Dota 2 Underlords adapts the Dota Auto Chess mod into a standalone game. (Image via Valve)
When a Dota 2 mod called Auto Chess was released in the Dota 2 client, fans were immediately intrigued. The mod was a blend of the Dota 2 characters and items with the simplicity of a game of chess. The Dota 2 community has been using the example of a game of chess to explain what Dota 2 was to friends and family who weren’t big into video games. So the idea of a mod that was played similar to a game of chess but with Dota 2 heroes was entirely too enticing for a lot of players – especially for the team at Valve. After being unable to work with the Drodo team, makers of Dota 2 Auto Chess, Valve decided to launch their very own Dota 2 Auto Chess – Dota Underlords.
Dota Underlords is not meant to be a completely different game from the original mod but they did make some changes to the overall feel to the game with minor changes to heroes, items, gold and the U/I. After playing countless hours of Auto Chess, I took my hand at comparing the two games to see how the two compared.
The interface design in Underlords is a huge improvement from Auto Chess. That’s a highly contested opinion among my peer group as many see Underlords as being too similar to a mobile game with big buttons and simplistic designs. I think it makes for an easy-to-use system. Yes, the buttons are much bigger and it clearly looks like a mobile game but considering Underlords is slated to go mobile soon – it makes sense. Why have a completely different U/I for all the different platforms when you could just have one that works across them all?
The board and the heroes in Underlords have a similar appearance to Auto Chess but look and feel more like a Dota 2 environment with your favorite heroes. The heroes are a little less detailed than in Dota with some style choices that make them look a little like League champions but I’m not complaining. I attribute that to the interface’s more mobile feel and lowered polycount.
The heroes have largely remained the same across the Dota Auto Chess mod and Underlords – which is a big relief to fans of both games. There are a few heroes like Bloodseeker, Warlock, and Pudge that have been changed but for the better, in my opinion. Bloodseeker functions more like an Armlet of Mordiggian where he is constantly losing health but deals more damage the less health he has. Similarly, some heroes that had been removed from Auto Chess have been ‘reintroduced’ into Underlords, such as Lich and Slark.
In addition to altering some of the abilities from Auto Chess and adding some removed heroes, Underlords also changed the “Alliances” in the game. While it was mildly disappointing to see Valve just copy and paste the same Alliances into Underlords, it does make for an easy transition for fans of Auto Chess. There’s a couple of tweaks that were made to the Alliances: Deadeye replaces Dwarfs (which gives a significant buff to Gyro), Blood-Bound replaces Ogres (this only affects the two blood-bound units in the game Ogre and Warlock), Hunters (now have the chance to proc an additional attack rather than getting additional damage), Knights (received damage reduction aura rather than shield proc), and Druids (lowest star Druids receive a bonus star if you have enough Druids on the board).
I really enjoy getting to play around with the hero compositions given the tweaks they’ve made, although some of the strongest strategies are still focused around Assassins.
If you played Auto Chess and had the luck that I did, you know that RNG can be cruel. I’d constantly get items that were miles behind my opponents and there wasn’t much to do about it except hope I eventually would get something useful. Underlords changes this random aspect of items by introducing the ability to choose your items during specific parts of the game. This includes global items and equippable items.
There are global items focus on buffing Alliances, such as the Soul Sucking Syphon, which buffs Warlock’s heal and Unstoppable, which lets Warriors live an extra two seconds after receivng a killing blow against them. Equippable items, unlike global items, affect only the items bearer. These changes allows for players to strategize more with their items and choose what best suits their lineup. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you get your pick of all items – there still is a fair bit of RNG when you are given your selection of items.
There are two really important parts of the item system that are important to note: each hero can only hold one item which means you need to be selective with your choices and you cannot combine items in Underlords as you would in Dota 2.
As I admitted previously, I played far too many of Auto Chess games when it was released and even though I poured so many hours into the game, I felt it was always lacking a reason or a story behind it. Auto Chess didn’t fool around with a backstory or a compelling reason as to why the heroes were fighting. Underlords has ‘started’ to introduce a backstory into the game and it’s reminiscent of the mini-games from Battle Passes in the past.
The very basic lore we are given in Underlords is that we are being pitted against seven opponents and in order to outwit your opponents, you must build a crew to battle for dominance of the city of White Spire. It’s a place for the shady heroes in Dota 2 to indulge in their vices so it makes sense that the lore would be focused on building a crew to beat your opponents. I’m really hoping that Valve builds on the lore and delivers a fully fleshed out background story that brings the game more to life.
I personally really enjoy Dota 2 Underlords more than I did Auto Chess. There’s a lot more that Valve has done with the game than simply taking the original concept and streamlining it. Valve’s added in a backstory that we’ll hopefully get to read about soon, and they’ve made the U/I more accessible (thank goodness they removed that blasted courier!). The game itself isn’t too different and the meta is relatively the same, but what remains is a chess-like game that reflects the MOBA we’ve all come to enjoy. After all – enjoying a good mod is what the Dota 2 community was built on.