League of Legends Reader Review
Feeling a bit strapped for cash? Looking for a casual friendly title? Into team-based online games? Have a soft spot for a manic-depressive pygmy mummy? This may just be your thing. Nearly two years after its release Riot Games' marquee offering has gone through several layers of polish, numerous balancing updates, and now boasts over 70 different playable champions. Intrigued? Then read on.
League of Legends is one of those types of games that seems extremely easy to pick up, and insanely difficult to truly master. The game itself is based on the classic Warcraft 3 map 'Defense of the Ancients', which exploded in popularity shortly after its release. For the uninitiated, the premise is simple: Two teams of 'summoners' (players) control a team of champions (characters) using their unique skills and abilities to assist a never ending wave of troops (cannon fodder) with the ultimate goal of destroying each others' defenses (towers). The maps are split into 'lanes', and typically your team splits up to make sure that all the lanes are defended. The idea is to eliminate the enemy champions thereby allowing your troops, which are uncontrollable and spawn in equal numbers, to assault the towers. By killing enemy troops and champions you get rewarded with gold , which can be used to buy new weapons and items back at your base before you quickly rejoin the fray. The attention to balance is impeccable, right down to the symmetrical nature of the maps. This is one game where winning or losing comes down purely to player skill and team balance, which can be a good or bad thing depending on who you are paired with - I'm looking in your direction, Mr. Foul-Mouthed-I-Wont-Support-The-Team-Ninja from Denmark.
With the basics out of the way, let's carve up this tasty treat see what it has to offer. After downloading the client from Riot's website you are prompted to create an account free of charge and are presented with an appetizing and sleek login screen, followed by a surprisingly amazing cinematic, and then the simple yet effective lobby screen. From here you can view your statistics, join games in a few clicks of your mouse, and peruse the ingame shop to spend your hard earned spoils of battle on shinies such as new characters, runes, and shoes. Actually, scratch that shoes bit, the Sex and The City fanboy in me is just trying to escape again. Regardless, runes - which you can equip before a match to boost your abilities by a small amount - add another layer of depth to your champions. They are by no means necessary to succeed, but tinkerers will love to see their efforts well rewarded in battle performance. It's all suitably RPG-ish and the whole reward system works well overall. After each match you gain a set amount of IP, depending on how well your team did. This is the standard currency, and you can either save them up for new champions, or improve existing ones via the runes. The secondary currency is the Riot Point, which you can obtain by forking over some real world cash. Riot Points allow you to get the said champions without using up your IP points, and to buy boosting items that give you bonus rewards after a match. The fantastic thing is that all the champions are accessible to everyone, you don't have to spend a single dime to collect them all (but you will have to spend a lot more time playing the game to buy them with IP). With the exception of champion skins, which are aesthetic modifications and only purchasable with Riot Points, there are absolutely no hindrances for being a Free-To-Play player. On the topic of skins, some are especially brilliant like the deliciously kinky nurse outfit for the female ninja Akali, or the, ahem, French Maid outfit for jungle babe Nidalee. My perverted musings aside, there is really great value at offer here - and with Riot constantly holding weekly sales and adding new skins on a fortnightly basis there is no shortage of options for customizing your favorite character. The champions themselves are very easy to get attached to, mainly due to the excellent artwork and voice acting accompanying them. Riot have clearly made them the focus of the game, and each and every single one oozes with personality, and their play style is varied enough to keep even the most picky gamer satisfied. Tanks like the armored turtle Rammus soak damage and taunt other champions so that big hitters like lamp-post wielding Jax can do the damage, whilst spellcasters like the lich Karthus fling their deadly payload from the back. Teamfights are intricate, and team balance is crucial, not only to counter the other team but to provide an even mix on your side of things. No champion is 'useless' but there are certainly some more favored than others, and there are definite balance issues when certain matchups lane against one another. To be fair to Riot, with over 70 champions it's going to be nigh impossible to perfectly balance them all and they're doing a stand up job by releasing tweaks and patches at a regular pace in an attempt to polish everything.
Matchmaking is handled decently by a system that recognizes your player progress via an experience bar that shows how many matches you have played and attempts to match you with similarly skilled opposition. Once your player level reaches 30 you become eligible for Ranked matches, which is considered the 'endgame'. If you think that is too low of a cap, note that experience accumulates extremely slowly after level 20, meaning you have to play and win about 20-30 matches to level up, and taking into account that each match averages around 30-40 minutes there is plenty to keep you busy here. Unfortunately servers can be overloaded during peak times, and whilst latency is generally very solid there are regular losses of connection to the pregame lobby chat server, and horrendous 1 hour queues just to login during holidays and weekends. Riot needs to invest in these areas in order to handle the ever-growing player-base if they want to keep things running smoothly. The tutorial is also lackluster in many aspects, and the graphics are extremely dated by today's standards. The upside is that the game is a lot more accessible for older computers but a little bit more sparkle on the presentation would have been nice.
Another drawback is the fact that there is an extremely limited selection of maps. In nearly two years since launch there is a grand total of two playable maps, one 5v5 map and 3v3 map. And whilst the maps are fantastic, a little more variety wouldn't hurt at all. There is an included "Co-op vs. AI" mode for when you want to practice with a new champion or implement a new strategy with your buddies against the bots provided. The bots themselves are passable, and on harder difficulty provide a decent enough challenge but they are never going to be a substitute for human skill. Another minor gripe of mine is the limited selection of equippable items during matches. DOTA games are extremely reliant on item builds and specific combos and whilst it's understandable that there is going to be a general preference for Champion A to get Item B followed by Item C a little more creativity would have been nice by offering us more toys to play with. I enjoy seeing unorthodox item compositions and different tricks on champions but unfortunately experimenting is discouraged by the current system.
League of Legends is definitely worth checking out if you're in the hunt for a decent Free-To-Play title. The value and incredible depth contained within are staggering, and it's quite clearly a labor of love for the developers, who continue to add lore and expand the world on a regular basis. If you can handle the downsides that come with a low budget F2P title such as a foulmouthed community, graphical inadequacies and the occasional server outage you will find an intricate and highly addictive game that can be enjoyed on multiple levels. Now if you'll excuse me, my Nurse Akali has to deliver 30-CC's of kickass.
FINAL SCORE: 81%
By Zsolt Pardi