With Dota Underlords available for testing, I've now taken a look at it (thanks Scaine!) and so far I've been quite impressed.
Valve have essentially rewritten the rules of "Valve Time", considering how quickly they've made it available and how promptly they've been responding to feedback. They've already adjusted it so you can switch between a Mobile and PC style for the user interface, fixed up the Linux version nicely (it runs beautifully!), removed the odd character outlines from the PC version and so on. Honestly, I'm genuinely surprised at how fast Valve are reacting with it.
Since this is apparently the next big thing, it's nice to see that Linux gamers can jump on in right away thanks to Valve. As a reminder, the original creator of the mod is making a stand-alone version for the Epic Games Store and the League of Legends developer Riot are also doing their own.
A basic overview
For those who have no idea: Dota Underlords is Valve's stand-alone version of the popular Dota 2 Auto Chess game mode. It's basically a strategy game with real-time battles that you don't have any direct control over. You go through rounds of picking Dota 2 heroes, combining three of them together to make them more powerful and then placing them onto the board. Once ready, it's time to hope for the best since they fight without your direct control.
There's also a player level system (which resets each game), allowing you to reach a maximum of level ten and each level allows you to add one more hero to the game board. You gain XP by winning matches or by spending Gold to advance a little.
It's a little odd, confusing and it can be overwhelming to begin with but also surprisingly addictive at the same time. One thing is for sure though, I currently suck as badly as I do in Dota 2.
The above intro is the real basic gist of it, but there's a lot more going on.
For example: Each hero belongs to an Alliance, with 23 different alliances that all give different bonuses. These bonuses activate, once you have enough heroes of the same Alliance in play on the board. Some Alliance bonuses might only need a single hero in play, while others activate when you have 2, 3, 4 and so on and there's multiple tiers to the buffs too.
As you progress, certain rounds have you fight a Neutral Wave rather than an opponent, giving the chance to earn a special item. Some of these items are Global modifiers, while others you can give directly to your heroes (one item per hero). From there, the gameplay basically loops over.
There's plenty more to it and plenty of it will change, since it's still in development but hopefully this gives you some sort of idea if it's something you will be into.
How get it
How to access Dota Underlords right now? You need to pick up the Dota 2 Battle Pass ($9.99), load up Dota 2 and make sure your Battle Pass is activated. Once done, Dota 2 will give you an option in-game to redeem Dota Underlords so it's added to your library.
Don't worry though, Valve said they will open it up to everyone else in around a week as they said in the announcement post once this initial stress-test is over.
What does the future hold for it? For starters, they're working on a tutorial, which it's really going to need for the wider release. Right now, it can be pretty frustrating for newcomers so I hope Valve's tutorial is nicely streamlined.
For things that might be a little more interesting, well, SteamDB retweeted two interesting posts on Twitter. One of them, seems to indicate multiple maps and another a possible BattlePass system. I'm curious to see what they would offer with a BattlePass, I'm assuming some sort of cosmetic items for heroes.
There's already one thing I think it could benefit from, which is a slightly faster game mode. Dota 2 can be quite notorious for games lasting a long time and Dota Underlords seems to be the same. A faster mode might help both player adoption and player retention I think.
Given that it's only available to Dota 2 Battle Pass owners, the player numbers (SteamDB) seem to be around a pretty healthy level too. Early days though, that could easily change. However, Valve are going with something already popular and so I do expect it to fare much better than Artifact especially since they're gathering feedback early.