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Breaking Down the Dota Underlords Mid Season Update

Photo Courtesy of DOTA Underlords

 

On Friday July 19th the development team behind Dota Underlords released its largest update since the game's initial release. The patch addresses a wide range of community concerns in addition to providing a number of mechanical reworks that are already having substantially meta altering effects. Today I'll be distilling the patch notes into the most important information and going over the gameplay ramifications of the changes. The patch notes can be found in full here.

Overview

Overall the pace of the game has been greatly increased with a much higher emphasis on tempo and greater risk involved in economically efficient play. Players will find themselves in positions where rolling for units constitutes optimal play much earlier than they may be used to and a number of strategies based on consistently finishing in the top 4 rather than actually winning the game have seen a tremendous bump in viability. Players of the mod Dota Auto Chess (on which Underlords is based) should find the flow of gameplay familiar to their prior experience and will do well to lean into their background in that title.

Alliance Changes

The level 1 Troll alliance received a very substantial buff providing a new 10% attack speed bonus to ALL allies. As a result Bat Rider and Witch Doctor should become core units through the early to mid game in a number of comps and you should expect to see their priority rise.

The Primordial alliance now has a chance to disarm ranged attackers in addition to melees. Combined with a number of unit changes this adds a considerable boost in consistency of power to units within the alliance and while Tiny and Razor were already highly prized you should expect to see Morphling's play skyrocket and maybe even some Arc Warden action.

The Scrappy alliance received a rework which gives it a considerable boost through the midgame by adding a new 4 Scrappy bonus that gives an armor and hp regen boost to all Scrappies. However, individual unit reworks shifting Clockwork and Tinker to 3 cost have noticeably damaged the core of the composition and it should continue to see minimal high level play.

A nerf to the 6 Heartless bonus should help to curb the power of Fall From Grace though I imagine it will remain highly sought after among tier 2 items.

Hero Changes

Several units received buffs to their 3 star forms. This combined with some other changes should result in more players staying on levels 8 and 9 and rolling heavily for 3 star units rather than making the push to 10 for 5 costs.

A large number of Assassin units received buffs, particularly to their 3 star forms. This should result in a play style very familar to Dota Auto Chess players where Assassins will rarely go past level 8 and instead focus on finding key 3 stars to carry them through the mid-late game. The 6 Assassin Strategy overall will be noticeably more potent on this patch.

Razor has been retuned as a 1 cost unit. This change combined with a very substantial buff to Morphling's attack speed should mean that players will be able to hedge into Mages very early in the game. This is in stark contrast to Mages' prior identity as a late game transition composition. Since late game transitions into high cost units fueled by strong economies will be much harder to pull off on this patch this is a very welcome change.

Venomancer has also been retuned as a 1 cost unit. This should provide early access to both the Warlock and Savage alliances to a number of compositions and will dramatically increase the use cases of the unit.

A number of changes have been made to the game's high cost units that should have a large impact on the nature of the late game:

Enigma, arguably the most powerful unit in the game alongside Techies on the prior patch, has seen a dramatic reduction to his ult radius. This nerf will make Enigma hard to justify before being 2 starred and, combined with the shorter duration and higher tempo nature of games on this patch, should severely limit his play. However, Enigma's change from a Warlock to a Shaman might actually be an enabling tool in some late game compositions since the 3 Shaman Alliance bonus is very powerful if it can be obtained.

Troll Warlord is now a 5 cost unit. This makes the 4 Troll synergy much harder to come by, however the buff to the 2 Troll synergy should mean that finding all 4 Trolls is not as important.

Kunka's ult damage has been substantially reduced. This should bring him in line with similar units as a unit whose primary function is crowd control. You won't be shoving 1 star Kunka into any and every comp anymore but as a compositional tool his strength is maintained.

Several units core to the Hunter alliance have received significant changes. Most significantly Medusa has been rebalanced as a 5 cost and Tide Hunter as a 4 cost with Tide's alliances being changed to Naga Warrior. While the exact power of Hunter compositions on the patch is unclear it should be noted that 6 Hunters will be very uncommon causing Hunters to act as a composition backline more than a comp in and of itself. Windranger has been rebalanced as a 2 cost unit. This alone causes a redistribution of unit power since previously Windranger was often in contention for top dps in Hunter comps. She will likely remain strong but a 2 star Windranger will not carry a board alone in the way she previously did. Mirana has seen substantial buffs bringing her back into the picture and making her a staple in Hunter compositions, which will also increase the viability of Hunter/Elusive compositions.

Item Changes

Alliance Items have been reworked to all exist at 3 different strengths as tier 1, 2, and 3 global items. In the process some notable balance changes were also made to the Alliance Items:

Elusive targets has been reworked to provide 100% evasion for the first few seconds of a fight rather than invisibility. This is very significant as previously the item was only playable in compositions entirely composed of elusive units. Now the Item has a multitude of use cases and as a result the Elusive Alliance in general should see a boost in strength. This in turn also helps Assassin compositions and can help steer Hunter compositions.

Font of Creation has been reworked so that the Eidolons it produces actually have relevant stats for the point in the game where you can acquire the item. This combined with the buff to the Primordial Alliance bonus, the change of Razor to a one cost, and the massive buff to Morphling makes Primordials a big player in the early-midgame.

Retaliate received a significant nerf. While the item can still pump out significant damage you won't be able to stick a Slardar front line and let Retaliate top your dps chart as was previously possible.

A number of other items received tweaks to tier and effect. The most important of which were the changes to A Higher Class of Criminal (HCOC) and Recruiter.

The much maligned HCOC had its tier changed from 3 to 5 where it will have to compete with the most powerful items in the game, a feat even it will find challenging. Thankfully "Did you hit HCOC?" shouldn't be a defining factor in your ability to win a lobby any longer. However... Recruiter has been reworked to a tier 4 item that makes your rerolls cost 1. You don't have to do a lot of math to see how powerful this is since it effectively doubles your unit occurrence per roll by giving you two rolls for the price of 1. Since the primary use of old HCOC was doubling your occurrence of 5 cost units by giving access to the level 10 roll table at level 9 this should be ringing alarm bells. However Recruiter is vastly more powerful even than that since it doubles the rate of every single tier of unit. And remember how they buffed a ton of 3 stars? Yeah. Shit's busted. End of the day though Recruiter is my only major issue with the patch and I'm sure they'll hot fix it before too long. Considering how quickly the dev team is pushing out these patches its not surprising something slipped through the cracks.

Systemic Changes

There were 2 large changes made to Dota Underlords in this patch that will effect every game you play:

1: The creep rounds are a lot stronger and the new penalty for losing a creep round is being shown items of a tier lower than normal. This is an important change since it will make creep rounds something you actually need to think about and like other aspects of the patch will heavily punish low tempo play.

2: Players take increased damage. This isn't actually in the patch notes but it is clear that players take more damage per round than previously. From what I have heard from community members and seen myself this appears to be an extra 1 damage for every loss rounds 1-10, 2 extra from 11-20, etc. While this might sound small it is significant and is part of why games tend to end so much faster now. Now surviving to round 30 is often enough to secure a top 4 finish and players should plan accordingly.

Conclusion

Overall I'm very pleased with the direction of this patch. A number of issues raised by the community have been addressed and some carefully considered and well crafted design choices should be setting the game up for even more success. A higher tempo style of play is important to the game as the genre at its core is and in my opinion should be about balancing economic development with board strength much in the vein of a traditional RTS. This patch will improve gameflow and provide more uses for a variety of underplayed units. Let me know if you have any thoughts on the patch and good luck in your games!

-EndoZoa

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