Auto Chess: Origin Review
The Auto Chess/auto-battler genre has been ramping up in popularity and there are already plenty of developers jumping on the trend that was started because of the success of the Dota Auto Chess mod for Dota 2- but there are two heirs to that mod. When the Dota Auto Chess mod became ravingly popular, Valve approached the developer of the mod, Drodo, about working for them and creating it for Valve as an official stand-alone game. Drodo refused, desiring to continue to work independently, but both of the parties agreed that they were fine with their respective companies developing the mod into their own visions. From Valve came Dota Underlords, and Drodo adapted the mod into Auto Chess: Origin. Despite looking a bit of what many people presume would be another clone of the original game, it is true to its name.
If you are unfamiliar with Auto Chess, it is one of the growing trends in the competitive gaming sphere. Though its name is a bit misleading, I assure you it is anything but a souped-up version of chess.
Unlike the strategic style of ordinary chess, Auto Chess makes luck the biggest factor of the game. To win, you have to compose a team of multi-starred characters that can outdo any other team in a series of automated skirmishes. Each round you are given a selection of characters to choose from, and to level them up you have to collect three of a one-star character can combine into a two-star- and you create a three-star by collecting three two-stars and combining them. The higher the star, the better the character, but it’s all the luck of the draw if you will ever get enough of a character to level it up.
(The game taunting me in the first round by offering me an immediate ranked up character if I got all three, but I can only afford one.)
So far, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Auto Chess: Origin. I’ve ranked up to Knight-2 and have played games that were vastly different experiences. Sometimes I had overwhelming success, sometimes I couldn’t catch a break. Ultimately, it came down to me realizing that strategy and optimizing your team builds could only go so far- luck was oftentimes the winning factor. Much of the game is like gambling. You are offered a randomized group of characters and can use your coins to reroll the cast. You may get lucky and not only get the character you wanted, but multiple in a single go; or you may never see the character’s you desire ever again.
It’s the kind of RNG that will make you slightly superstitious and think of it as a god that can give and take your glory on a whim. I have had games where I will get a three-star character relatively early in the game, and I’ve had others that made me think that the game was trying to tell me no, no, no. I keep showing you the Hell Knight because I’m hinting that you should have bought him every round so you can have a beefy three-star already- oh look, now you caught the hint. Too bad it’s too late and I’ve moved on to showing you nothing but the Sand King character that only seems to work when he is used against you and makes jokes referencing an obscure Star Wars meme.
The characters are delightfully unique. They all are well designed to look unique but also convey information about their race and class. Each character has a race and class, and it’s generally easy to figure it out by looking at them. Glacier Clan are pale blue characters covered in white pelts, Cave Clan are all red with a tribal look, assassins are usually nimble characters with slender blades, warriors are beefy with large weapons, etc. I tend to get fatigued with their repeated jokes and cartoonish personas, but the upbeat, goofy feel of the game is a breath of fresh air.
Also, the game is completely free and without ads. There is a premium currency that requires real money, but that is only used for getting a random cosmetic. Items can change the map you play on, your avatar, or give you chat bubble emojis- nothing is pay-to-win. It’s a smart move, following the example of massively popular games like Fortnite and Overwatch.
(Example of a player I encountered that had premium cosmetics.)
As for the strategy element of the game, it was fun to figure it out. The balancing of your team reminded me of figuring out a team dynamic as I would in Overwatch, making sure it was optimized to be generally good or to focus on the offensive. The game is also helpful in suggesting character roles if you read into them in and outside of a round. The synergies were also a fun dynamic to focus on. Based on the number of characters that belong to a respective class or race, the better the synergy bonus if you reach each milestone number. Some bonuses are better than others, but they are helpful in customizing your team build for peak efficiency.
Another interesting feature in the game is balancing your economy. In my early games, I noticed my opponents stockpiling their gold and losing horribly. At first, I thought they were bots because they seemed all that into the game, but then I realized that they had a sound strategy in place when they used their coins to level up (these levels are linked to each game, helps with increasing the number of character you can deploy and higher quality character become available) to the max and would suddenly have immensely powerful characters because they had the spending power to keep rerolling. I was baffled, my strategy was to spend my money as soon as I got it so I could try to improve my level and characters, but then I realized that for every ten coins you have at the end of a round, you get one coin interest. So, by having a stockpile of over ninety coins, they were at least getting nine coins of interest on top of their income each round (which is a lot).
(The game also includes an item drop system. These items are used on your characters and can be combined with other items to create better ones.)
But ultimately, the game comes down to luck. The highlight of strategy I got to experience in Auto Chess: Origin was when it came down to the end of the game and it was only an equally lucky person and me duking it out. At that point, we were both pretty evenly matched, so it came down arranging our characters on the board. I split my forces to the opposite sides of the board to flank him as he resided in the center, and placed my harassers in the back with my support/ranged to fight the enemy harassers when they tried to fight from the rear. It was a close win, and it actually felt more rewarding than any other game of Auto Chess that I had played.
It’s a game with multiple layers of RNG: the items you get dropped for you, the characters you’re offered, who you fight each round, and if your characters will make the right or wrong moves in the battles- but despite the large factor of RNG, the game accomplishes the most important thing: it’s fun.