Is Dota Underlords a game worth playing?
There’s no shortage of reviews from the game’s launch that sought to answer that same question. Many complement the merging of Dota with the auto battler — officially, of course. The genre had, after all, started as a Dota 2 mod. But Dota Underlords was the capstone on the “Summer of Autochess” that seemed to legitimize the genre.
More than a year post-launch, we’re still on Season One of Underlords. Promises of future seasons continue to bubble up from Valve’s “work on what you want” development stew. Even a cursory glance at the Steam player stats for the game shows a significant decline in daily players in the past few months. So perhaps we should rephrase the question:
Is Dota Underlords a game worth playing, both for returning players and new players alike?
- What is Dota Underlords? An action-packed auto battler featuring all your favorite characters and lore from Valve’s esteemed Dota franchise.
- Reviewed On: PC
- Price: Free
- Developer: Valve
- Release Date: June 2019 (EA)
- Website: www.underlords.com
Heroes Rotate, Underlords Are Forever
For the uninitiated, let’s talk fundamentals for a moment. Dota Underlords is built around a few key mechanics: heroes, alliances, and Underlords.
Though Season One saw certain heroes and alliances rotate out in favor of a few fresh out of the shrink wrap, the core gameplay remains much the same. Upgrade your heroes, kit them out wisely with items pulled straight from Dota 2, and build around the alliances you think can carry your team to victory.
Of course, RNG can occasionally throw your best-laid plans out the window. But c’est la vie.
The Underlords were the biggest change to the formula since launch — being a singleton unit with an array of special abilities that synergize best with specific alliance builds. An extra layer of strategy over an already strategy-heavy game. Returning fans of the genre (and the elemental game mechanics it represents) will certainly have their hands full with nuances and caveats to master.
Grab Hobgen if you need a damage boost, or recruit Jull to fill the gap for a healer slash tank in your lineup. Anessix and Enno are a bit more nuanced — the former fielding a summon and support abilities while the latter steals enemy items and poisons their team. Understanding the Underlords and their place on your team is pivotal to being the last player standing. Perhaps just as much as the alliances themselves.
As of Season One, the new alliances on the block are Summoner, Vigilant, and Void. Summoner buffs the attack power of summoned units, like Nature Prophet’s treants or Arc Warden’s clones. Vigilant keeps your backline damage dealers focused on enemy casters and pairs well with the Hunter alliance. Void grants allied heroes a chance to deal additional Pure Damage. And of course, we could dig into all the rest of the alliances here — but perhaps we’ll leave that for a comprehensive guide. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot going on under the hood of Underlords that you’ll have to keep up with. If you enjoy studying synergies and digging deep into stats, Underlords will tickle your fancy.
Season One even brought a few new features to the party, like a seasonal battle pass system and the solo-play City Crawl mode. The former lends an air of progression to the proceedings, while the latter offers you unique challenges and even some exclusive unlocks. It’s great to see that Valve offers an opportunity to play solo that isn’t just a bot match — and the City Crawl doubles as a smorgasbord of sweet, sweet lore for Dota buffs to sink their teeth into.
Though they’re as old as Season One at this point, it’s worth noting that the new(ish) game modes Knockout and Duos are fantastic additions. Sometimes you just want to jump in, wreak havoc, and jump out in ten to fifteen minutes. If that’s you, then Knockout will butter your croissant just the way you like. If you’re more of a fan of cooperating with another player to achieve victory, Duos might have the flavor you’re seeking. It’s great to jump into Discord with a friend and frantically shout back and forth while the shop is open, coordinating purchases and throwing heroes between boards. It’s redolent of the “two-headed dragon” approach from Magic: The Gathering in all the best ways.
As we mentioned at the outset, Season One has run on a little long. Longer than early hints from the developers suggested. Nothing new for Valve, but many were hoping this might be the beginning of a new chapter for the reclusive developer. It’s a crazy world outside your front door, though — so with more than one holiday 2020 triple-A release getting delayed as well, perhaps they get a pass. Hopefully, Season Two offers more of the same: some roster shakeups, new alliances to plan around, and perhaps even more worldbuilding to uncover.
But enough about hopes and dreams, we’re here to answer a question. “Is Dota Underlords a game worth playing, both for returning players and new players alike?”
If you didn’t like Dota Underlords before, it’s unlikely any of the changes in Season One will change your mind. But if the shaky game balance and stale metagame around launch scared you away, it might be worthwhile to reinstall the game and give it another go. And if you somehow missed the autochess craze last year, Dota Underlords is an excellent place to start.
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Zoom Out: Verdict
Gameplay - 8/10
Visuals - 8/10
Strategic Depth - 8/10
Dota Underlords is Valve’s entry in the auto battler genre. Leveraging the ever-deepening Dota IP, Underlords offers solid chess-like battles, strong strategy, and a game mode for every playstyle. Play on-the-go with the iOS and Android ports, or play at home with Windows, Linux, and macOS.
- Play across mobile and PC seamlessly
- Multiple game modes for short games, long games, and co-op games
- An exciting and engaging take on Dota battles and the auto battler genre
- RNG can be frustrating at times
- Long update intervals, because Valve
- Auto battlers don’t have broad appeal — “love or hate it” sort of game