Take Warcraft III and remove all the unit creation, building and micromanagement. Then add pre-fab towers, bases and automated minions, and you end up with League of Legends. Oh, and while you’re at it, make it free. If there’s one way to get a lot of people to flock to your game early in 2009, it’s a price tag of zero. The question is, of course, what are you getting for nothing?
LoL is a title from Riot games in a new genre that has cropped up in the past few years: Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, or MOBA for short. LoL is the spiritual successor to the game that started the genre, the Defense of the Ancients mod forWarcraft III.
LoL is a team-based game and consists of matches of 5v5 or 3v3. You act as a summoner, and as a summoner you have access to two powerful spells with long cooldowns, along with control over a single champion unit. These units are much like the heroes from WCIII in that they are powerful units with unique abilities. This is the ONLY unit you control directly, so in a way it plays almost like an action game. Your champion starts out at level 1 with a choice of one skill (out of four). You start with your team in a shared base in one corner of the map. There are three paths or "lanes" that run from your base to the enemies base. These lines are guarded at various points by towers that fire bolts to defend against the enemy. When the game begins, 3 sets of automated minions spawn from your base and start heading towards the enemy. The goal is to use your champions and minions to attack and destroy the enemy base. As you destroy enemy minions and champions, you earn both gold and experience. Leveling allows you to spend skill points on new skills or to buy new levels in an existing skill. You can spend the gold you earn on a large variety of items to make your champion more powerful.
If you haven’t played a MOBA before, the learning curve may be a little intimidating. I had never even heard of the genre, so I took my share of knocks as I learned the ropes. There are literally dozens of champions to choose from, and they all play differently. It can be hard to even decide who you should pick. The tutorial for LoL starts you out as Ashe, an archer who shoots frost arrows that can slow or disable enemy units and champions. Ashe is a good choice for the tutorial and as a starter champion as her ranged attack can keep her safely behind towers, minions or teammates.
You may also be intimidated by the sheer number of items available for purchase. The more powerful items are also part of a sort of "tree" wherein you have to buy lower level items and then use them as a sort of currency for more powerful versions with unique effects. Lower tier items have simple effects like health or mana regeneration or bonuses to attack speed. Higher tier items combine 2 or more bonuses along with aura effects. An aura effect applies in an area around your champion, so they can benefit multiple allies or harm multiple enemies.
Of course the good folks at Riot decided it wasn’t complicated enough to give you access to dozens of different champions with oodles of available item builds, but you also level up your summoner profile as you play. At the end of each match you are awarded experience and influence points. As you gain levels as a summoner, you are awarded mastery points to apply in a three-tiered talent tree that looks straight out of World of Warcraft. You use your mastery points to improve your summoner spells or get bonuses for your hero.
Influence points don’t presently have a use, but when the in-game store opens up in a few weeks, they will allow you to purchase access to new champions, skins, and runes. Runes act as another level of customization, and improve things like your champion’s critical strike, health regen, and the like.
All of these layers add up to quite a compelling multiplayer experience. The large variety of champions and builds assures that no two games play the same. You’ll soon find that certain champions are an absolute bane to your existence, but conversely find others that make your eyes light up with visions of their destruction. In my experience, most games run anywhere from 30-45 minutes. I have been on great teams that rolled the opposition in record time, but have been on the receiving end of the same treatment. Regardless of the outcome, I’m always ready for another battle.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of the game, only having played as a handful of champions, and I already spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about LoL. The best part is that it hasn’t cost me a dime, either. I’m a little curious how Riot actually intends to make any money with the game. I’ve only heard the vaguest mention of the use of Riot points, which are purchased with real world money, and the inkling I got was that they would be used for vanity items or skins only. I assume they MUST have a legitimate business model, I just don’t know what it may entail.
Because this is such a deep game focused on multiplayer, this is not a review. I haven’t played it nearly enough to give any final summation of its value. I will say that I enjoy the stylized, WCIII style graphics, which make it playable on nearly any system. I’m also a fan of the challenging, deep gameplay and extensive layers of customization. One of my only complaints about the game thus far deals with its multiplayer, team-based nature. Success in LoL relies quite a bit on your teammates and communication. I have been in many a game where both are lacking. To be fair though, early on it was often my champion that was holding the team back. In any case, I have high hopes for League of Legends and expect to be playing it for a long time. If you’re looking for a deep game that’s a little different than everything else, or if you’re an old fan of DOTA, be sure to give LoL a try. You won’t be disappointed.