Title: Dota Underlords
Release Date: February 25, 2020
Reviewed On: iOS
For months, I’ve been hearing about this weird auto chess craze and I said to myself, “Great, more automated gameplay.” Now that I finally got my hands on Valve’s Dota Underlords, I realize it’s far from what I consider to be an automated video game. Piggybacking off of the wild success of Dota Auto Chess on PC, Valve brings the experience to mobile devices. Fans of the Dota series will feel right at home with the aesthetics and characters taken from the popular MOBA Dota 2. There isn’t exactly a story here, but there doesn’t really need to be one as Dota Underlords core focus is on the addictive gameplay.
For the uninitiated to the new genre, auto chess plays like a mixture of card games like Hearthstone and MOBAS like the previously mentioned Dota 2 or League of Legends. You’ll pick from randomly drawn chess pieces with familiar faces from the Dota franchise to place on your board. The first couple of rounds will have you fight against minions that will give you access to items to give to your pieces and upgrade stats like attack damage, defense, and more – similar to using items in MOBAs.
You’ll then move on to fighting other players that you have to defend against or risk losing HP. At the same time, your troops will attack that player to make a dent in their HP. Loot rounds with harder minions come later in the game to give more opportunities to obtain items for your team. Over time, you can use the money you gain from fights to get more chess pieces, level up to allow you more units on your board, and reroll pieces if you don’t like your current hand. The last player with remaining HP wins the game.
For a genre called “auto chess,” there’s a ton of interactivity in terms of prepping your troops, deciding what items to use, figuring out what combination of troops can give passive buffs to your entire army, and a whole lot more. Each chess piece has its own ability or passive ability too, so you have to plan on the fly to make sure you have the most optimal setup. There might be a lot going on, but the game’s UI does a fantastic job of making everything happening on the board simple enough to understand. You’ll know when you have certain units on the board that can apply a passive buff like additional health or damage. It never once got confusing for me. The only real automated part is when the fight begins as your chess pieces will begin to attack your opponent.
Since the game is fairly new, there isn’t exactly an established metagame yet. But the interesting thing about this game is that you can’t depend on a certain meta every single game. You’ll have to adapt depending on your chess pieces and items you get throughout the game. If you’re taking a beating in the early rounds, it might be smart to continue losing rounds to gain loss streak bonus gold over time and look for better chess pieces that way. Or if you see an opportunity to create an all assassin team, you might want to take that route instead. And yes, placement of your units does matter. If you have a support character off to the side, your opponent’s assassin pieces might rush it and kill it quickly. No one game of Dota Underlords is the same, and that’s what I personally love about it. The replayability is practically endless.
The game also implements an ELO system, starting you off at the lowest rank of Upstart. I’ve maybe experienced one loss of rank because of a horrific loss streak I was on, but I was able to climb quickly back up to the Smuggler rank. With the recent separation of the PVP game mode into casual and ranked modes, players will be able to get a better feel playing against others in casual and then hop into ranked when they feel ready to climb the rankings.
Aside from the PVP modes, there are single-player options at different levels to get a feel for the game first before deciding to play against real opponents or an option to raise the difficulty to test different strategies. They did recently include a battle pass where you can earn various rewards like different in-game visuals and even new game boards by completing challenges and leveling up.
What I find interesting that the battle pass is currently free right now. I’m totally for that, but the game does have to make money somehow. I’d imagine the pass will be updated further later where you’d have to pay around $10 for even more rewards, which I’m fine with. The game did recently come out, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see many changes down the line.
At first, I thought auto chess was just another fad like the battle royale genre, but I was clearly wrong about both of them. Dota Underlords gives the opportunity to experience it’s tight and addictive gameplay to mobile players. I’m certain we’ll be able to see the game expand further with updates to its units, gameplay, visuals, and much more. The game may seem daunting at first, but I never felt overwhelmed by it and was able to put plenty of wins under my belt. I’ll definitely be playing this for a long time. It might even match the 700 hours I’ve put into Overwatch.
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