Game talk

Dota Underlords: Complete strategy guide

Dota Underlords might take a while to wrap your head around, especially if you’re new to auto-battlers. I’m here to cut down that time in half.

Dota Underlords is a separate game developed by Valve, and not a Dota 2 mini-game (like Auto Chess or Pudge Wars). Underlords has its own smartphone version as well as the non-Dota standalone version available on Steam. You can resume your match from PC on your smartphone and your smartphone on PC.

Note that in this piece, we’re mostly going to focus on the player who already knows about Dota 2 and is a beginner- or intermediate-level player in Underlords.

The game has an official website to learn more. If you’re active on Reddit, I’d also like you to follow the Underlords subreddit. Also, if you’re stuck and can’t decide between Underlords, Auto Chess, and Teamfight Tactics, then I’d recommend this guide (though it’s not that much of use, in my opinion, the best on the market right now).

The game derives its inspiration from Auto Chess. Auto Chess quickly became popular among Dota 2 players and popularized the “auto-battler” genre. Seeing that, Valve decided to make its own variation of the auto-battler.

Here’s the full story about how testers in Valve loved playing Auto Chess and how they approached Drodo Games, the original developer from China, to work together on a new project. That project never materialized and the talks failed. Shortly afterward, Drodo Games partnered with Chinese studio Dragonest to develop a standalone version of the Dota Auto Chess mini-game called Auto Chess: Origin. It’s playable through Epic Games. More information is available here on the official page.

With Dragonest’s Auto Chess and Valve’s Underlords banking on the new demand for the auto-battler genre, Riot Games (the developer of League of Legends) also came up with its own auto-battler called Teamfight Tactics, which features League of Legends characters, or champions, as they call them. It’s a game mode and not a standalone PC game.

Unlike Auto Chess: Origin, that’s made on Unreal Engine 4, Underlords utilizes the Source 2 engine (as it’s developed by Valve) and is the first Source 2-made game for the smartphone platform.

Okay, that’s enough chitchat. Now, let’s get down to the real talk.

What is Dota Underlords about?

The official description of the game that Valve issued in its introduction blog post shortly before the game’s launch is as follows:

Dota Underlords is a new stand-alone game that pits you against seven opponents in a battle of wits that will have you building, combining, and leveling up a crew in a battle of dominance for the city of White Spire. In this game, victory is determined not by twitch reflexes, but by superior tactics.

In a nutshell, Underlords is a strategy battler where you deploy your troops (which are essentially Dota 2 heroes) and let them fight.

It’s much like chess. Unlike in Dota, you don’t have to control a specific hero or give it orders. Each round, you can choose from a pool of heroes to deploy and they battle on their own.

Game mechanics and how to play

Eight players are matched up for one game. There’s a leaderboard (on the left of the GUI) that tells you who’s winning, sort of like the Dota 2 post-game scorecard. The more “health” you have, the higher up you’ll be. Each loss deducts some health.

There’s also a level assigned to you. You will gain XP (or buy it with gold) to level up. The level you’re at determines how many troops you can have on the board. They’re both equal. So, for example, if you’re at level 6, you’ll be able to deploy a maximum of 6 (or fewer) units on the board.

Your heroes will fill their mana as they damage enemies. Once the mana bar hits 100%, they’ll use their ability. All heroes have an ability, including certain passive ones. For example, Bloodseeker has Bloodrage and nothing else.

So, when the game begins, Round 1 will start. Round 1 is a loot round where your hero will face a couple of creeps. It’s easy to score a victory here.

Once you’ve deployed your hero, remember, you can’t control it. It’s an auto-battler. Well, if you’ve played Auto Chess on Dota 2, you will be familiar with how this works. Between that mini-game and Valve’s Underlords, there are many major changes but the core mechanics remain similar.

Also, after each round’s completion, you gain certain boosts. For example, it’s typical to get a +2 Base Gold boost.

Now, before each new round begins, you’ll get hero choices. Suppose you already have a Lina on the field and you get another one to choose from before the next round, you can get her and it will upgrade her to a two-star Lina. And so on.

So, essentially, you get new troops, upgrade them, sell them (for the same amount of gold, no penalty), etc. You battle one of the other seven players each round. In Round 10 and then every fifth round after that, there will be a neutral creep round, or a loot round.

Items in Dota Underlords

Items are integral to Underlords, just like in Dota.

After accomplishing a victory in a neutral creep round, you’ll be able to choose a prize. For example, once Round 1 finishes, you can choose between three rewards:

  1. Vitality Booster (+250 health).
  2. Claymore (+21 attack damage).
  3. Brooch of the Martyr (+50% mana gained from receiving damage).

These three are Tier 1 rewards. There are tier 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 rewards or items. Here’s a full list of all items in Underlords.

So, there are neutral creep rounds every 5 rounds after Round 10. That means that by the time you reach Round 30, you’ll have a total of 6 items.

A lot of the items are direct Dota 2 assets like the Chainmail or the Claymore. Some are, however, completely new like the Brooch of the Martyr.

