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.
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.
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.
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.