Reviewed: November 19, 2009
Released: October 27, 2009
Though it had its humble beginnings in Defense of the Ancients Allstars, a popular adaptation of the fan-made Warcraft III mod Defense of the Ancients (DotA), Riot Games’ League of Legends is a fully standalone strategy and action game with RPG and MMO PvP elements. Designed by the same folks that created DotA Allstars, it boasts similar gameplay to that which made it such a popular mod and purportedly improves upon its tried-and-true features. Since I personally haven’t played DotA or DotA Allstars, however, I’ll be skipping the comparison to its predecessors and will be reviewing League of Legends from a fresh perspective.
League of Legends’ gameplay is an interesting combination of real-time strategy, action, role-playing, and massively multiplayer online game elements. Despite having its own game engine, League of Legends still inherits many traits from its Warcraft III roots, so the mostly mouse-based controls and interface work pretty much the same way.
In League of Legends, you play a Summoner, who is represented on the battlefield by a summoned Champion – a powerful hero character that can be leveled up and customized through abilities (unlocked through experience gained in battle) and equipment (bought using gold earned during games). While there is a solo practice mode, most of the game takes place online with live human players, pitting two teams of five against each other.
Each side has a number of RTS-style turrets to defend their territory, and once the game starts, computer-controlled minions will spawn automatically and head for the enemy base. These minions cannot be directly controlled, but they spawn periodically and single-mindedly attack the nearest enemies and enemy structures in their preset path. The object, naturally, is to infiltrate the opposing team’s base and destroy the source of their power: a structure called the Nexus. Reaching that objective can often take a few hours, so make sure to set aside a significant chunk of time to play before entering a game.
The meat of the gameplay lies in each player’s chosen Champion. As of the time of launch, there are 40 unique Champions to choose from. In a playful manner that brings Yu-Gi-Oh’s card-based summoning game to mind, the Champions’ creative designs vary wildly from the more conventional (such as the archer, barbarian, and assassin) to the more bizarre (such as the sad mummy, mad chemist, and yeti rider).
Character variety is one of League of Legends’ strengths. Each has its individual abilities, strengths, and weaknesses that can be further customized with different equipment and your own assigned Summoner Masteries (stat boosts that can be reconfigured at will using points earned in battle) and active Runes (which also grant various benefits) that persist from battle to battle. It’s these RPG-like persistent aspects that add a satisfying complexity to a game that is otherwise mostly a real-time action blitz once the fighting starts. The number of possible combinations provides nearly endless hours of experimentation, as well as motivation to continue playing the game.
There are, however, a few aspects of the game that were a little less satisfactory at the time of this review – over two weeks after launch – though these problems may be fixed over time. For instance, as of this writing, there seem to be only two maps available, and one of these maps is still in beta. On one hand, the game is free to play, so it doesn’t seem necessarily fair for players to complain; but, on the other hand, the product launched feels unfinished and probably should have stayed in the oven a tad longer, especially since the store doesn’t work yet either. The Champion balance may also still need to be tweaked a little, as some of the more frequently recurring Champion choices seem to be popular for evident reasons.
Additionally, while I can’t place the blame on the creators of the game, who likely have very little control over the attitudes of the players of their product, it’s probably important for potential players to note that some members of the community aren’t entirely friendly to newcomers and are often outright hostile in in-game chat. We’re talking about a community that includes members who jeeringly call newcomers “feeders” and who make rude forum posts making such statements as that if they don’t wish your family dead, they’re already doing their best to be nice to you. So, if you’re new to DotA and League of Legends, be prepared for that kind of repugnant behavior. Tender-aged and softhearted gamers may want to pass on this experience.
Not everyone I’ve encountered in play is so malignant, of course, and thick-skinned gamers are unlikely to let that detract from their enjoyment of the game anyway. Also, Riot has made an effort to encourage experienced players to help new players, and it seems from the forums that at least some of the more helpful veterans have been taking up the cause.