You can embed these items on your heroes to enhance their effectiveness. Some items are global, meaning their effect applies to the game as a whole and not to a particular hero. Besides global, hero-specific items are further categorized into offensive, defensive, support, and contraption items.

Getting the right items is going to be extremely important to smoothen your road to victory. For example, if you have a tier 5 item on a core hero like a Radiance, Heart of Tarrasque, Eye of Skadi, Moon Shard, Daedalus, etc. then you’ll be nuking your opponents in no time. If you happen to have your tanks equipped with defensive items like BKB, Vanguard, or Blade Mail, then you’ll be too tough to beat down. And so on.

Most of the items (and hero abilities) do what they do in Dota. That means that even if you’re new, you’ll feel that it might be a good idea to put your Mask of Madness on your Bloodseeker. It’ll be silenced but its attack speed will be much greater.

Synergizing alliances in Dota Underlords

Each hero has certain alliances (at least two). Alliances are also called traits and sometimes classes. All alliances provide different abilities to their holders.

On the battlefield, you have to synergize alliances by deploying heroes that have the same ones. For example, Tiny has Primordial and Warrior alliances. Enigma has Primordial and Shaman alliances. So, if you deploy Tiny and then Enigma on the battlefield, you’d have synergized two alliances.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to check each hero’s alliance repeatedly or know it by heart. When you’re deploying, the UI will show you which other heroes on the field will be “connected” to that particular hero. In other words, it will tell you which heroes have the same alliance as the one you’re about to deploy. But during purchasing new heroes before each round, you’ll need to check their alliance icons.

On the right side of the GUI, you’ll see three tabs. The first tab is for synergy where you’ll be able to see which alliances are at which level.

Now, let’s come to the more important question. What does this synergy do?

Well, once you’ve synergized alliances, you’ll unlock additional abilities. Let’s have an example.

Bloodseeker, Bounty Hunter, Morphling, Phantom Assassin, Queen of Pain, Sand King, Slark, and Templar Assassin all have the Assassin alliance or class. When you have three Assassins on the board, you’ll unlock Assassin ability level 1. When you have six Assassins, you’ll unlock the final level.

  1. Level 1 Assassin ability: All Assassins gain a 15% chance to Critical Hit for 300% Damage. On a Critical Hit, the target is WOUNDED and healing taken is reduced by 50% for 3 seconds.
  2. Level 2 Assassin ability: Assassins gain a 25% chance to Critical Hit for 400% Damage. On a Critical Hit, the target is WOUNDED and healing taken is reduced by 100% for 3 seconds.

There are 26 alliances that your heroes can have:

Assassin, Brawny, Brute, Champion, Demon, Dragon, Fallen, Healer, Heartless, Human, Hunter, Knight, Mage, Magus, Poisoner, Rogue, Savage, Scaled, Shaman, Spirit, Summoner, Swordsman, Troll, Vigilant, Void, and Warrior.

There are also eight mega-alliances that neutral enemies in Loot Rounds can belong to.

You’ll find the list of alliances on the Dota Underlords Gamepedia wiki. To know more about an alliance, click on its icon.

Each alliance comes with its own special ability or passive advantage against the enemies.

Now, you saw how Assassins have two levels of abilities that unlock with 3 and 6-hero deployments. Each alliance has a different hero count requirement to reach different levels. For example, the Human alliance has three levels. level 1 Human ability unlocks with 2 Human heroes, level 2 unlocks with 4 heroes, and level 3 unlocks with 6 heroes (if you remember, the Assassin alliance works with 3 heroes and then 6 – only 2 levels, unlike the Human alliance).

How many units you’ll need to unlock the full potential depends on the number of heroes belonging to that alliance. For example, there are eight Assassins so it has a requirement of 6 heroes to reach maximum effectiveness. The Blood-Bound alliance has only two heroes, Ogre Magi and Warlock. Therefore, the maximum effectiveness is reached with two deployments.

A special alliance here is the Demon class. The Demon ability is a gain of +50% Pure Damage which activates when you only have one type of Demon unit on the board. So, the Demon class reaches maximum effectiveness on one Demon hero deployment only, even when there are five Demon class heroes: Chaos Knight, Doom, Queen of Pain, Shadow Fiend, and Terrorblade.

Hero tiers

Different heroes are categorized into different tiers. There are five tiers:

  1. Tier 1: Anti-Mage, Batrider, Bounty Hinder, Crystal Maiden, Dazzle, Drow Ranger, Enchantress, Lich, Magnus, Phantom Assassin, Shadow Demon, Slardar, Snapfire, Tusk, Vengeful Spirit, and Venomancer.
  2. Tier 2: Bristleback, Chaos Knight, Earth Spirit, Juggernaut, Kunkka, Legion Commander, Luna, Meepo, Nature’s Prophet, Pudge, Queen of Pain, Spirit Breaker, Storm Spirit, and Windranger.
  3. Tier 3: Abaddon, Alchemist, Beastmaster, Ember Spirit, Lifestealer, Lycan, Omniknight, Puck, Shadow Shaman, Slark, Spectre, Terrorblade, and Treant Protector.
  4. Tier 4: Death Prophet, Doom, Luna, Lone Druid, Mirana, Pangolier, Rubick, Sven, Templar Assassin, Tidehunter, Viper, and Void Spirit.
  5. Tier 5: Axe, Dragon Knight, Faceless Void, Keeper of the Light, Medusa, and Troll Warlord.

