Is Dota Underlords the best Auto Battler?

Usually, I try to make our Underlords and Auto Chess content objective and in order to do it, I rely as little as possible on my own experience and as much as possible on better players than myself and the community as a whole. For example, the Underlords Tier List I recently constructed was entirely built on a community poll and I restrained from sharing my opinion in the article even when it contradicted the community votes.

Now, however, I’ll break the pattern for one article. I had some free time to play amidst taking care of the website and a family and I managed to hit Big Boss in Underlords. Moreover, we’ve been covering Auto Chess for a while, recently I covered Chess Rush (Tencent’s Auto Chess), and I’ve been researching Teamfight Tactics for future content, so I believe this puts me in position to share an opinion from an interesting and relatively informed perspective.

The Auto Battler wars are upon us, and even though most people will just play one game in the genre, competition is great for us all as customers and it’s a great idea to keep an eye on what the competing companies are doing. This particular competition is very interesting to me personally to follow because I’ve been playing Dota Auto Chess from its inception and I’m very curious to see what decisions the devs and publishers make to gain an edge in this market.

In this article, I’ll focus mostly on Dota Underlords and its shortcomings since it’s been the main game I’ve been playing lately. At the end of the article, I’ll compare it to the other titles in the genre more concisely.

Underlords Alliance Balance:

To start off quite bluntly: Dota Underlords launched as a shinier version of Dota Auto Chess. The only big change was the Items system.

Since it’s a standalone game, it looks and plays much better than the original DAC for sure, and for that reason, a big portion of the original DAC players migrated to Underlrods. That said, it still hasn’t reached the level of balance that the original Auto Chess custom game had (has).

The Dota Auto Chess meta had some strategies that were more powerful than others (in this Dota Auto Chess Tier List we talk strategies dominating the Queen lobbies). Yet, even the low-tier strats felt viable. For example, Gods Mages was not popular in high-tier Dota Auto Chess because it was very unreliable (you need Zeus), but if you managed to build it successfully it was one of the most powerful strategies overall. (Since then, Gods (Divinity) were introduced in the mobile Auto Chess as well, where it’s currently the top-tier strat).

In Underlords, however, it feels that in order to win you need to run a few top tier strats and if you are trying to experiment you are severely crippling yourself.

I’ve had a friend tell me “I think I’m growing tired of Underlords, it’s the same old every game. The game is full of Warrior-Hunters, Knights, and the occasional six Mages player that eventually wins the game. If you run anything else, you simply lose.”

I tried to argue with him and defend the game saying that actually there are a couple of different viable Warriors/Knights/Hunters/Mages/Elves strats and that actually only Scrappy, Demons, and six Savages are truly underwhelming and lose you games. Yet, I can’t shake the feeling that emotionally, if not rationally, I agree with him – the game feels a bit stale, which is bad considering how soon it launched.

Strategies balance is the problem that worries me the least. I have faith that the Underlords team will launch balance patches regularly and break-up the meta not only by number-tweaking but also by reworking some Synergies.

For example, I think it might be a great idea to internalize some percs similar to the global items into the synergies. Chess Rush uses this tactic well – Beasts there give bonus damage with (2) Units, but they gain a more interesting effect with (4) and (6) Beasts – a chance for summoning spells to trigger instantly at the beginning of the battle.

Underlords Macro Strategy Problems:

feeling that in order to win you need to follow the same pattern every game and there aren’t many decisions to make, which is actually what makes the game feel stale.

  • One: lose or win streak in the early game depending on draws (which is fine).
  • Two: maximum greed in the mid and late game.

You need to reach 50 gold and stay there for as long as possible. Streaks and even your HP are not as important as interest gold.


In the super-late game it doesn’t really matter if you have 35 or 20 health. The damage you receive becomes bigger and bigger, so two or three big losses will likely eliminate you in either case. This means the optimal strategy is to get the most gold possible even if you’re hanging by the skin of your teeth and then to all-in on your army in the last possible moment. Spending gold early to have a bit more HP than your opponents is a bad strategy in most cases. It will buy you one more round at the most while having a stronger army (due to spending more gold in total) could keep you in the game for much longer.


Winning streaks reset. This means it’s not a good strategy to spend some of your bank in order to try to maintain your winning streak because it’s going to “break” anyway. It’s better to simply sit on 50 gold and only spend the excess. Of course, lose-streaking in the mid-late game is also not a good option because you’ll die, so you end up caring only about your 50 gold bank, and not as much about your power level and the power levels of your opponents.

In Dota Auto Chess it felt that you have a choice. For example, a great “innovation” in the high-skill lobbies was to maintain a bank of ~30 gold and reroll a bit earlier in order to try to keep a win-streak going or at least to save some of your HP for the last rounds which could help you edge your way into top 4 if you’re not in position to maintain the optimal 50 gold bank. For the reasons mentioned above, this is a bad strategy in Underlords.

It's hard to upgrade heroes:

One other reason for the stale macro strategy in Underlords, in my opinion, is how hard it is to upgrade heroes to three stars.

In Auto Chess, Drodo introduced a shop reroll mechanic which prevents you from rolling again a hero you didn’t buy in the last shop roll. This, combined with Io (the wildcard hero that can combine with anything), makes it significantly easier to reach three stars on units. Bench space would still be a problem, but you would need less rerolls to find the units you are searching for, i.e. less gold.

