Straight out of BlizzCon, Blizzard has shed some light on how Blizzard DOTA will work. With League of Legends going strong, Valve's Dota 2 on the way, and a score of DotA clones out there, it's sometimes hard to imagine just how much you can vary on the formula.
From differences to other DotA games, the game's cost, to heroes, Blizzard offered some good chunks of information to help you wrap your head around it.
Differences between Blizzard DOTA and other DotA games
Blizzard wants to take its "easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master" philosophy to the overall design of Blizzard DOTA, as they feel that this genre has a pretty demanding learning curve. They are also adding gameplay elements to encourage more aggressive, fast-paced gameplay, and team fights all over the map instead of just at key lane positions and boss creeps in jungles.
Towers will have a limited amount of energy that slowly recharges over time. So a tower can run out of "ammo" if you keep harassing it, interesting. The idea is that this way teams will be more encouraged to attack as a team and to reduce early-mid game tower hugging.
The jungles will be different from what you're used to. Jungles will have power nodes that are guarded by neutral creeps. Taking control of these nodes will add strength to the team's mobs in their lanes. So jungling will become more about control to strengthen the general push across the lanes than about buffs, XP, and gold for your heroes.
To reduce the learning curve, Blizzard isn't saying much in terms of details but they feel players shouldn't have to read up on guides and item builds before feeling comfortable even thinking about trying a diferent hero. They're mostly interested in adding clarity by eliminating redundancies in hero abilities and items, and think that players will find this reflected in the heroes' design and the item shop.
Number of heroes and roles
The version of Blizzard DOTA at BlizzCon features 12 heroes that fall into four class types: tank, damage-dealer, support, and siege. Tanks and damage-dealers are what you expect them to be, soaking damage and being the squishy DPS assassins, respectively. Support heroes will do things like healing, stunning, and crowd control. Siege heroes attack from long range -- ideal for taking out towers -- and tend to have abilities that affect a wide area.
There are more heroes planned for release, obviously, but Blizzard stresses that they "want to ensure every hero and ability feels unique" and to go for quality over quantity -- a thinly veiled stab at League of Legends. One of the pillars of their design philosophy that supports Blizzard DOTA is that every hero should fit their roles very strongly and promotes teamplay.
Achievements, rewards and stat tracking
Upon launch, the game will give you access to a small group of heroes to start with. The more you play, the more heroes will unlock. After unlocking all heroes, you can work towards unlocking cosmetic prestige items by winning games with specific heroes, which sounds like you'll have to fill some achievement bars and conditions with a hero. These prestige items can include alternate weapons, crowns, and other accessories.
Blizzard DOTA will launch with an automated matchmaker that matches based on skill, like the regular StarCraft II ladder. Stats like the number of kills, destroyed towers, and average gold and XP gained per match will all be tracked.
How much will it cost!?
Blizzard plans to offer "a way" to play Blizzard DOTA for free, "possibly by including it as a part of the StarCraft II: Starter Edition." They haven't decided yet on what kind of content restrictions (i.e., amount of heroes, etc.) will be placed on the free-to-play version. They're also discussing the possibility of exclusive content, such as special heroes for owners of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and the upcoming Heart of the Swarm, but that is as yet undecided.
Beta? Release date?
There will be a beta "within the next few months." No release date, but at gamescom senior game designer Jonny Ebbert mentioned it would hit around the time of Heart of the Swarm. Did you really expect a specific release date?
It sounds like Blizzard is taking their DotA variant very seriously and are dedicated to bringing a more focused game to the table that capitalizes on their brand awareness and established universes. If you're into DotA, I can think of worse things than having two of PC gaming's behemoths getting neck-deep in the MOBA genre. I do hope Blizzard DOTA won't be region-locked like StarCraft II and Diablo III, though; I like playing with my friends all over the world!