Dota Underlords Might Have Won The Race That Matters

Dota Underlords Might Have Won The Race That Matters

Last week, Riot took back the advantage in the MOBA wars by releasing their accessible brand of Auto Chess, Teamfight Tactics, within the League of Legends client.

From initial perceptions, Teamfight Tactics plays on the automated battler formula a little more. But Dota Underlords has the one thing up its sleeve that might matter more: cross-play with the immense player base on mobiles.

I’ve been playing Underlords steadily for the last few days, and much like Nathan, it’s quickly become one of my favourite games. What’s so good about it is how well the formula fits into my life, especially the mobile version of Underlords (although I’d been playing a bit of Auto Chess on my phone prior to that.

Dota Underlords Might Have Won The Race That MattersThe mobile version gets rather laggy on high settings in the final rounds, but you can turn this down easily enough in the settings.

Take yesterday. I had a day off at home — time in lieu for covering E3 over the Queen’s Birthday — and so I spent a chunk of time around the house doing some cooking and chilling. Normally I’d concentrate exclusively on the cooking and cleaning, just to get it out of the way. But with the natural breaks in the automated battler format, I could upgrade a couple of troops in Underlords, adjust their positioning, and then check on the roast vegetables or stove afterwards.

I’m not saying that Underlords is better than Teamfight Tactics, or the Auto Chess that’s also available on mobiles. Both TFT and Underlords have a much nicer interface, and if you’re so inclined, you can switch between Underlords‘ desktop and mobile interfaces on either device through the options.

TFT certainly has plenty in its favour: the carousel round adds an interesting draft-like mechanic to the game, matches tend to be shorter, and it’s a lot harder to scout out your opponent’s economy before a round begins. The smaller board size also has implications for melee characters and the positioning of your army.

Dota Underlords Might Have Won The Race That MattersImage: Kotaku

But all of this is moot if you can’t play the game. Underlords is available globally on mobiles, although in my experience you tend to get matched against the platform you’re playing on. On mobiles and tablets I ran into more mobile and tablet players, while on desktop I hit more people on PC, sometimes exclusively PC players, but that’s purely anecdotal.

Dota Underlords Might Have Won The Race That MattersUnits are automatically outlined on mobile to help with visibility, but you can enable this on desktop if you prefer. Image: Kotaku

Riot has been open about bringing TFT to mobiles, but a developer noted that the company was “focused on getting the PC version right”. “That’s frankly where we have the most expertise and an existing player base,” Ed Altorfer, senior design manager at Riot, said in an AMA.

But fine-tuning any MOBA, whether it’s an auto chess spin-off or not, can take years. There’ll always be room for TFT, especially since an average game of Underlords can take anywhere from between 20 to 35 minutes depending on how well you do. That’s not super convenient for a lot of commutes, especially in Australia where mobile internet isn’t always reliable, but it’s less of a problem if you’re at home on the couch.

Still, the clock is ticking. Underlords has its share of RNG annoyances — if you don’t level up a character in the early stages, you’ll always be up against it — but the game handles well on mobiles, and Steam even tracks your playtime once you’ve connected your account. There’s also no monetisation whatsoever, and it takes less than 10 seconds to find a game. So it’s hard not to recommend.

I’m all for an auto battler that doesn’t take 20 minutes, but until one finds its way to mobiles, Underlords suits me just fine.


  • It’s not a game I’ve managed to get into.

    I always seem to be getting hosed on my level ups because heros I’m collecting are being horded in other people’s benches and are unavailable to buy. And if you get hosed early there really is no mechanic that enables you to start ditching dead ends and respeccing into something else. So, get lucky with initial buys that it turns out nobody else is picking up, or lose quickly.

    Despite the casual facade, Underlords really seems to be a game that is almost unplayable without an encyclopedic familiarity with every potential hero and their associated tags and abilities.

    • There is definitely a certain amount of RNG luck that goes into it, especially with items, but there are strategies and ways of switching comp. It’s much like other strategy games in that regard. Roll with that losing streak to bank up your economy is a great way to achieve that.

      I do agree that you do need a level of familiarity in order to play, but that’s just like learning different approaches and moves associated in normal chess. If your opponent moves X piece in Y direction, what could he be setting up? How many different moves involve that one movement, etc.

      I don’t have a very great knowledge of the pieces and items, I just know to bank my economy as best I can, and depending on what I’ve got going, try and get to lvl 8 for the 5 cost units, I need my enigma lol, and that gets me through enough to have some fun.

  • Up until a few days ago I’d never heard of auto-chess but it’s clearly not the kind of game for me. Glad people are enjoying it though.

  • I’ve tried to get into auto chess before but could never understand the appeal. Downloaded underlords on the weekend and have become pretty much addicted. It’s really satisfying learning the game, it’s a lot deeper than it seems.

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