The 2019 auto battler revolution saw a wave of publisher activity as they tried to take advantage of the latest craze: Dota 2 Auto Chess. Auto Chess, a custom game mode built with Dota 2 itself, was another product of the endless iteration found in the custom map customization scene. Dota was born from a custom Warcraft 3 map, which repeated on a modified StarCraft chart and Auto Chess itself repeated on a separate Warcraft 3 chart, and so on. This is our Dota Underlords Review.
A year later, Valve’s free-to-play interpretation of Auto Chess is one of the few that stands upright, and with good reason. Dota Underlords is an exciting game that fosters layered strategy, mental acuity, and the rush that comes with beating overwhelming odds, making it a consistently diverse and immersive experience.
Dota Underlords Review: About
- Platform: Linux, Windows, Android, iOS, Mac OS, Macintosh
- Developer: Valve Corporation
- Publisher: Valve Corporation
- Genres: Turn-based strategy, Auto battler
- Release Date: June 2019
Dota Underlords Review: Official Trailer Video
Dota Underlords Review: Gameplay
Unlike Dota 2, Dota Underlords is a simple game. You can quickly think of it as a deck builder or multi-economy drawing game – Dominion, Ascension, or the Legendary series are some useful touchstones. Competing against seven other people, you must assemble a team from a selection of heroes presented to you. That team will then fight against others in a series of rounds until only one player remains. Using the heroes of Dota 2, the game automatically resolves the battles over 30 seconds, with the heroes using a carefully selected selection of skills to defeat each other as quickly as possible.
Once a round has started, you do not influence it, so you can only watch, wait, and pray that your team strategy will work for you. Since Dota Underlords is a mostly automated game, it can develop the exciting intricacies of deck building – synergies, strengths, and weaknesses, etc. – in ways that table games cannot. And as a result, Underlords can combine system-on-system as it increases complexity and skill ceiling through a combination of resource and random number generator (RNG) management.
If you know you only need one Bloodseeker to upgrade it to an early three-star, for example, your best strategy is to spend some time repeating your hero selection at early levels to find it. Your chances of finding Bloodseeker drop dramatically once you hit level five, so you can manage those chances by leveling yourself – and an early three-star Bloodseeker with a Stonehall Pike or Cloak is a very, very dangerous thing.
One area where RNG management becomes much more difficult is the selection of the opponent as you go through the rounds of a match. You do not influence it, and not all opponents are created equal. Some are better players, while others have a better start. Some deliberately lose early rounds to put together a quick loss streak, trading their health for free reps and extra cash to get a head start later. And if you are a player who does the best with what you have been offered, you will randomly play against one of them.
True arbitrariness means Underlords rolls an eight-sided die in each round and decides who to deal with, which means you can encounter Nyx and Weaver three times in five rounds. This is frustrating, and repeatedly taking on the player in the highest position is not something you can get around. It would be foolish to try to change your strategy to beat a single player while still worrying about six others always in the game, and it is demoralizing if it happens again in the same game.
Knockout, on the other hand, is a quick take on Dota Underlords, designed to create a more palatable experience – which goes pretty well with the mobile version of the game. When Dota Underlords first launched in early access, standard matches could last up to 50 minutes, although the average is now around 25 minutes. But Knockout games are designed to last approximately 15 minutes, and because of the way they are structured, you get to see a lot more powerful three-star units.
With a lower cost to improve heroes and a simplified health system, Knockout games play hard and fast. Economy management does not exist as everyone races to spend all their money every round, and victory or defeat is always a single lucky throw. It feels like a twist of the shape, and it won’t help you hone your standard game strategies, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.
I was tasked with winning 40 rounds with Enno and Insects and specifically saw myself forcing bugs into teams where they did not fit. As an experienced Auto-Battler, I could recognize this as an inefficient game that I used only to complete my Challenge goal to achieve. But new players eager to start the game’s campaign can start bad habits as a result. It also feels like some of the challenges are only for players to spend their “Keys to the City.”
But in general, the City Crawl encourages play styles you wouldn’t otherwise enjoy – completing puzzles almost feels like reading chess books between games. And as a result, City Crawl reminds you why Dota Underlords is such an engaging and challenging experience. Many games today require a high degree of manual skill on the part of the player. Still, aside from brief moments of frantically clicking the re-click button to find the lonely Medusa that will no doubt bring you victory, Dota Underlords mainly exercises your brain, not your mouse hand.
If Underlords faces challenges, it is thanks to the Games-as-a-Service model. The decision to spin heroes in and out of the game allows Valve to maintain a sense of balance, but there will always be those unhappy that their favorite hero has changed or disappeared. However, as the changes in Ax’s season 1 proved, the rotation system offers the opportunity to create a character considered mostly useless as an exciting and dominant force on the chessboard. Things can and do change in the future, but the launch of Underlords gives the impression that there is an influential thought to propel the game behind the scenes.
Dota Underlords review is a diverse and consistently engaging experience where no game is played the same way twice. Since it was with the genre because it was a custom map mod, it’s encouraging to see it run just like it did here. Outsmarting your opponents and the opportunities offered by smart thinking are always hugely satisfying, and the complexity of the game means there are plenty of interesting strategies to try. Dota Underlords is a wonderfully robust and well-made strategy game in which you can quickly lose yourself.
Dota Underlords is an exciting game that fosters layered strategy, mental acuity, and the rush that comes with beating overwhelming odds, making it a consistently diverse and immersive experience.