What happens when you blend the best elements of an RTS, RPG and an MMO? League of Legends.
It's a rare thing that a new genre arises in the game industry. All the games we see on the shelves go under a common genre: RTS, FPS, RPG, Sports, Adventure or any other miscellaneous name. League of Legends falls under the recently-expanded (along with its counterparts, Heroes of Newerth and Demigod) DotA genre.
There is the odd chance that you actually get to see a new genre arise and form a loyal fan-base, critics, and media attention. MOBA (Mobile Online Battle Arena) is a new game sub-species that branched out from Aeon of Strife in StarCraft, more popularly recognized as the DotA custom game in Warcraft 3 (Defense of the Ancients).
League of Legends wades into the gaming arena with one major advantage under its belt: it’s free. You can download the game and play it without ever having to spend a dime. There is a sort of adopted micro-transaction system, but that comes later.
Aside from a clever acronym, LoL has built upon the archetypal hero. You actively control one strong Champion as if in a regular RTS, but you solely have control of this unit. There is no army, no blobbing, no unit spamming. The game follows a ‘tug-of-war’ strategic theme, wherein each team (consisting of 5 players) will use their unique champions to push for the enemy base. Think of these heroes as your bulky guys at the back of the tug-of-war rope. The two teams have their cannon-fodder units, the guys you would want at the front of your rope, which spawn automatically and clash in the center of the map.
It's up to the champions to successfully push into the enemy base. Each champion is widely unique, varying from all walks of RPG-stereotypes. As you kill enemy units or an enemy player, your hero gains experience. Just like any RPG or modern RTS, you use this experience to further develop your strength in one of three available abilities. In addition, you gain a highly lethal “ultimate” ability, an effective tide-turner.
League of Legends does have its shortcomings, though. As with many MOBA games, newcomers may find themselves disoriented or lost. It is imperative that you understand what an enemy champion excels at, how to work together with other champions, and how to counter enemy combatants. LoL attempts to remedy this by supplying a fully-voiced tutorial, AI to train against, and a run-of-the-mill ranking system for player comparison.
Unlike many teater-tottering RTS’s out there, everything in League of Legends carefully balances on the edge of a knife. If your team is being pushed back from superior enemy firepower, having one of your teammates ambushing the opposing team from behind can result in two enemy champion kills, rewarding your team with valuable resources.
Gold enables player champions to purchase weaponry and armor during the match, but these are not persistent outside of each individual game. One of the Champions I played the most, a dark-robed badass named Kassadin, has a silencing ability, denying enemies spells for a short duration. Kassadin’ teleport power gives you access to nifty maneuvers and narrow escapes. Both of these take up a good deal of mana. This is where gold and items come in. There are builds that increase damage, mana pool, health, speed, and much more. With more than 40 champions and so many build options, you can spend days just nailing down that perfect combination.
There are two halves to League of Legends – in essence an ‘outside’ world and an arena. Your account accumulates experience points and influence points from each match, inevitably leading to levels, bonuses, skills, and even additional champions. The catch, though? You are much better off purchasing those heroes with real money, unfortunately.
The Good: Large variety of Champions. Great longevity thanks to unlockables. The game runs stunningly well, even on mid-range rigs. The learning curve is not nearly as steep as other MOBA games.
The Bad: Only has two maps, one still being measured as “beta.” The out-of-match lobby is a bit sloppy, and in-game UI is hit-and-miss. Features still lacking, such as ranked games with official ladder lists and Replays.
Overall: LoL is highly-addictive and fast-paced – I had trouble tearing myself away to write this review. Attentiveness to the community, including frequent updates and community-ideas being implemented. This game has everything it takes to become an E-sport attraction. Oh, and it’s free.
~Baard "Aeterne" Spein