This difference reflects on the macro metagame:

Dota Auto Chess

In Dota Auto Chess, some strategies even didn’t aim for lvl10. The “correct” way to play (6) Assassins + (3) Elves was to get to lvl8 and then to spend all your gold on rerolls to get your important Assassins to three stars. Two additional units wouldn’t help as much as higher star-levels on your Assassins, and an earlier power-spike might help you eliminate some late-game focused builds earlier, which means you wouldn't have to face them in the late game, where otherwise your chances to win would be significantly lower.

Dota Underlords

In Underlords, however, if you’re going to do well with essentially the same Assassins strat you will be lvl10. The main difference, IMO, is that it’s much more difficult to get upgrades on units. If you start to spend early, you will end up with multiple two-star units and you will run out of gold before you’re able to complete the three-star upgrades. Having multiple two-star units on your bench and 1 gold in the bank is a great way to lose the game prematurely. This means that even with Assassins, which are not the strongest build in the super-late game, you need to maintain 50 gold for as long as possible to have more gold in total to invest in rerolls in order to find the upgrades you need, and if you’re going to play for the super-late game, you might as well be lvl10.

For these reasons, I think Underlords is in sore need of a wildcard unit and something similar to the reroll mechanic in order to make different macro playstyles viable.

If this becomes a reality in addition to the individual strategy viability balance, the meta will be where it needs to be to make the game feel much better to spam compared to the competitor titles. (I’m not saying competitor titles are perfect, they currently have problems of their own).

Underlords Features and Marketing:

What I am most worried about is something outside of balance and “stale” gameplay – Valve time. Valve is a great developer, but they are notorious for being very slow to implement (and sadly support) new content and features.

They have displayed unusual for them qualities when it comes to Underlords, namely speed and good communication, but they would have to show much more in order to make Underlords the market leader.

Currently, the game’s biggest competitive advantage is the flawless cross-play and to a smaller degree – the level of visual polish.

This wouldn’t last for long, however – Auto Chess will release its PC version as well, and if TFT decide to make a standalone app, this advantage will completely disappear.

When it comes to other features, Underlords is very bare-bones. Chess Rush just launched and it looks like it is much further into its development cycle than Underlords. Gameplay modes like co-op and turbo, daily quests, currency that allows you to buy visuals like custom chess boards, etc.

Game Modes Chess Rush

I have faith Underlords will have all of these things as well, but if they are the last to implement them and if they are slow to change and update them, this would once again keep the game stale.

Currently, game-length is a big disadvantage on mobile. A person can easily get in one match of Auto Chess or Chess Rush on turbo mode while pooping or traveling. This is not possible on Underlords in most cases, which might be losing Underlords players.

Last but not least, Valve doesn’t really advertise their games. The holy grail for the Auto Battler market is casual mobile gamers. TFT and Dota Underlords have their captive Dota and LoL audiences, but if they want to capture the wider market they wouldn’t be able to do it without a serious marketing campaign. Auto Chess is the first-mover and is already advertising, and I’m sure Tencent has a huge marketing budget that it can use on Chess Rush to make it popular. If Valve doesn’t keep up, Dota Underlords will easily become the smallest title out of the four in the coming months.

Auto Chess vs Underlords vs TFT vs Chess Rush

Teamfight Tactics

Currently the most-popular Auto Battler, especially in the west. This is mainly thanks to the big League of Legends captive audience. That said, I honestly believe it’s the worse Auto Battler out of the bunch:

Visuals and especially the animations seem outdated.

No mobile version, very, very little convenience. E.g. the UI is really limiting: want to know what a synergy does? Go buy a unit that has it to find out.

It also has gameplay problems: the items system is complicated while lacking real depth, lose streaks are too strong because of the carousel, the board is very restrictive, and the meta is not perfectly balanced by all means.

All of that said, if they put out a mobile version, they have a big chance to dominate the mobile market as well simply because of the LoL IP.

Auto Chess

First mover and actively advertising. According to Google Trends, they are as popular as TFT – they hold a big part of the Asian market (no info on China sadly).

The meta and features are comparatively good (although the mobile AC has balance issues compared to Dota Auto Chess). Soon AC will also have a PC version and crossplay, eliminating Underlords’ biggest advantage.

The biggest drawback is the visuals – it definitely feels like Auto Chess has lower production quality than Underlords and Chess Rush even if you like AC’s art style (which I personally don’t). An advantage is that the game is less hardware-intensive and you could play it on worse phones compared to Underlords.

Chess Rush

The newcomer and currently not a real contender in terms of popularity, but considering which company made it this might change due to a large-scale marketing campaign (it seems they intend to target the west as well, not only China). It’s optimized for mobile in every way and I doubt there will be cross-play soon (if ever), but the game has tons of features and game modes as well as very high production value and good looks.

That said, as a latecomer, I don’t think it brings enough to the table to make the current Underlords/TFT/AC players switch. Yet, it might be able to attract new players through advertising. It remains to be seen.

Dota Underlords

The best Auto Battler in my flawed opinion.

Unlike TFT, it looks and feels like a modern, high-quality, stand-alone game. Crossplay is its biggest advantage, but it desperately needs new features, game modes, and some balancing.

Above all, it needs marketing, otherwise, it will remain the Auto Chess game of the Dota players. It’s currently the most popular title out of the four in the Russian-speaking world, most likely due to Dota’s popularity there.

Google Trends Auto Battler

The above image is a screenshot of Google Trends for the four titles.

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