Dota Underlords Beginner Guide
Artist: Valve
Author:
MrNiceGuy
Date: 06/2019
Tags:
text
Tactics
Beginner

With Underlords hitting open beta and cross-play on PC, IOS, and Android, there will be a lot of people trying the game out and joining our awesome community. This Dota Underlords guide covering all the basics of the game is intended to help those newcomers get off to a great start!

If you are an Auto Chess veteran, this comparison between Auto Chess and Dota Underlords and this Dota Underlords Tier List will be more useful to you.

Underlords Goal:

The basics of all Auto-Battler games, including Dota Underlords are the following:

  • You buy heroes from a shop which restocks each round to build your army. You put your active army on the board and you can have reserve units on the bench.
  • Three heroes of the same kind combine into an upgraded version of the hero.
  • Your army fights against the army of another player each round. The winning army inflicts damage to the enemy player.
  • The last player standing wins the game!

You Win Underlords

To make things a bit more interesting, all Auto-Battler games have hero synergies and item systems that give them strategic depth:

Knights Underlords Wide Icon

Each hero has unique skills and stats. More importantly, heroes belong to tribes which are called Alliances in Dota Underlords. Combining heroes from the same Alliances (Warriors, Mages, Hunters, etc.) gives bonuses to your army and makes it stronger. For example, having three Warriors gives them 5 bonus armor. Each hero has two to three Alliances, enabling multiple possible combinations.

Daedalus

Defeating PvE rounds gives you items, which you can distribute among your heroes to make them stronger. Items give stats or even new abilities. There are also global items, which give interesting traits to all your whole army.

Dota Underlords uses the heroes of Dota with abilities very similar to what they have in Dota 2. That said, even if you haven’t played Dota that’s not much of a disadvantage. The gameplay and strategy of Underlords is completely different from Dota. Learning the heroes and their abilities is quite easy in a couple of games.

User Interface:

Underlords user Interface

Economy Basics:

You buy heroes from a shop for a specific cost (stronger and rarer heroes cost more gold). To build a great army, you need good economy. This means that to place high or win a game, you need a good sense of the macro strategy in Underlords, not just the hero combinations.

You can use your gold for three things:

  1. To buy heroes, which costs between 1 and 5 gold depending on the rarity of the hero.
  2. To re-roll the shop (refresh the heroes inside instantly), which costs 2 gold. This helps you find the exact heroes you need for your upgrades and synergies.
  3. To purchase experience – 4xp for 5 gold. This helps you increase your level faster (you win 1xp by round for free).

Experience: Experience helps you increase your level, which allows you to include more heroes in your army. For example, in the UI screenshot above, 9/9 signifies that there are 9 heroes on the board. This is the maximum possible number for the current level of the player (level 9). Level 10 is the maximum level.

Your level also gives you a higher chance to find rarer heroes in the shop. For example, on lvl1 you can find only common (1-cost) heroes. You can find 5-cost heroes only once you reach lvl8, and the chance increases with higher levels.

Gold: You get gold from a couple of sources. First, you get a set amount of gold each round. Moreover, you get 1g if you win the round against your opponent, 0 if you lose it.

There are, however, other more strategically interesting income sources:

Underlords Income
Interest gold (1-5g):

If you save some of your gold, you’ll get interest. For example, if you have 10 gold in the bank, you’ll get 1g as bonus interest at the beginning of the round. If you have 50 gold, you’ll get 5g as interest (the maximum amount). If you want to maximize your interest income, you need to hold 50g in the bank. This means you are not currently spending this amount to make your army stronger, but you have a higher income, which means in the late game you will have higher total gold to spend on your army. In general, the people who have the most total gold to spend on their army are the ones who place highest in the match.

Win or loss streak gold (1-3g):

Consecutive wins or consecutive losses give you bonus gold. This is strategically important: loss streak gold gives you a chance to secure a good economy and win the game eventually even if your initial army is weak. The worst strategy (economically) is to alternate between wins or losses. Try to win every round if you’re strong, or accept that you are weak for a few rounds and play the economy game on the back of interest gold and your loss streak gold.

