Dota Underlords (Open Beta) First Impressions

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Valve’s Auto Chess title, Dota Underlords, is looking like a true competitor to the genre.

After a series of closed beta tests from Valve’s family and friends and Dota 2 Battle Pass owners, Dota Underlords finally opened its doors to the general public. How is it shaping up so far? Here are our initial impressions.

Author’s Note: We tried the game out on the Mobile platform, specifically through an Android device.

Typical Axe start!

General Looks and Feel

As we mentioned earlier in our report of the game’s Open Beta launch, it looks and feels a lot different from Dota Auto Chess. Maybe because instead of hard detailed 3D models we got slightly chibi-fied versions of the Dota heroes. Not that that’s bad, they actually look fantastic and rather cute. The UI is also clean, simple, and aesthetically pleasing.

Reading the different items, hero skills, and “alliances” or the “Season Info” was a blast thanks to the well thought out format. While we know that at its heart Underlords is an Auto Chess title, it does give off a different vibe from all the other similar games we’ve tried, including the original.

Valve also added in some minor animation cues to make everything a bit more seamless and entertaining. For example, surviving heroes don’t just magically pop back into position but rather walk back into your side of the board. Another one is when a hero dies they are revived at the end of your battle round via a summoning animation.

There are a few more that you’ll notice when playing such as heroes beckoning from the bench to be placed on the battlefield and heroes flailing as they get dragged onto the board. These are minor details but it makes the game a bit more immersive, not to mention fun.

We’re also grateful that there is an option to reduce graphics quality, which is a blessing for low-end and budget devices. In any case, we’re quite pleased with the overall look and feel of Underlords so far. The models are nicely done and everything looks neat and organized.

Gameplay

At its core Underlords still employs the mechanics of Auto Chess but with some few tweaks here and there, starting with the available game modes. In case you aren’t too familiar with Auto Chess, we have a very detailed article here explaining how it works.

Game Modes

Pick your poison!

First up let’s talk about the currently available game modes. We have three available game modes for Underlords. Namely Multiplayer, Solo/Bot, and Tutorial.

  • Multiplayer — Your standard game mode where eight players fight one another in a last man standing match.
  • Solo/Bot — A mode where a single player will face off against seven bots in varying difficulty (Easy, Medium, Challenging, or Hardcore).
  • Tutorial — Pretty self-explanatory, this is a mode where the basics of the game are taught.

Personally, we love having that bot game mode as it allows for some real-time practicing, where we can try out synergies and strategies. This is, however, especially helpful for beginners to get a better feel for the game before clashing with real players.

Tweaks, Changes, Quality of Life (QOL) Improvements

Apart from the aesthetically pleasing overall looks and feel of the game, we’re also quite pleased with some of the changes Valve employed. We actually got introduced to quite a number of tweaks, changes, and quality of life improvements.

Item and Creep Reward System

Unlike the item system we have in the original Auto Chess, where creeps drop random loot, in Underlords we get to choose our reward at the end of the round whether we win or lose. Winning, of course, grants you a chance to choose between three options, while losing will force you to accept just one reward, chosen at random. Items aren’t the only ones that are offered though as there are times when you can also choose a permanent buff for an alliance. This buff will stay active for the duration of the match and will affect any and all alliance units you put into play.

There are also buffs that grant special bonuses such as an extra option (4th) at the end of a creep round, guaranteed extra gold when losing a match, and more. Heroes are now also limited to just a single item as opposed to having six. That may sound a bit underwhelming but do note that items you get from creep rounds have varying tiers, from one to five, the higher the tier the more powerful the item. Plus, you now have the option of swapping out items, yep they are no longer locked to a hero.

Alliance

Species and Class no longer!

Another system that was replaced was the Species and Class system. Valve basically centralized everything into one umbrella term — Alliance. This is more of a tweak rather than a major change like with the item system. Fair warning though, Valve did add in some new heroes and new synergies into Underlords.

So, if you’re thinking you got everything figured out since you’re already familiar with what Auto Chess offered, think again. That’s why we recommend you take a quick peek at the hero roster as well as the alliances before jumping in, don’t make the same mistake we did.

Attack Range Indicator

Axe’s Attack Range (in the orange squares)

One welcome feature that Valve added is the attack range indicator of heroes. While just a minor quality of life improvement, it offers a chance for players to properly position their units. Although, most melee units have the standard one square attack range, there are some, like ranged heroes, who have varying reach. We first encountered this type of system with Arena of Evolution: Red Tides, a mobile Auto Chess copy.

Instant Hero Upgrade

Axe in hand!

Heroes in Underlords are no longer required to be on the field to be combined to the next tier, yet another system we first encountered in Arena of Evolution. Simply buying a third copy of a hero will instantly combine it to either the bench or the board. You can also easily identify which of your heroes are ready to be upgraded as they will have a glowing border around them on the shop.

Synergy Indicators

Pudge showing he has Warrior (with Axe and Juggernaut) and Heartless (with Drow) synergy

Underlords has a very convenient system for tracking what synergies are active and inactive. There are actually three in place:

  • The tab info located at the right side of the screen, which indicates active and inactive synergies as well as how many heroes of that alliance are on the board and its activated level.
  • Heroes show outlines to other heroes they have a synergy with, along with the corresponding color of an alliance.
  • There will be indicators below a hero when buying from the pool, which shows if adding them will activate a synergy or gets you at least one step closer.

Gold Count

Moneh, Moneh, Moneh!

While not an overly groundbreaking tweak or QOL, we appreciate that there is a system in place that breaks down your gold earnings per round. This actually gives you a better understanding of your potential income for the next round as well as if you plan on continuing either your win or loss streak.

Win/Loss record against a Player

Cures you, Simon!

Now, this feature is another that we found tremendously helpful during matches. At the start of a match, your win/loss record with the opponent will be shown along with their Alliance synergies. It gives you a rough idea on whether your team is currently working well against theirs based on your win and loss count.

This allows you to either tweak your lineup or change it entirely to prepare for your next encounter with them. At the early skirmishes with lots of players still around it won’t matter too much since matchmaking is still too random. It becomes really helpful though, at the later rounds when there are about just four players left as chances of encountering the same opponent is higher.

Bugs

Our Dwarven Sniper is glitching!

As the game is still in its early Open Beta state it’s no surprise that there will be bugs along the way. One certain bug we had an experience with is that the death of a hero will cause them to glitch when revived. In our case, it was with Dwarven Sniper. It didn’t hamper our gameplay too much though plus we got a good laugh out of it too, so no harm was done. Thankfully, that’s the only bug we’ve encountered, so far.

Initial Verdict

Just 4th! Since we got overconfident due to our Auto Chess knowledge. 🙁

Despite being in its early Open Beta stages, Dota Underlords is shaping up to be a very refined and quite polished iteration of the Auto Chess genre. It employed tweaks, changes, and quality of life improvements that we were hoping to be implemented in the original custom map. Not to mention, it has a more appealing item and creep reward system.

Yet, it is not without bugs as some of our friends have had a more gruesome experience than just a slight glitch such as frequent delays and lags despite having good internet connection and a high-end device. Although, despite all that, we believe that Dota Auto Chess has finally met its match and may very well be dethroned if Valve continues to bring improvements to Underlords in future updates. You can download the game via the links below:

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