RNG-based gameplay

Underlords is an RNG game for the most part. RNG stands for random number generation. Think of Chaos Knight’s stun. It could be as low as 2 seconds or as long as 4 seconds when maxed. You never know. And if a lot of heroes had RNG-dependent abilities, Dota 2 would be more about luck and less about skill, experience, and strategy.

In that light, Underlords is heavily RNG, making it a primarily luck-based game. I’ve seen many players get really nice items and heroes, giving them an upper hand regardless of their skill level. However, the way in which you utilize your items and heroes is also extremely important, therefore somewhat compensating for the luck aspect. Only when you’ve had 50+ hours on the game, I believe, will you be able to have a strong chance to win with strategy even against players who get more favorable items and heroes than you.

Importance of gold in Dota Underlords

Gold is used to buy troops before each new round. They usually cost 1-3 gold. The highest cost units are worth 5 gold. And how much a unit cost depends on its tier.

There’s more going on with gold than meets the eye:

  • You can refresh the hero list you get and generate a new roster to purchase your heroes.
  • You can also buy experience to level yourself up (it costs 5 gold, the highest anything will cost in your game, clashing with some hero purchases).

If you’re on a losing or winning streak, you’ll be generating more gold as long as you keep the streak up.

Gold is a key factor in determining who wins. I also like to think of the gold aspect as a counterweight to the RNG nature of the game. For example, you can get lucky and have really nice items and a full army of Assassins right at the mid-game. But if you’re not being strategic with your gold spending, you’ll end up losing in the late game.

How to win in Dota Underlords?

Sure, luck plays an integral role. If you’re lucky, you’ll get an early Aegis of the Immortal boost after a particular round, which is a Tier 2 prize. But experience will teach you new ways of strategizing your gameplay.

  • First and foremost, you should know high-tier heroes apart from low-tier ones otherwise you’ll be annihilated before you can understand what went down.
  • Your primary focus while deploying should always be pairing up heroes of the same alliance. There’s absolutely no point in random deployment or deployment based on a hero’s ability, tier, or something else.
  • Remember that the abilities of each alliance scale up (except for the Demon class) when you deploy more heroes of the same alliance.
  • It’s important to keep gold efficiency in mind. You cannot be spending all your gold every round. Save it up and wait for higher-tier units. Also, if you’re having a decent amount of gold, don’t shy away from buying XP.
  • Don’t be baffled by losses. Losing streaks provide you with additional gold. On top of that, if you happen to get lucky soon enough, you’ll be able to make a swift and powerful comeback.
  • At the end of every round, you take damage which deducts some of your health. That depends on how many units you have left and what tier and level they are, in every round.
  • Some heroes are truly game-changers but only when deployed in a specific way. Placement is exceptionally critical in Underlords.
    • For example, if you have powerful long-range heroes that have high-tier items on them, you want to put your core strength around those so that Assassins that jump to the backline find it difficult to pick up on and tear down your long-range damage dealers. If you put a solo Sniper in the backline and your bulky, high-armor heroes on the front line, an enemy Slark, QoP, PA, etc. will directly jump to your Sniper and kill him. So, protect him.
    • The same goes for heroes like Disruptor that don’t have a lot of HP or armor to withstand enemy blows but exceptionally powerful abilities.
    • If you’re going a Warrior-build, for example, you can line up your front line because of their naturally high armor and abilities.

Lastly, remember that only losses deduct your health.

Dota’s ultimate aim is to demolish the enemy ancient and no matter how many more deaths your team has had, you can still win. Now, in Underlords the aim is to lose as little health as possible and stay in the top region of the leaderboard.

Now, coming back to the point. Only losses deduct your health. Even if you lose most of your units but manage to pull a win, you’ll not lose health. The game basically boils down to this: stay alive as long as possible.

Right-clicks, spells, item usage, initiations, falling back, Smoke ganks, warding, etc., are not really applicable here because the heroes will do the fighting on their own in a sort of pre-defined way (that is to say that the outcome of a particular battle can be calculated in a nanosecond when the battle begins by the game – the fight that’s displayed for the duration is simply for the visuals).

You need to bolster your troops and take advantage of their alliances and skills in a way that your chess pieces outlast the enemy’s pieces as many times as possible. If that’s done, you’ll automatically win. And oh, I don’t mean to say that all you need to do is tank. If you don’t deal damage then there’s no point, really.

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By Santiago Vargas

Santiago is a humble gamer from Peru who brings in the much needed breathing space amid all the hardware talk here at Spearblade. We liked his blog so much that we had to onboard him. You'll find Santiago publishing game-related articles.

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