I Love Dota Underlords’ New Jail

Today, Valve’s ever-evolving auto-battler received its long-awaited “Big Update,” aka the one that finally adds Underlords to Dota Underlords. But while I’m still figuring out how I feel about having a howling, fire-haired general accompanying my tiny troops into battle, I’m already certain I’m in love with another new feature: jail.

In real life, jail is bad, and the prison-industrial complex should be abolished. In Dota Underlords, however, it’s a grand old time. Or, as a weird little raven man in the game enthusiastically puts it: “Extrajudicial imprisonment is a daily part of White Spire life!” Here’s how it works: Every day, a selection of 8 to 12 heroes gets put in jail, meaning that they can’t be used in matches. This serves multiple purposes. For one, it leaves space for Valve to add new heroes without destroying any chance that people will draw enough of a single hero to level them up, or enough heroes from a particular alliance to complete that alliance and gain its mid-battle bonuses. For two, it keeps things fresh: The meta can’t calcify around a single strategy if the hero selection is changing slightly every day.

It’s an interesting, albeit risky approach. I can see people getting angry on days when their favourite heroes are disabled. On top of that, worst case scenario, instead of one dominant meta, we just get a series that people cycle through.

Still, I really like the idea, and I absolutely adore its presentation. The jail screen includes short descriptions of why each hero got unceremoniously tossed in the slammer, and some of them are absolute gold. Today, for example, Crystal Maiden is in because she “refused to pay Anessix’s secret tax,” Sand King is in because he “didn’t tell [a] cute dog that it was a good boy,” and Io, an ethereal ball of light, is doing time for “public lewdness.”

Largely, the explanations are funny, but the first one theoretically sets up a fun dynamic between a hero and Anessix, an Underlord, and I could see characters being given more colour through this system in the future. Sometimes, a little bit of clever writing goes a long way.

As for the rest of the update, I’ve only gotten to play a couple matches, so I’m still on the fence. There’s a new interface that I’m having trouble getting used to, and I’ve yet to get much time with the new heroes and alliances. Underlords—individual units that join you on the battlefield and gain new abilities as matches progress—are clear game-changers, but I don’t know exactly how much they’ll shake up the game yet. If nothing else, the new duos and freestyle modes seem like neat additions. I plan to play more soon, and I’ll report back with my impressions.

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