That said, your health is an important resource. It’s not possible to keep a losing streak for very long, you need to get a strong army eventually. As a rule of thumb, it’s ok to loose streak until you reach 50 health. At that point, you should start thinking about focusing more on your army and winning rounds, but you can still allow yourself to keep a healthy bank. Once you dip below 30 health, however, you are in dangerous territory and you need to get a strong army ASAP. You might want to spend all of your gold on more levels and upgrades. 

Army Basics:

The Board is where you keep your active army. How many heroes you can keep there depends on your level. Of course, more heroes means a stronger army not only because of a numbers advantage but because of the possibility for more/stronger synergies.

The Bench is where you keep your reserve heroes (units that you are keeping for upgrades or possibly to switch strategies). Bench space is a valuable resource, so you need to manage it. You usually want to fill it up, because having more units gives you more possibilities to find new combinations and upgrades. Later in the game, you will need to make a decision which units you need more and will have to sell-off others to free up bench space.

The Shop:
Underlords Shop

Above you can see the Mobile UI shop. The PC shop interface is smaller and lets you see your board and bench without having to minimize the shop – the benefits of a large screen.

The shop is where you get your new heroes from.

It has a stock of 5 heroes, and the higher your level, the higher the chance some of those will be rare and more expensive. In the screenshot above, the player is lvl1, so all the heroes are common (1-cost).

You can buy any of the five (if you have free space on the board or bench and enough money). You can also re-roll the shop, which will restock it with 5 new options at the cost of 2 gold. This is the main way to find the exact heroes you need, but it is also costly and if you over-do it in the early and mid game your economy will suffer.

So, the basics out of the way, there are three main strategic aspects to building a powerful army:

Upgrades:

From the shop, you can buy only one-star units. However, buying the same hero multiple times allows you to upgrade it.

E.g. Three Anti-Mages combine into a two-star Anti-Mage. Three two-star Anti-Mages combine into a three-star Anti-Mage. The highest upgrade is three stars.

Upgrading a hero increases its stats (health, damage, ability damage, and CD, etc.). Usually, with each star level, the basic stats of the unit get doubled. If Anti-Mage has 500 HP on one star, he’ll have 1000 on two stars and 2000 on three stars.

Upgrading your units is vital because it allows you to use your limited board space more efficiently and increases the overall strength of your army.

Upgrading, however, is difficult:

First, you have to find 9 copies of the same hero to reach three stars. This is costly in terms of gold (from 9g for a 1g cost hero, up to a whopping 45g for a 5g cost hero). Finding the hero 9 times, however, also usually requires a lot of shop rerolls, which is an even bigger gold sink. Last but not least, there is a hidden cost to searching for upgrades: if you are going for a three-star upgrade, you are likely to hold additional copies of the hero on the bench. Gold on the bench is gold that’s neither making your army stronger nor bringing interest income.

Second, going for upgrades requires bench space. You simply don’t have enough space on the bench and board to try to upgrade all your units to three stars at the same time. Usually, you need to make a decision and prioritize upgrading some units over others. Your first priority is to get all of your units to two stars since it’s much easier to do. Then, you want to choose which key units you want to try to get to three stars. Those are units which you intend to use in your final army composition (doesn’t make sense to try to upgrade a hero you’re later going to sell). 

Army composition:

Generally speaking, you want to have an army which has a tanky frontline and a damage-dealing backline. You need to think of this not only in terms of units but also synergies. E.g. it’s a good idea to have 3 or 6 Warriors as your frontline because of the armor bonus of their Alliance. Warriors naturally combine well with a damage-dealing backline of e.g. Hunters or Mages.

Example Lineup:

Warriors + Hunters:
Drow Ranger
1
Sniper
2
Medusa
3
Pudge
4
Kunkka
5
Doom
6
Units: Drow, Sniper, Medusa, Pudge, Kunkka, Doom
Synergies: (3) Hunters, (3) Warriors, (2) Heartless, (1) Demon

One of the most straight-forward yet strongest strategies in the game right now.

