Evolution of the Hard Core
Before we deal with the game itself, I’d just like to point out that the natural acronym for this title is LoL. I can’t tell whether I should congratulate the game on that accomplishment, or ridicule it.
[image1]So League of Legends is the next evolutionary step for the Defense of the Ancients mod, colloquially known as DotA. Back in the Warcraft 3 days, DotA was nearly the only thing about Warcraft 3 that I actually liked; it felt like the game mode that Warcraft 3 really wanted to be at all times, instead of the inconsistent mash-up of action, RPG, and RTS that it really was.
If you are unfamiliar with DotA, let me sum it up: you command a hero unit in the midst of a war. Friendly and enemy (and even some random wild card) troops stream at each other across the battlefield, generally grinding into one another with little more than casualties to show for it. As the hero, you need to intercede in key places, kill enemy troops, gain experience, level up, get beefier, and eventually guide your side to victory over the enemy team. It takes the base and resource management out of Warcraft 3, leaving you free to concentrate on micro-managing one bad-ass guy. And it worked out pretty well.
League of Legends duplicates the same basic gameplay, but expands upon it considerably. First up is the Summoner – that’s you. You have your own separate experience value, gain your own abilities, and have your own stats to track. Your summoner is the only persistent element to the gameplay, as your hero is selected fresh at the start of every match, and always begins at the lowest level. As you level up and gain ‘influence,’ you gain access to more champions and special abilities. You also start earning abilities in three trees of masteries – basically special skills and abilities for your summoner.
[image2]The special abilities, by the way, serve as global events that the summoner can call down. You can bring two spells to any fight; these spells have considerable cooldown, rather than some kind of mana cost, but can make some pretty huge changes to the gameplay. The summoner can also bring along runes to buff up his champion – they run the typical gamut of buffs, increasing damage output and defense and speed. They feel well balanced and add a lot of punchy entertainment value to the game – it’s fun to bring down hell on your opponent in Technicolor, all while curving your champion in on the key kill.
The game’s graphics are obviously influenced by its Warcraft 3 roots – seen in the right light, we could call it an homage. They’re bright, colorful, and really put you in mind of the sentinels storming the scourge’s fortresses. Plenty of abilities have sudden explosions of color to threaten your epilepsy, so be prepared for a bigger lightshow than a night at the disco.
The gameplay has a distinct grace and flow to it. Generally, one team will be pushing and the other will be attempting to blunt or deflect the assault. The moment the opponent’s momentum is redirected, you’ll see the defending team push out on the offensive, trying to seize positioning. With carefully thought out abilities and spells, the game has a very tactical bent to it. Every champion has his place and value, and there’s a sort of rock-paper-scissors-alien-nuke-sledgehammer-shotgun game going on. Some heroes utterly trump others, but almost every hero is, itself, trumped by another. The result is that a balanced team has far more potential than a team that tilts towards one style of hero or another.
The game also has a lot of nice touches for helping you play competently – between little pop-up suggestions for hero and item choices, to auto-matching, to well displayed power limits and fields of effect, the game does not prove to be as hard to get into as you might expect. This is a pretty major accomplishment for a game of the breadth and complexity of LoL – I can think of games that charge $50+ to play without the level of finesse shown here. I suspect they learned a trick or two from Left 4 Dead.
LoL has some bugs, however, and not the type to induce lulz. I ran into a number of sound looping problems during the game – nothing that would cause crashes, but really irritating to say the least. I also ran into some occasions where attacks would simply… stop. For no reason evident. Bizarre, and frustrating. The game managed to eschew any major crashes though, so for the most part, I was able to play games to completion.
[image3]Speaking of that, LoL doesn’t have any techniques for preventing the typical gripes of online games – rage quitters. I’m getting pretty damned tired of these assholes, and they are legion on LoL. I had plenty of games where I’d have a good turn, my team would start a major offensive, and half the enemy team would just immediately rage-quit. Still counts as a victory for me, sure, but it ends up feeling like such a hollow victory – not to mention all the lost game time. LoL’s community leaves a lot to be desired. Admittedly, that’s my attitude about most online games.
You’ll have to deal with it plenty, though. The singleplayer A.I. is so abysmal that the only real challenge you’ll get is from online play. If you’re not a competitive online player, then LoL is most assuredly not for you. Another definite complaint is that the game doesn’t have enough variety in maps yet, so you’ll find yourself fighting on the same two battlefields over and over.
On the whole, League of Legends is a very well-done game; it would be a worthy purchase at $30, but you can actually download it for the low low price of free. That's almost a no-brainer download, which they offer because they plan to charge for additional content in the future - which you don't have to buy if you don't want to. It’s definitely worth a shot if you’re looking for something off the beaten FPS path, and makes a very nice addition to the stable of competitive online games.