The Underhollow was the quickest way to earn Battle Points for this year’s Battle Pass. The premise was simple enough to pick up: pick a hero, grind by killing NPCs, try to kill players, then most likely die to another player. Plus, the game could be played in short 20-minute sessions, making it an alternative even to the popular Turbo mode.
Grinding out Battle Points here never felt dull. In fact, much to the surprise of Battle Pass owners, The Underhollow was actually fun — and it had its battle royale genre roots to thank. The official custom game offers a unique window into understanding what’s made the battle royale genre so popular, and frankly, it’s the chaos.
Regardless of what players worried about, there were enough questions to anticipate that the replay value remained high. The chaos starts from the moment you doubt if you’ll actually get your hero of choice. The randomly-generated rooms and prizes make sure you’re always thinking on your feet, and even the door you choose to knock down will determine whether or not you’ll come face-to-face with other players.
While every bit of innate randomness in The Underhollow was part of its charm, there weren’t too many factors of variation. The balance between consistency and chance hits some satisfying spots that other battle royale games can’t. In Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds or Fortnite, while you’ll have reliable spots for loot grabs, you can’t always guarantee that there’ll be anything more useful than what your opponents find. The early game is enough to turn a lot of people off, as they don’t know if they’ll survive two minutes on the ground.
The Underhollow’s offers some comfort as you charge into the unknown, as you’re working within an established hero’s toolkit and buying from a consistent set of items. You start off from a pre-determined spot that always leads into easy enemies.
Unless you’re playing a hero you truly hate, there’s less room for the genre’s infamous off-the-bat frustration. Even with an unfavorable hero, as long as you have your other two teammates, at least you know what you’re working with, making the custom game’s impending anxieties more approachable.
Coming from Valve, and specifically the custom games team, The Underhollow’s controlled chaos is a fantastic surprise. In the past, events such as Frostivus 2013, a wave-clearing game, and the boss battle New Bloom often required a consistent strategy. It got to the point where you almost needed to go in with a specific team in order to achieve maximum output. Even last year’s Battle Pass campaign Siltbreaker became monotonous, as there was only so much you could do with the few heroes offered. Such events suffered from the pitfalls of traditional RPGs’ lack of real diverse gameplay, and when returning to grind for items or Battle Points, it became a chore.
In contrast, every time I entered The Underhollow, I just had to deal with whatever the game and its players handed me that day. Similar human and gameplay factors shine in plenty of other multiplayer custom games, especially the renowned tower defense ones. Hopefully next year, Valve takes the better lessons learned and breaks some ground again.