You have three Warriors to tank and three Hunters to deal damage. Moreover, since both Drow Ranger and Pudge are Heartless (Undead), you get the (2) Heartless Alliance armor reduction synergy, which helps with your damage output.

All kinds of lineups are possible, but as in every competitive game, there is a meta. You can check out our article talking about some of the strongest strats in Underlords right now, this Hunters lineup being one of them: Underlords Strategies vs Auto Chess Strategies

Positioning:

The very basics:

  • You want to have your tanky units at the front, your squishy damage dealers at the back.
  • You also want to have units whose spell you want to trigger ASAP (e.g. important crow control) at the front so that they get mana from tanking damage.
  • You want to have units that benefit from proximity auras right next to each other.
  • You want to spread-out your army in the late game if you want to avoid strong AoE spells.

There are, however, many more details that you can take into consideration depending on your lineup and the lineups of your opponents. For example:

Mid Game Positioning Underlords
Warlock

Warlock is the first unit that will take damage because we want him to be the first unit to die. This will buff our two-star Ogre Magi because of the (2) Blood-Bound synergy we have (after a Blood-Bound unit dies, all other Blood-Bound units get 100% increased damage) and he will be able to deal good damage.

Omniknight portrait

Omni is the second unit on the frontline simply because he’s tanky and because if he casts his heal on himself he’ll deal good AoE damage and survive for long

Ogre Magi Portrait

Ogre is our third tanky unit, but he is positioned one square further back. This means he won’t get focused right away, which is important because we sacrifice Warlock to increase his damage output. The longer he stays alive, the more damage he’ll deal.

Shadow Fiend Portrait

Shadow Fiend is in the middle for three reasons. First, he is a Warlock and we have the Soul Sucking Syphon global item (adjacent units get 25% lifesteal from spells and items). This means we want as many casters right next to him as possible to benefit from this proximity aura. Second, he is a squishy damage-dealer – he needs to be surrounded by units that don’t allow enemy heroes to reach him. Third, his Requiem of Souls spell deals more damage to enemy heroes closer to him. This means the second row is perfect for him – if we put him further back, his AoE will likely deal less damage.

Luna

Luna is next to him: she is our physical damage dealer, so she needs some protection, but at the same time she has a short range, so the 2nd row fits her well. Moreover, she is a Knight, which means that when she is adjacent to Omni Knight (our other Knight), they will benefit from the (2) Knights damage reduction synergy bonus. This makes her a bit tankier than our other damage dealers, which means once enemies reach her (after Warlock dies), she’ll be able to survive at least for a while.

Razor

Crystal Maiden and Razor are on the third row because they are our squishiest units (along with Shadow Fiend) and we want them to survive for as long as possible. Moreover, Razor deals more damage with his spell to enemy heroes further away from him (the opposite of Shadow Fiend), so on the third row, he might be able to deal slightly higher damage than on the second.


Strategy Basics:

So, how does a match of Dota Underlords progress normally and what do you need to do to maximize your chances of winning?

Early Game: lvl 1-5

What’s your opening strategy? You want to pick up the strongest unit combination and ideally upgrades in order to start the game on a win-streak.

  • If you manage to do so, you might want to level up faster and even reroll to stay ahead of your opponents and keep your win-streak going.
  • If your army isn’t strong enough, you might want to concentrate on economy for a few rounds (save up gold) and get a losing streak going.

By the end of the early game, you should have a basic idea of what strategy you’re going for (what army you’re trying to build). You’re still open to changes, but you also know what units to look for and to buy if they pop up.

Mid Game: lvl 6-8

This is a crucial stage because it’s the last few levels in which you can make major changes to your strategy.

By lvl7-8 you want to have a mature and strong lineup and to start winning rounds. Losing rounds at that point becomes more and more costly in terms of HP.

Economy is also crucial at that point. Ideally, you want to reach 50 gold and keep it in the bank for as long as possible, only spending gold above 50 to keep the 5g interest income. If you are not strong enough and you are losing rounds, however, you might want to spend more to find crucial upgrades or missing pieces for your synergy. You can e.g. maintain a 30g balance instead of 50 – it’s not optimal, but at the end of the day you need to survive.

