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What is Dota Underlords? An introduction to Valve’s take on Auto Chess

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Valve’s latest game Dota Underlords is available now in early access on PC, Mac, and mobile. While “Dota” probably sounds familiar, Underlords isn’t a MOBA. It’s Valve’s spin on Auto Chess, a genre that came to life earlier this year as a Dota 2 mod (funny, huh?). Now Valve has released its own version of Auto Chess. It’s free-to-play, so you get your feet wet rather than diving in head first. Seeing as many gamers probably haven’t even heard of Auto Chess, we decided to put together this guide covering the basics of the genre and Dota Underlords.

What’s Auto Chess?

Auto Chess is to strategy games what auto-runners are to platformers. You do approximately half the work, while the game handles the rest. Each player places units on the board at the start of a round and then you sit back and watch them fight. That’s the gist of it. But of course, it’s deeper than that once you dive in.

How to play Dota Underlords

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Dota Underlords matches can be played online against other players or against AI bots. The latter is there to get your bearings. Each match pits you against seven other players. Thankfully, you don’t need to simultaneously fight every opponent; that would be pure chaos. Instead, you go up against one opponent at a time in a duel that takes place on a grid-like board.

Each round starts at the shop, where you get to buy one of five hero units using gold. There are dozens upon dozens of heroes, so the pool you choose from is randomized and changes each round. After buying a unit, it goes to your bench. From there, you can place it in a spot on your side of the board.

Once the set up phase is complete, the fighting commences, all of which happens automatically. The first three rounds are all about loot and leveling against AI bots. If you win a loot round, you’ll get to pick between three items, earn gold, and experience. If you lose, you’ll still get an item, but it will be chosen for you. One item can be equipped to a hero.

After the loot rounds are complete, you’ll start cycling through battles against real players. Winning rounds is preferred, but a loss doesn’t mean you’re out. Your overall HP is on the left side of the screen. Each player starts at 100. If all of your units die, your opponent will do damage to your overall health. Once that reaches zero, it’s game over. PvP rounds are occasionally separated by another loot round. Once again, this is your chance to get new items.

Leveling up and buying units

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You can spend gold on additional units in the shop between each round. Heroes come at different prices, though (shown in the upper right-hand corner). If you are just short on gold, you can lock the randomized lineup in the shop for one turn. That way you can buy the hero you want next round.

Once purchased, heroes automatically go to your bench. At first, you can only place one unit on the board. As you level up, you can move more units from your bench to the playing field. Level two equals two units, level three equals three, etc. The max level you can reach in a match is ten. You’ll level up naturally as you play, with victories leading to more experience points. But you can also spend gold on experience points in the shop to level up.

You can hold up to eight units on your bench. To make room for new ones, you can sell units back to the shop for three gold.

Alliance bonuses

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You can check a hero’s stats by clicking on them either on the board or bench. These figures will give you a general idea of their damage, DPS, and defense. But you also want to pay attention to the two square icons below a hero’s overall rating. These are potential Alliance bonuses. Pair multiple heroes with the same Alliance icons and you’ll get stat bonuses that can significantly increase your chances on the battlefield.

Upgrading heroes

While diversifying your roster for Alliance bonuses is recommended, you should also work towards upgrading heroes. Purchasing three of the same unit lets you create a two-star hero by combining all three one-star units together. Two-star heroes are much more adept in battle than their one-star counterparts. It’s possible to upgrade further to a three-star unit if you have three of the same two-star heroes. That means to create one three-star hero, you need nine copies of the same hero. This process can take a while, but it’s worth working towards.

Earning gold

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Gold lets you buy new heroes, experience, and reload the shop wares if you don’t see what you like on the first go. You’ll accumulate gold naturally, but here are two things to keep in mind when it comes to gold.

You can earn interest on the gold you save. As each turn passes, you’ll be awarded one gold for every ten gold you’ve hoarded. This maxes out at 50, but you can still get an extra five gold every turn if you have 50 or more gold. Essentially, it’s beneficial to keep your gold around 50 as the match progresses.

Streaks, both winning and losing, earn you more gold than normal. While it’s certainly preferred to go on a winning streak, if you have a string of losses, you can turn the tides in your favor with the right purchases — now made easier because of your extra gold.

Full cross-play support

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Dota Underlords is available to download on PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. It features full cross-play across all platforms, so you can enjoy Auto Chess on all of your devices and play against the whole user base.

As Underlords is in early access, it’s not exactly feature rich. You can currently play online matches via matchmaking, battle your friends, or play solo against bots. Valve has outlined future steps for Underlords as it gears up for a full release. It will remain free-to-play after exiting early access.

If you like the loop, Valve will eventually add ranked matchmaking, more Underlord options, a battle pass, seasons, tournaments, and daily challenges. Naturally, features like the battle pass and cosmetics will cost money (hopefully no loot boxes.)

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Steven Petite
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Steven is a writer from Northeast Ohio currently based in Louisiana. He writes about video games and books, and consumes…
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