DOTA Underlords is Valve’s stab at the auto-battler genre. In Underlords, just like in Auto Chess and Teamfight Tactics, you place heroes you buy on a board and then they attack other heroes and creatures. And while I understand the basic rules and mechanics of the genre, I still have no idea where to place these bastards.
Set in the DOTA universe, Underlord plays like the other Auto Chess clones and is being constantly updated and it feels like it is basically being built day-by-day. What all of these games have in common is that between each round players can freely place their heroes on their side of the board. And after playing for the last week or so I have come to two conclusions: Placement matters and I have no idea where to place anything. This is a problem.
Or I guess I should say, I believe the placement of your heroes matter. I actually am not 100% sure of this. But based on how often I crack the top 5 or top 3 and then lose to players using different layouts, I have to assume it matters. They must be doing something I’m not doing?
When I first started playing, I would place my heroes right at the front of the board and line them up. This would help me win against the AI and some other players, but I was getting beat more often than I would like. So I started switching things up. I would start placing heroes in behind each other, creating a wall. My logic was simple, I would use bigger heroes to block my weaker and smaller heroes. And this seems to be a better way to play, as I have nearly won a few matches. But I still keep losing to people doing really wild and different layouts.
Sometimes folks will place all their heroes in one corner of the board, far away from the front line. Other times the stack them in rows down the middle. Or create a square like a shape near the middle of the board. I encountered a player who seemed to change his layout every round and another player who spread all his heroes across the board, like actual chess. Not all of these various layouts seem smart. Sometimes I face off against people who have all their heroes in a single line spread across the board and they quickly get destroyed. So I try to not copy other layouts too much unless I find one keeps winning matches.
The thing about Auto Chess games is that you don’t have any control over how your heroes will fight once combat starts. So layouts are more a starting position than a gameplan. In a way, Auto Chess reminds of those old vibrating football games from the 70s. My dad had one as a kid and he described it like this: “You place the players down on one side and someone else places their players on the other side and then you hit a button and they move around in random directions and sometimes you win.”
What does that sound like to you? It sounds like Auto Chess to me. This isn’t a knock on the game. I actually really like this element of Auto Chess. It almost makes it easier to lose. After a bad round, I think to myself, “It wasn’t my fault. my heroes screwed up that last fight.”
But like that old vibrating football game, the placement does (probably) matter even if the end result can feel random. Put too many players on one side and you can make it easy for your opponent to flank you or strike from a distance. And that’s the problem I’m currently facing. I don’t know if I’m placing my heroes in good spots and they are screwing up, or if I’m setting them up to fail.
If there is one element of DOTA Underlords that needs some improvement it is the tutorial. The current tutorial feels too simple and short.
After finishing it I jumped into a match with other players and quickly got my ass kicked. I didn’t understand some of the smaller and more important concepts of Auto Chess. I think a longer tutorial that also spends some time explaining hero placement and how it can change up your team and their attack would be useful.
I think the real secret is that there isn’t one perfect layout. Depending on your team, your enemies and your items, different layouts can be great or terrible. That’s part of the appeal of these games. There are so many strategies and ways to play and all of them feel viable or at least fun.
So I should probably relax and stop worrying about where to place my knights and assassins. Or maybe everyone in the comments is going to explain to me very precise ways to play and I’ll realise how awful I am at this game.