Mid Game Positioning Underlords
Knights Underlords Wide Icon

In the example above we are going for a (2) Knights frontline with (3) Mages as backline damage dealers and (2) Warlocks for sustain. That’s why we’re also buying and keeping other Knights on the bench (trying to reach (4) Knights later on), while also searching for upgrades for our current units.

Late Game: lvl 8-10

If you reach these levels you are likely among the last few players left in the game – you are fighting for a top place in the match. If you are ahead, keep a strong economy going for as long as possible – this will give you the best chances for first place because you need a lot of gold to buy enough XP to reach lvl10 and to find three-star upgrades.

If you are struggling on low HP, however, now is the time to burn your whole bank to try to strengthen your army one last time and to out-last other struggling players.

Late Game Underlords Positioning
Knights Underlords Wide Icon

The example above is the continuation of the mid-game screenshot. As you can see, the final army still has mages as major damage dealers, however, we’ve abandoned the notion of going for more than the two Knights we already had (mainly because of shop rolls).

Necro

We’ve replaced our Warlock with Necro so that we gain the (2) Heartless armor reduction bonus from him and Lich while keeping the (2) Warlocks lifesteal bonus.

Humans Underlords Wide

To finish our frontline we’ve bought Kunkka and Tidehunter. They are tanky units with great crowd-control AoE spells which, together with the (3) Mages magic resistance reduction bonus, also deal good damage. Kunkka is a Human, and together with Omni, Crystal Maiden, and Keeper, he helps us reach the (4) Humans synergy.

Tidehunter Portrait

Tide doesn’t provide synergies in this lineup, but he is a powerful two-star legendary tank and disabler, and with the item Refresher Orb that we managed to get from a neutral round, he is a brutally strong late-game hero on his own. He’s positioned further ahead together with Kunkka to help them both cast their AoE disables ASAP and to buy time for our mages to charge-up their mana and cast their damage spells.


Conclusion:

In our humble, likely biased opinion, Underlords is a brilliant game. To give credit where it’s due, Valve are not the only people responsible for that. Most gameplay decisions and innovations came from the original creators of the Dota Auto Chess custom game, Drodo studio. That said, Valve are taking the game to a new level of polish and refinement.

If you are into strategy games, Dota Underlords is likely the best title you can play on your phone right now, and unlike all other mobile games we’ve ever played besides Hearthstone, it’s a good enough game to dedicate your time to it even on PC.

Underlords Pros:

Easy to play, extremely hard to master. The hero synergies and the items system are deep and the endless combinations will keep you playing for very, very long if you enjoy strategy games.

Monetization is still not in the game, but even when it comes it’s extremely unlikely that the game will become pay to win. Underlords is likely to inherit Dota 2’s monetization model, which is based on cosmetics and other non-mandatory percs from a season pass (battle pass).

Visually well-polished and looks great even on mobile phones (even though we recommend playing on PC for the best possible experience). That’s subjective, but we sincerely think it’s the best-looking game in the genre by far.

Underlords Cons:

Early in development, which means some things are not optimized. The UI might be a bit clunky in places, the performance on low-end phones might be outright terrible. Valve are being very, very quick with patches, however, and these things are bound to improve.

The balance is also not perfect – it’s a new game, it just hit open beta, so some strategies feel quite a bit better than others. With time, however, we believe this will also improve, as balance patches are also a regularity.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed the article, stay tuned for more Underlords content (you can give us a follow on our social media below!).

A great resource to continue learning the game is our Dota Underlords Tier List including information and tips for every single hero in the game!

Special thanks go to our sponsors, EGB, who make publishing free content like this possible. If you are into esports betting you should visit them - they offer great live odds and many bonuses on professional Dota 2 matches as well as all other popular esports titles!

Author:

Kyril "MrNiceGuy" Kotashev
Author

Esports and gaming enthusiast since forever and founder of Dotahaven.