DOTA: Dragon’s Blood spoiler-free review: Is it worth watching?

Steven Rondina • March 25, 15:39

DOTA: Dragon’s Blood is finally here. That begs the question “is this worth watching instead of just playing Dota 2?”

The Netflix animated series based on the enduring MOBA offers a unique look at a game with deep lore that has never actually been realized in any meaningful way. There’s a great deal of novelty in seeing Dota 2 come to life, but can this be pulled off? And if so, does DOTA: Dragon’s Blood do it well enough to warrant fans’ time?

Here’s a spoiler-free review to help you make that call.

Studio Mir makes DOTA: Dragon’s Blood stylish, fun

First and foremost on the list of positives when it comes to DOTA: Dragon’s Blood is that this is a very well-made animated series. Netflix put together a strong crew to make this series a reality, and that’s obvious in both the audio and video departments.

The animation is very good, which one would expect from the Studio Mir. While it was actually not a guarantee that the series would look good in practice given the studio’s portfolio in colorful and kid-friendly series work, the team behind The Legend of Korra did an excellent job bouncing back and forth between candlelit temples and grimy taverns. It does lose some points for leaning on CGI for most of the fight scenes, but it’s still some of Studio Mir’s best work to date.

The voice acting is also strong. Though Dota 2 fans were initially uncomfortable with how the series tapped an all-new cast of voice actors to portray established characters rather than using voice actors who voice the characters in-game, DOTA: Dragon’s Blood has a host of familiar names from both television and video games that play their roles well.

Don’t think that the voice acting changes mean this isn’t really a Dota 2 product, though. Dragon’s Blood has a lot of clever and subtle references that only fans will pick up on ranging from the use of in-game items to character exclamations like “Nyctasha’s nickers.” Though this is still a series made to be accessible to newcomers, it has a lot of little nods to the game for the established fandom.

There’s plenty of new stuff to keep things fresh, too. The lore and powers of the main characters serves more as a jumping off point for the series than a guide to be followed, allowing for some interesting story beats and relationship dynamics that fans won’t see coming. The new characters that were introduced are all quite fun as well, with Mirana and Marci having engaging banter and Bram serving as a plucky hype man to Davion.

Davion is a weak main character for DOTA: Dragon’s Blood

It’s hard to overstate how derivative DOTA: Dragon’s Blood is of other Netflix video game adaptations. Castlevania was a smashing success in 2017 and was followed by The Witcher in 2019. In both cases, fans were smitten by their complex characters, interesting worlds, and willingness to go all-in on gory violence and raunchy sex scenes.

DOTA: Dragon’s Blood is desperate to let fans know that it’s just like Castlevania and The Witcher, even to the point that it feels inorganic. This is demonstrated perfectly in the opening minutes with a cluster of profanity that comes off as cringe-worthy rather than edgy. All of this ultimately comes at the expense of building compelling characters.

When Geralt drinks and falls into bed with random women in The Witcher it fits with his personality as someone that’s dead inside and desperate to break up life’s monotony. When Davion does the same, it builds him up as a high school jock that feels out of place in a story about world-ending calamities. The overall cast is still solid enough, but putting a generic playboy centerstage may have been a misfire.

It’s also difficult to overlook the shallow and tropey story. All of the standard high fantasy beats are present and accounted for, including magic, dragons, elves, demons, prophecies, wars of succession, cults, zombies, and the main characters coming together at random in a tavern. It’s all standard fare but DOTA: Dragon’s Blood ultimately casts a very wide net, touching on a wide variety of subjects but never really comprehensively exploring any of them in a way that can make things feel rushed. There is definitely intrigue, but it’s not deep, original, or layered in the way that many classics are.

Is DOTA: Dragon’s Blood worth watching?

DOTA: Dragon’s Blood is a must-watch for any Dota 2 fan, and is worth checking out for people who enjoy the fantasy genre. Dota 2 fans will likely enjoy this new look at the game’s source material, while uninitiated fans of cartoons and anime will probably find enough to hook them through all eight episodes. Its relatively short runtime works to its benefit here, as it is prime binge-watching material

DOTA: Dragon’s Blood isn’t perfect, but it’s still a fun romp that fans of the series will get a lot out of. Here’s hoping that Valve can capitalize on the franchise’s newfound visibility.

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