Teamfight Tactics's big new update has done wonders for Riot's auto chess game. It had gone stale, the same few compositions favoured, a couple of strategies likely to succeed. Where Dragons dominated the board, Set 2 has injected a much-needed variety to play. Now, with loads of new champions to choose from, loads of new synergies to try out and, crucially, new mechanics to master, it feels like Riot is finally stamping its authority on this most curious of video game genres, rather than simply imitating it.
TFT, post-update, does little to ease you into its fancy new ways. All of a sudden there are new, unfamiliar units with unfamiliar abilities, Origins and Classes to consider. Old favourites such as Aurelion Sol and Draven are ditched in favour of the likes of Annie and Olaf (the Hextech douchebags have been booted out, too, thank god).
I should point out that I am not a League of Legends player, so all the new champions are unfamiliar to me. But then this adds a thrill to this early doors experimentation. I'm not sure what to do, to be honest, so I'm just trying things out, going for different compositions and seeing what's good for what. Riot has launched Set 2 without ranked play, which is a good decision because there's nothing at risk. As a result, I've had a lot of fun learning about how the new Light origin works, for example. Here, when a Light champion dies, all other Light champions gain attack speed and are healed for 20 per cent of their maximum health. It's pretty cool to see this pop off during a fight, each death making the rest of your Light champions stronger.
My impression is Teamfight Tactics is more of a slow burn auto chess now. The developers have lowered player damage, which means you last longer. Pre-patch, you could end up with half your life gone before you knew it, essentially putting you out of contention of a top three finish before mid-game. Now, there's a bit more room to breath, certainly early game. It feels a lot better.
There's more room on the board, too. Riot has added an additional row of seven hexes. It doesn't sound like much, but this extra row adds a layer of strategy to the placement of your units. Riot has also added new Elemental Hexes, which buff your champion in some way. More hexes means more room for more units on screen at once, too. The new summoner class champions summon other units onto the board, and things can get very busy, fast. But it's hugely satisfying to watch your team whittle down your opponent's in what looks like more of a battle than a teamfight.
As for the champions themselves, the handful from Set 1 who survive the cull have been reworked and given new Origins. The giantsword-wielding Aatrox remains a Blademaster, but where he was a Demon he is now Light. (He's still got his super fun dunk ability, though.) Speaking of Light, this new Origin is an early favourite, so I'm getting to grips with the Light Summoner Yorick, whose ability blesses his allies with the lowest health. This means when they die, they resurrect as Light Walkers. Nice.
Some of the new Origins work in pretty interesting ways. The Woodland origin, for example, sees a random Woodland champion copy themselves at the start of battle. Inferno spell damage burns the ground beneath the target. Riot has injected TFT with new and interesting synergies and it's all the better for it. Put simply, there's more to think about, more options and more strategy. All this is very much welcome.
Riot's most interesting design decision, I think, is how it has decreased the number of each champion in the pool. One of the reasons the TFT meta had gone stale was because there were a lot of the same champions in the pool. This meant players would have a decent chance of getting the champions they needed to create the popular and powerful compositions. With Set 2, players are forced to consider alternative compositions because there simply aren't enough champions to go around for all eight players to shoot for the "meta comp".
This has the upshot of encouraging players to have a look at what their opponents are doing. This is a skill all to itself, with the clock ticking at all times and the unintuitive interface fighting against you. I certainly find it hard to quickly glance at my opponent's comps, instantly understand what I'm looking at and then consider a counter. This mechanic, I think, is the true skill gap in Teamfight Tactics, and Set 2 reinforces it. But, unfortunately, it does not make it fun.
There's still a lot of work for Riot to do with Teamfight Tactics, of course. The game remains a bit of a black hole user interface wise, and it barely lifts a finger to teach you how to play. A new feature lets you see what champions are available for Origins and Classes you are building by hovering over the icons on the left of the screen, but it's really hard to tell who they are from the tiny pictures - particularly if you're not a League of Legend player. And I'd love more feedback from the board and the units. Occasionally the champions will deliver a cool line of dialogue, but I want more. How about different poses? Different skins? And the boards themselves are boring. Why not give me something to click on?
But the introduction of Set 2 sets an expectation for big, seasonal refreshes that shakeup the meta, and I think for an auto chess that's a good play. Set 2 is very much a positive step for Teamfight Tactics, and it's rekindled my love for the game. Onwards to ranked!