Nevertheless, if you’re not a DotA veteran, you might want to take the player atmosphere into consideration, as it might affect your enjoyment of the game. Personally, I found some of my games pretty unpleasant because of some of the players’ annoyingly immature attitudes, especially because each game can last such a long time. Overall, though, it didn’t detract overly much from my enjoyment of the game mechanics, at least, and I really enjoyed the games that didn’t include poor sportsmanship.
League of Legends’ stylized and colorful in-game graphics and animations generally look pretty decent without stressing out older graphics cards and tend to reflect the game’s Warcraft III influences. Special effects are often cartoonish and flashy to match, sometimes even overwhelming bombastic when many spells are simultaneously cast in the intensity of battle. The artwork itself is a bit of a mixed bag: the Champions - ranging from classic sword-and-sorcery types to more whimsical-looking designs that might have come out of Final Fantasy – seem to be designed by a number of different artists and aren’t consistent in art style or theme, but the variety and light-hearted feel is refreshing. The simple interface design is also reminiscent of Warcraft and is easy to read and navigate.
The game’s background music is low-key and provides a bit of a suspenseful ambiance, and the voice acting for each Champion is solidly performed and often humorous – though it can get a little repetitive over time, considering that Champions blurt out a little quip every time you give them a command, a la Warcraft. Occasionally, the volume balance is a little off, but other than that, the audio is well done.
As of the time of this writing, there are several pricing options for playing League of Legends. Cash-strapped gamers will be pleased to know that the game itself is available for free download and play, and Summoner Runes, additional maps, and any Champion can be unlocked for free during gameplay.
The Collector’s Pack (on which my review Value rating is based) is available for $29.99 and includes 20 Champions permanently unlocked from the get-go. For those of you interested in the 20 Collector’s Pack Champions, these are the ones included: Amumu, Cho’Gath, Evelynn, Rammus, Veigar, Nasus, Malphite, Annie, Janna, Zilean, Morgana, Alistar, Kayle, Fiddle Sticks, Sivir, Ryze, Tryndamere, Temmo, Warwick, and Tristana. An additional Champion’s Bundle, which unlocks all the Champions available at launch from the start, costs another $30 (and is currently discounted to $25 for the launch celebration) for a total cost of $49.99 (discounted to $44.99 at the time of writing).
Besides the 20 Champions I’ve already mentioned, the Collector’s Pack bonus card code included in the box unlocked the Launch Party double XP boost, an exclusive Kayle the Judicator skin, and 4 Summoner Runes (Greater Quintessence of Revival, Greater Mark of Malice, Greater Glyph of Knowledge, and Greater Seal of Vitality). The box also includes a $10 pre-paid card of “Riot Points” which can be used to purchase additional Champion unlocks, skins, Runes, and potentially other future game features to be made available in the store. You’ll also get a glossy 31.5” x 18.5” collector’s map that doubles as a poster detailing 20 of the 40 Champions.
For the $30 extra spent for these bonuses, you get half the entire Champion roster to choose from, as well as a physical copy of the game and some other little extras, but whether you’d want to spring for the Collector’s Pack will probably depend mostly on your play style, as well as when you start playing. Given that the League of Legends store hasn’t opened yet, though, and Riot has currently temporarily unlocked all Champions for all players in celebration of the game’s launch, there isn’t much motivation for early players to get the Collector’s Pack for the extra cost. Later on, though, the Collector’s Pack may be more attractive to gamers looking to jump in right away with more Champion choices, and my Value rating reflects that.
It might seem a little less than well thought-out that the Collector’s Pack is available for sale now when its main selling point is moot, but considering that League of Legends and all its unlockable features are made available for free, the $30 doesn’t seem such terribly steep price for supporting the developers if you enjoy the game.
Despite being released probably a bit earlier than optimal, League of Legends is still a very solid game that combines many of the fun elements found in RTS, RPG, and online multiplayer PvP games. While the other players may not always be the most welcoming or friendly lot, if you’re willing to overlook that and enjoy the fierce real-time fights, you might just find League of Legends to be worth your time – just be prepared for some long battles. And, best of all, it’s free!