Getting rolled on the Dota chessboard? Not to worry, we've got your back.
You won't make the podium of a Underlords match with any regularity without a bit of luck, but there's a lot you can do to give yourself the best shot of getting there. Hundreds of hours in Dota 2 isn't necessary for success in Dota Underlords, but some solid forethought can ensure you're not falling behind your peers when it comes to the close.
Everything you need to know about Dota Underlords
The biggest factor towards winning in the early, mid and late game stages is the quality of your units. You need duplicates of every hero to level up, but you only get five units to pick from at the start of every round, and it costs you two gold to roll the dice for five fresh heroes.
But how do you maximise the amount of rolls you get? The answer is interest. Once your bank account hits double digits, Underlords gives you an extra gold coin. Once you're past 20 coins, you get 2 coins, and all the way up to a maximum of 5. So provided you save your way up to 50 gold coins, you'll be guaranteeing yourself a minimum of 10 coins every round — 5 for a new round, 5 for the interest, and any extra you get for win/loss bonuses/global items.
By stocking up and not trying to spend your whole bank every turn, you'll get more rolls and more chances to buy the heroes you need. If you don't get the heroes you need, or you just want to maximise your footprint on the board, your base income will be enough to get you two XP upgrades a turn.
You can see whether other players are stocking up or not — every player's bank is visible at all times, through the tabs on the left hand side of the screen. It's a little harder to see on mobiles, but you can still snoop on everyone's composition and economy with the press of a button, and it's absolutely something you should do when you get the chance.
Underlords has an element of RNG inherent to the game, but there are some things that you absolutely cannot miss out on. One of those is the bonus items you get from neutral rounds.
After the first three rounds, the next loot round takes place at round 10. You'll get loot rounds every five levels after that. Losing one of the early loot rounds isn't ideal, but you absolutely need to make sure you get the best loot from rounds 10 onwards. That's when tier 3 and 4 items start dropping, like Black King Bar, which gives a character magic immunity for seven seconds, or massive damage dealing items like Radiance, Sacred Relic, Moon Shard, Refresher Orb (great for Kunkka and his big boats).
Spy on people
Everyone's army composition, positioning, alliances, gold and item loadout (plus any global items) are visible at all times. You won't know who you're fighting in advance, but you can get a good idea of the trends. There's not much point running a composition with a demon hero as your main damage dealer if the rest of the server is neutralising your bonus with a couple of demon hunters. Similarly, a Human-stacked army doesn't help a lot if you're dealing with three or four players with assassin compositions that teleport into your backline the second the game starts — they'll be wailing on your supports before the silence can truly be useful.
Underlords doesn't give you a huge amount of time to prep between rounds, but there are points in the game where can you quickly assess what's coming up. Any time you're stocking up coin to build up your interest bonus is a good opportunity to spy on others. You can also check out people's builds and compositions during your fight, or immediately after your fight finishes.
And it's worth checking out what people have, if only for the biggest possible reason: everyone buys heroes from the same shared pool. You'll have the best chance of getting higher level characters if other players aren't also buying the same heroes. It's a good idea to check people's compositions at the very start of the game, since you're not as pressed for time and you'll have a better sense of what heroes will be more available. With experience, you'll be able to parse your opponents more quickly.
What the game doesn't initially tell you in the tutorial (but is in the guide) is that there's five tiers of heroes. You won't be able to access certain tiers until you reach a certain level, which has the practical effect of preventing certain compositions from appearing until the end of the game.
This is worth keeping in mind if you're trying to get some enormous ultimate bullshit going, like a screen full of Kunkka big boats and Tidehunter ravages to basically perma-stun the enemy team. But beyond that, it's just helpful for planning your synergies ahead. If you see a Shadow Shaman and Batrider in the first level, that's good — you've got half of the synergies required for Trolls. But don't bet on the other two appearing any time soon, because there's only four troll units in the game, and the last of them (Troll Warlord) doesn't appear until tier four units become available.
The biggest tip for upgrading your heroes
Basic advice, but worth reiterating. If you want to upgrade a 1-star hero to 2-stars, you'll need three versions of the hero. Upgrading a hero from 2-stars to 3-stars requires three 2-star heroes, and you'll have to plan ahead to make sure you have space on your bench.
Because everyone buys their heroes from a shared pool, you'll have the best chance of getting 3-star heroes by going for characters that aren't as popular elsewhere. You'll need to keep their synergies and general role in mind — there's no point having six damage dealers on the board just because other players aren't buying them — but in general, 2-star heroes are vastly better than their 1-star variants, and the more of those you get on the board, the better.
Winning rounds in Underlords isn't just about composition. It's ensuring your best heroes are able to do their best work, without being interrupted by enemy abilities or isolated by assassins. A simple example is positioning your damage dealers. If you know there's a lot of assassins coming up — maybe there's only three or four people left playing — then you can save yourself a lot of trouble by stacking your army in one of the bottom corners, keeping a tank or two in the backline.
Similarly, you need to consider how units will move forward on the battlefield. If a lot of your heroes need to be next to each other for their buffs to work, then you might need to position your forces towards the front. Alternatively, you might get more luck placing some of the melee attackers behind your ranged troops, so that way the melee characters will be one cell in front by the time you engage with the enemy.
