job was to destroy my spirit, well done. I already think I am gonna lose before that boss shows up, so when he arrives, it is just me sitting on a sandy beach holding my teammates like the end of Rogue One.

I want to play Siltbreaker. It seems so cool, I love the atmosphere, but it is just so hard. This goes double when I am not entirely familiar with what my character can do, let alone the heroes that my teammates are playing. As a challenge for the hardcore Dota 2 people, it still seems hard — but manageable if you are willing to spend the time to master it. More than anything, it kinda just feels like a missed opportunity that could be fixed with some balance tuning. What do you think?

Victoria: Yeah, that last statement about sums it up. I love the concept, and it’s really satisfying, regardless of game mode, to walk around wiping out enemies. Sadly, it’s just so difficult, even strategizing with my friends knocks the enthusiasm out of me. I played with an analyst the last time, and we still couldn’t crack the code. Though to be fair, we played with complete amateurs.

Coming in from Valve’s other co-op events, it feels like more of the same. Just like the Wraith Night and Overthrow, it’s all wave after wave of enemies. Except now you’re walking, and there are traps and, I guess plot?

Dota 2 is meant to be “the hard game,” but I don’t think that means it shouldn’t be fun, because it is a game. Though, to be fair, the life gets sucked out of you about 500 hours into regular game modes anyway.

Do you think a difficulty or balance fix is all it needs?

Ryan: It’s hard to say. I am so glad that you have played their other co-op stuff, because I didn’t even know it existed prior to us talking. While I have very little Dota 2 experience, I have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours in Diablo III seasons. Obviously these two games aren’t completely comparable, but I do think that Valve is going for a Diablo vibe with Siltbreaker.

The Diablo stuff is actually what I really like about Siltbreaker. Running around as a group and each using your own, unique abilities to aid the team or loot popping out of enemies when you kill them. That stuff is really cool and fun. It makes me want to keep coming back. But, I think that Valve ignored one of Diablo’s key designs: the difficulty slider.

To answer your question, I think Siltbreaker is a fun experience that is just too damn hard. If Diablo was set all the way up to Torment 10 all the time, it would be no fun. Players who are really good at Dota 2 or who are devoted to finishing this game mode, will make it happen. But for players like me, baddies, I would love to have some kind of difficulty stepping stone. I kinda just want to roll through Dota-land and hit wolves with Dazzle’s magical stick. I don’t want to stress about it.

A difficulty that was almost impossible to fail at, just to get your bearings about you, would be much appreciated. Then you could play a harder version with better rewards or just walk away satisfied. Even having a difficulty that gave the party unlimited lives would be awesome.

Do you feel like the life/respawn system is one of the main problems? Or is there something else even more dastardly lurking below the surface?

Victoria: I don’t think the life and respawn systems would be an issue if the game’s difficulty level wasn’t already so high, though the system’s not perfect. It’s buggy and confusing to new players, and the combination makes it annoying to continue. I’m at least glad they didn’t make it interruptable with damage, not that you’ll likely survive an onslaught of enemies anyway.

But, otherwise, I think what’s rumbling a bit is the assumption that, since a few people have beaten it, we can too! Dota 2 is difficult to master already, and I feel like Valve has gotten comfortable at this point with only a few people earning their rewards.

Maybe that’s why they’re not making it easy: they want that sweet, sweet Desert Sands Baby Roshan, plus the rest of their goodies to feel like real rewards. You’re not even guaranteed that Baby Roshan if you win a treasure.

You think Valve has their priorities in the right places?

Ryan: It’s hard to say. I certainly can’t speak for the wider Dota 2 community, but I understand wanting to cater to your more hardcore fans. But I think there is a way to do that without alienating those who don’t want to spend their lives playing Siltbreaker.

Ideally, there would be a difficulty that everyone can beat comfortably with a little bit of work. Then, maybe an easy mode with a few more rewards. That being said, there should definitely be a hard mode for the people who are very good at this. Maybe make the Baby Roshan an exclusive hard mode drop. Not everything should be available to all players. However, a mode that has the potential to bring new people in being too hard? That is certainly a missed opportunity.

Victoria: Actually, that’s a great idea—different difficulties for different prizes. Honestly, I’d love prizes all the time. But for a game mode that’s only here for such a short time, “Missed opportunity” seems to be the main theme here, even pushing the joy of bonding with your fellow salty friends and the need for rewards —Baby Roshan pls — aside.

Hopefully Valve tweaks Siltbreaker a bit before the Battle Pass ends, because I really would prefer the satisfaction of winning over anything.