I have now spent several hours playing both games and I am here to break it down for you, to give you the full and detailed exposition as to how Teamfight Tactics and Dota Underlords are different.
It comes down to one thing and one thing only.
In Dota Underlords, you place your heroes on squares.
In Teamfight Tactics you place your heroes on hexagons.
That is it. Otherwise the games are literally so similar that if you didn’t know better you would swear that one of them copied the other wholesale.
Of course, we do know better. We know that both of them were copied from the Auto Chess mod for DOTA 2, which is what launched the Auto Battler genre.
But seriously, the game play is exactly the same. You’re matched up in groups of eight, you earn gold to buy heroes, buying three of the same hero yields an upgrade, you put your heroes on the board and watch while they fight some NPCs for a couple of rounds before being matched up against the other players you’ve been grouped up with, and so on and so forth. Heroes are also part of two or three groups, and having multiples of those groups on your team give them boosts. Battles play out before you and, at least half the time I cannot really tell why I win or lose.
So most of what I wrote last month about Dota Underlords applies to Teamfight Tactics as well.
Right now neither is monetized, but that will change soon enough, and both feel like they need some tuning.
Anyway, that is about all… what? What are you saying there?
Okay, stop your howling. There are, in fact, some other differences between the two. I’ll tick off a few of the differences… and maybe even help you choose which one you ought to try.
Teamfight Tactics is somewhat hidden in the League of Legends client, so you need to have that and an active LoL account, and the ability to find the game therein. There are a couple of things that seem to be telling you it isn’t available on the landing page.
You need to click the play button, then select PvP (because nothing else in LoL is PvP? I don’t understand?) and you’ll find the button to launch TFT.
On clicking the button, then another, you’ll get grouped up with seven other people, at least one of which will forget to click the accept button, and the grouping thing will have to run again until you finally get into a group five tries later. I don’t know why you have to click an accept button. You cannot see, to my knowledge, who you are even playing. This is why I assume people are simply forgetting to click rather than hitting the reject button. I don’t know. It seems like an unnecessary step.
Dota Underlords is on Steam, which means you need the Steam client and an active account, and is early access, which means it is effectively hidden from view more so than TFT. But at least there is nothing telling you some aspect of the game is down.
DU launches as a stand alone game using your Steam account credentials. You click the PLAY button, decide between tutorial, bots, and players, then wait a while while it matches you up. Then, for a brief moment every single time it does something that looks like the whole process is about to fail, then suddenly you’re matched up.
TFT uses the champions from LoL, DU uses the heroes from DOTA 2, so if you play one of those already you are a step ahead of random people like myself.
TFT also has an odd start point where a bunch of champions are marching around in a circle and everybody has to run out and grab one. That is your starter champion. However, the champions do not have names visible nor can you click on them to get more information, so unless you know all the LoL champions it is something of a crap shoot.
TFT also, for reasons I do not quite get, gives you and avatar on the battlefield. By default it is a little ghost that looks to be straight out of the Mario universe, though you can earn other versions. I saw somebody who had a penguin.
The ghost is what you use to grab heroes during what I am going to call “the circle jerk.” Champions walk around in a circle and you jerk them onto your team.
You also use your little avatar to run out and grab drops from the NPC rounds. Otherwise, your guy has no impact on the battle so you can run around during a fight to be annoying. Sometimes I will accidentally right click on something which will send the avatar wandering off, sometimes off the board, which will drag the camera with it. Annoying, but not something I would claim should steer you away from the game.
On the plus side, TFT does seem to be a bit more free with gold. I never feel quite as cash constrained playing that as I do in DU. Also, the pace in TFT seems a bit quicker, though that is in part because you seem to lose bigger as the game goes along so you are rarely lingering along in way behind in 8th place for many rounds.
That bigger win factor also means the tide can turn pretty heavily. One match I won the first 9 rounds in a row. I still was at 100 while the next highest player was at 56. And then my advantage faded and I lost the next 6 in a row and was in sixth place and the lowest ranked survivor with only 4 points left. And I managed to hold on and end up in fourth. Wild turns of fate happen, and make the game interesting.
When it comes to Dota Underlords, one of the primary problems is that it isn’t as far along as TFT. Neither feel done yet, but DU has been changing up quite a bit every week. For example, even as I started writing this DU was updating to add a competitive ranked mode, something that TFT already had in place for a while.
But DU has what I feel are two big advantages over TFT.
First, DU is available on mobile. I am rarely in a match where there isn’t somebody who has the cell phone icon indicating that they are playing on mobile. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but my daughter says it is pretty good. It might be a decent iPad game to play on the couch for me.
And second, and more important to me, the UI in DU is dramatically better. It is more clear, more helpful, and much more informative that the TFT UI.
For example, if you look at the two game screen shots further up the post, it is easy to see which units in DU have been upgraded. Normal units have one star above, the first upgrade has two, and the second upgrade gets you three. Easy to see. You need to click on units in TFT to see their status.
When buying units, if a unit in the list pops up that will complete a set for an upgrade, DU highlights that unit in an obvious way. TFT doesn’t give away such hints.
Not getting a hint might not matter if the units in the buy list were easy to discern. They are in DU, where they use the same avatar in the buy list, the reserve slots, and on the game board. There are a couple that looks a little too similar, but I am able to discern most of them pretty easily so I know what to buy.
TFT on the other hand seems to want to punish you for not knowing all their champions by heart. In the buy list TFT doesn’t use the field avatar. Instead it uses a dramatic graphic of the unit, which doesn’t always look a lot like the champion on the field.
I spend way too much of my time between matches trying to figure out if one of these champions on the list matches somebody on my team, which means matching names. It is just a lot more work. And then there is the above mentioned “circle jerk” event, which comes up every so often during a match, where you have to pick a champion based on no information at all… unless you know them all by heart.
And just beyond that, the UI in DU has larger, clearer text consistently throughout the game when compared to TFT. The UI clarity is probably related to the fact that the game also runs on mobile, but even on the PC this is actually important to some of us old farts who now have to wear glasses to read text smaller than a certain size. I don’t have to wear my glasses to play DU.
So if I were to recommend one these games to a new player who was not invested in LoL or DOTA 2, it would be Dota Underlords.
If you’re already invested in one of the MOBAs, then you play the spin-off that has the units you know. If nothing else, deep knowledge of LoL champions will give you a marked advantage in TFT.
Of course, there is still Auto Chess Origins, the stand alone game from the team that made the Auto Chess mod for DOTA 2 that kicked all of this off. And, given the buzz that the Auto Battler genre has been getting, I expect we will see more knocks offs, so there is still the potential for a Fortnite-like entry into the field with some special twist that will steal market focus away from the first round of games. We shall see.