It’s another week in the world of Dota Underlords, which means there’s been yet another drastic balance shift that’s turned the still-early Auto-Chess-alike on its head and scattered pieces all over the floor. This time, it’s the freaky, amorphous Primordials who’ve risen to the top of the pile. My dilemma: I love playing Primordials. It’s not my fault that one of my favorite alliances turned OP overnight. It is, then, with no small amount of shame that I admit I’ve been racking up wins by drowning my opponents in noxious vats of Primordial soup.
You might remember that I recently wished Dota Underlords would leave room for wackier strategies to be viable and that I specifically mentioned Primordials as an example. Well, it seems like somebody at Valve listened too well. Here’s the current issue: As of a recent balance patch, Primordials’ alliance ability now gives them a 30 percent chance to disarm attackers for four seconds every time they’re hit. This basically works like a stun, and a nasty one to boot. Four seconds is an eternity in Underlords battles; it can be a life-and-death difference for individual units. So now you get these herky-jerky stop-start clockwork skirmishes where enemies can barely touch your army of rock monsters, electro-wizards, and heaving masses of congealed darkness because they keep stunning themselves. If you’ve got four Primordials on the field, this bonus applies to all of your units, regardless of alliance. Currently, it’s not even a little bit hard to get four Primordials.
That makes for a tactical backbone that may as well be made out of titanium, and you can slot it into the skeleton of a number of strategies. The best one, though, is the old Arc Warden clone bonanza, which up to this point was largely just seen as a meme strategy. In short, Arc Warden is a Primordial whose ability allows him to clone himself. Typically, he’ll just make one clone and be done with it. However, if you add a unit called Crystal Maiden and a couple key (but no longer particularly rare) items to the equation, he’ll get a big mana boost and continually clone himself. This is, on the one hand, hilarious. Just imagine your opponents’ seething with rage as they futilely struggle against your horrible Russian doll army, where every unit they squash begets another unit until the entire board is just these stupid fish bowl wizards multiplying and multiplying.
As funny as this strategy is, it’s also mad unfair, for a couple reasons. For one, the longer fights take, the more Arc Wardens have time to multiply. The current Primordial bonus makes battles take forever. And unlike some units that spawn other units, Arc Warden’s clones do count toward damage to your opponents’ central HP pools, which decide if they get eliminated from a match or not. So basically, if you’ve got a couple Arc Wardens and a couple Crystal Maidens, you can knock an opponent out of a match in a turn or two. No other combo in Dota Underlords can come even remotely close to doing that, and Valve has already said that a balance patch is on the way.
In the meantime, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t wicked fun to finally wreck faces with my favorite units. Generally in multiplayer games, I try to stay away from OP builds and characters, because while I like to win, winning all the time is boring. But, in the short term, there’s an undeniable sense of power to running an OP build, especially when it centers around an off-kilter strategy like force-feeding your opponents clones until they explode. It feels wrong, but also, oh so right. While playing Underlords for a few hours yesterday, I cackled each time my army revealed its true, clone-tastic form. My mischief had made me untouchable. I loved it. The most intoxicating power, it turns out, is the devious kind.
But as with any other kind of intoxication, there’s also a comedown. The more I won, the more I began to feel guilty, like I was basically cheating. I saw other players running Primordials too, and I got the impression that we all knew what was up: We were having our fun, but it was coming at other players’ expense. This was not fair competition, and we knew it. Or at least, I knew it. Maybe those other people were just jerks. At least I’m a jerk with a conscience. (That’s what I tell myself—repeatedly—and it’s gotten me this far.) At the end of my play session, I logged off feeling weird. I was more consistently triumphant than I’ve ever been, and it felt darn good while I was doing it. But at what cost?
With a patch coming sometime in the next couple days, the Age Of Primordials is already nearing its end, in all likelihood. I’ll be glad when the patch takes my game back down a peg. I was originally drawn to this alliance because it took a fair amount of work and outside-the-box thinking to make them effective, and right now, it doesn’t. Going on a Primoridal rampage over the weekend had a forbidden fruit type of appeal to it, but if you can take a big honking bite out of forbidden fruit whenever you want, it’s just fruit. So here’s to Dota Underlords’ next OP build, whatever it ends up being. I plan to lose to it a bunch by playing an inferior build, fair and square.