It helps to know how far your ranged attacks can reach, too. There's nothing more annoying than losing a battle because one of your eight or nine units wasn't attacking for the first five seconds — because they had to run around the back of your army first.
There's 23 separate synergies in Underlords, and it's tough to max out any of them. Some are easier to collect at the start, like Brawny (200 extra HP for 2 Brawny units, 500 extra HP for 4 or more) or Warrior (+10 armour for 3 Warriors on the board, and +15/+25 for 6/9). But trying to maximise any single trait is often supremely difficult. There are some heroes within each trait that are simply better than their compatriots, and that's not even countering for how well their abilities might work alongside your current army composition.
It's here where a bit of prior Dota 2 knowledge is really helpful. Warriors, for instance, are more likely to be your tanks, heroes that bear the brunt of front line damage. There's five demons in the game, for instance: Terrorblade, Shadow Fiend, Queen of Pain, Doom and Chaos Knight. Out of those five, Queen of Pain and Shadow Fiend are the biggest damage dealers. But Queen of Pain will always teleport to the back of the enemy lines at the start of a round — it's what assassins do — and if you've got a composition that relies on a lot of close-range buffs, Queen of Pain will often just teleport to her death.
Thankfully, Underlords does a good job of highlighting your current army synergies, and what a character will bring to the fight if they're deployed on the field. Pressing or clicking on any of your synergies on the right hand side will show what characters share the same trait, which is helpful if you've got a stacked bench and can't remember which hero needs to be deployed to get that all-important bonus.
What synergies are best to aim for will depend on your starting picks and what's available. As before, you'll have an easier time upgrading heroes that other players aren't going for, and having 2-star heroes faster makes the biggest difference in the early game. But after that, you'll need to make sure your synergies actually complement the heroes on the battlefield. There's no point maxing out synergies for a bunch of AOE spellcasters, only for them to get obliterated before they can get a spell off.
Take Humans as an example. Two Human heroes gives those creatures a 20 percent chance of silencing a target for 4 seconds; four heroes ups that chance to 44 percent. Six humans are difficult to obtain, and it's not worth it: you'll have to field some subpar heroes like Crystal Maiden or be stuck with one-star versions. (You can also get a tier 2 item from neutral waves that counts Humans as Heartless, too.)
But if you field four humans — Bloodseeker, Kunkka, Lycan and something like Lina or Omniknight — you'll be able to easily get two or three synergies just based off the shared traits from those characters alone. That in turn makes your whole army more durable, giving you the breathing room you need in the mid game to stock up on interest, which sets you up better for the final rounds.
Below you'll find the full list of synergies. Just click/swipe left or right to flip through the lot.
As with Dota 2, and any MOBA, you want to maximise the advantage of each hero. But say you've got a couple of damage dealers on the board, and you've just scored a nice Sacred Relic from a neutral wave. Who do you give it to?
The answer is generally simple: whoever hits the fastest. The easiest way to get a gauge of this is by clicking on individual heroes between rounds, and checking out their basic stats. The closer a hero's attack speed is to 1.00, the better. Some heroes will get much better at attacking as they level up — a level 1 Antimage doesn't hit particularly fast, but the level 3 hero goes like lightning, making it a perfect accompaniment for any item that stuns (like Skull Basher).
Items are similar to their Dota 2 counterparts, but they're not identical. Eye of Skadi, for instance, only provides a 400 HP bonus while slowing units on attack; it doesn't boost a hero's attack speed. And some are unique to Underlords, offering global benefits (like the Dragon's Hoard, which grants 1 percent attack damage for every gold you own to all Dragon units at the beginning of combat).
Tier 5 items are utterly brutal, including Expanded Roster which lets you field 11 units instead of a maximum of 10, the Divine Rapier that gives a hero +330 attack damage, or Bloodthorn's +70 to attack and a 5 second silence when an enemy hero has more than 75 percent mana. Which then ensures that all attacks against that hero land with perfect accuracy, doing 140 percent damage a shot. Ow.
But most games will be decided before Tier 5 items come into play. The key is making sure you get the items in the first place — if you're missing out on the neutral waves by this stage, chances are you've already lost the game.
Don't be afraid to take some losses in the first 20 rounds
It's not uncommon that you'll look around the board, and see a few other players have already gotten a 2-star hero or a couple of 2-star heroes before you. That happens: RNG is part of the game.
But it's important not to panic and blow through your cash by rolling every round to catch up. You're not really at risk of being knocked out until after round 20 — the most damage you can take in the early to mid-game is between three and five damage. (It's 1 point of damage for each 1-star hero left alive at the end of a round, 2 for every 2-star hero, and 1 point of base damage after round 10, 2 points after round 20, and so on.)
Getting a strong economy and making sure you're not competing with four or five other players for the same heroes is more important — it'll set you up better in the long term, and you'll start recouping the benefits in due course. You'll probably take more losses than you like, but if you're collecting 10+ gold a turn, and you're starting to upgrade your heroes to the same level as your opponents, and they're stuck with bugger all gold and a bigger life total? Their advantage will vanish real fast, and you'll be left in a much better position. Stay the course.