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Dota Underlords

App review by
Neilie Johnson, Common Sense Media
Dota Underlords App Poster Image
Half-finished strategy appealing but lacks some features.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this app.

Ease of Play

Tutorial explains basics, and auto-battle makes combat easy, but learning the right strategic team-building tactics takes experience.

Violence

Combat is half the game and there's blood spatter, but characters are so small on-screen, injuries and death aren't really visible. 

Sex
Language
Consumerism

In-app store could be in the works or appear in the finished product.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dota Underlords is a free-to-play downloadable early-release version of an app based on the popular action strategy game Dota 2 (or Defense of the Ancients 2). This early-release app lacks many features the finished version could contain, including chat, private lobbies, additional hero art and effects, additional sound/dialogue, collectible heroes, friends lists, and streaming/replay. Plans for future vanity items like game boards, cosmetic items, and heroes suggest the future presence of an in-app store. The game is an Auto Chess-style game, which is a modified version of chess using fantasy pieces and chess moves to determine success in battle, and it can be challenging for players without a grasp of chess or strategy. While there's violence and some blood shown, the zoomed-out camera angles and small characters limit the impact of these attacks. Read the developer's privacy policy for details on how your (or your kids') information is collected, used, and shared and any choices you may have in the matter, and note that privacy policies and terms of service frequently change.

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What's it about?

DOTA UNDERLORDS is a freemium Auto Chess strategy game based on the action strategy game Dota 2. In case you were wondering, an Auto Chess-style game is a modified version of chess using fantasy pieces and chess moves and elements of Dota mechanics to determine success in battle. Gameplay is simplified by removing player control over individual units and making strategic team-building the key to success. Eight-player tournaments involve multiple rounds where two players are matched against one another. Matches start with each player choosing a hero and placing it on a grid (placement is important, since heroes have different attack ranges), and combat occurs automatically, with players having no control over their heroes. In between battles, players receive gold that they can spend to up their experience or add heroes to their team. Heroes come in different types (e.g., tank, healer, assassin) and have different abilities and Alliances. Alliances are color-coded traits that augment heroes' abilities when two or more characters with the same traits are placed close together. Players can also upgrade heroes by buying three of the same person and combining them. Heroes can be powered up by items and weapons earned during special loot rounds fought against the AI. Post-match, defeated player avatars lose health, and matches continue until only one player remains.

Is it any good?

It's early days yet for this trend-hopping strategy app, and it shows, because while it has the core elements that made the mod a hit, it lacks everything that could give it lasting appeal. There's enough in Dota Underlords to pull you in. The interface is clean, and the short tutorial does a good job of explaining the basics and getting you into the action quickly. Even better, multiple game modes let you practice against the AI before going up against real players, and multiple difficulty levels let you boost the challenge based on your skill. The simple buy-fight-buy-fight alternation is easy to absorb, and auto-battle takes the pressure off players with slower reflexes. The rhythm of gameplay is addictive, and the characters are dynamic, even though they're as small as ants. After a few hours though, you start to feel what's missing.

The first issue is not being able to see your progress as you raise your player level. Win or lose, it's good to know where you stand in terms of reaching that next level milestone, but you can't do that. The second issue is its rewards. It's undeniably disappointing to survive 30 rounds of hair-raising combat and get nothing -- no items, currency, titles, or experience. While these things should change, the current missing features make winning anticlimactic. There's nothing really special in single or multiplayer, including no fun story elements to single player or special rewards for multiplayer. Bugs also interfere with the fun. Since you don't control individual units, it's frustrating to see them make illogical moves or perform inappropriate attacks. And auto-battle cuts both ways: On one hand, it can help new players win when they otherwise wouldn't. On the other, veteran players could suffer unnecessary losses. This, like Dota Underlord's other issues, will likely be fixed upon release, but considering its impact on gameplay, the best strategy right now could be waiting for a more finished app.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the value of early-access apps and games. What are the pros and cons of playing/buying an unfinished product?

  • How many successful apps are spawned from ideas "borrowed" from indie creators? Does this mean that these apps owe their success to the original idea, or do they stand on their own with their creative spin on a game concept?

  • Discuss the importance of an in-app store. Are game apps more fun with or without them?

App details

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For kids who love strategy

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