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Retrospective Review: League of Legends
by Andrew Whipple III

It has been over a year since League of Legends hit the masses, and since then it’s created quite the following. While the initial reviews weren’t exactly stellar, the game wasn’t in the most stable or polished state when it first released either. All things considered, with the announcement of Defense of the Ancients 2, and being its one-year anniversary, we’ve decided to reopen the review book on this one to give it a fair shake.

Unlike Gas Powered Games’ Demigod and S2 Games’ Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends is completely free-to-play whilst still following the DOTA model. If you’re unfamiliar with the format, let me clarify: DOTA is a team-based strategy game where you control a single hero. The object of the game is to slowly overtake your opponents by traversing three pathways (lanes) that lead to their base. During the course of the game you’ll level up, obtain various items of power, and roll with your team in a diverse array of group battles. However, the road to victory isn’t always easy and is obstructed by a constant flow of fodder minions, massively damaging towers, and enemy champions who will impede you at every chance they get.

It may be confusing to visualise how the game works, but since the game is free it’s easy to jump in to experience it yourself. Whilst free, the game can also be purchased, in a retail package which comes with additional champions and Riot Points. Riot Points are the game’s proprietary currency which allows you to pick up extra champions, skins, or specialised runes. The thing about Riot Points is that they require actual money, the other form of currency, whilst Influence Points (IP) do not. IP works exactly like Riot Points but you cannot purchase skins or other specialised functions, like IP boosts, from the store. To gain IP all you need to do is play games. Every player gains various amounts after they finish their game, and usually there are bonuses. For instance, you’ll receive an IP bonus for finishing games consecutively without leaving and upon your first victory of the day.

League of Legends also throws the player into the formula by considering them a Summoner. By playing games you’ll also gain experience and will slowly unlock various features that will aid you in the game. For example, by increasing your level you’ll be treated to special Summoner spells, of which you may select two before the game starts. Spells like Teleport get you back into the fight quickly, while abilities like Ghost can aid in running from or chasing down enemies. You’ll also eventually unlock the ability to utilise Runes and Masteries. The Mastery function is the requisite skill tree for most RPGs and you’ll be able to go down three unique pathways. Since you’ll be playing with a myriad of heroes, your Masteries can be reset each game as you like. Runes work much in the same way. Every Summoner has a Rune Page, but in order for it to work correctly you’ll be forced to purchase Runes from the store. Some can be quite expensive, but when applied correctly the change in your champion’s play cannot be denied.

Riot now has over sixty champions to choose from, and more are being added weekly. Every single champion comes with three unique abilities, one ultimate technique, and a passive skill. It certainly makes it difficult to choose who you’d like to play through the game with, but the experimentation also makes up a great majority of the reasons why League of Legends is so good. Every week Riot has a free champion rotation, so even if you don’t own any characters you’ll be able to try some new ones out. Do you want to play the virulent creature, Cho’Gath, or perhaps the sleek and accurate frost archer, Ashe? Maybe you’d rather have the more eccentric types like the sad mummy, Amumu, or the regenerative bastard, Dr. Mundo, on your side. Whichever you choose you can pretty surely bet that it’ll be an interesting affair with this cast of characters.

Games are played in either 5v5 or 3v3 scenarios, with 5v5 being the most popular and balanced of the two. At the champion select screen you’ll be able to communicate with your team to select the best composition for the match. Unfortunately, unless you’re playing with your friends you often won’t have the ideal matchup. Usually players just pick the champions who can dish out the most damage without corresponding to what the team actually needs. This can present a large problem since games can take upwards of forty minutes to complete. Thankfully, you can surrender if things are going really badly at the twenty-five minute mark.

As you play the game you’ll become accustomed to the play styles of particular champions. You’ll also find yourself studying the mini-map more often and coordinating ambushes to give your team a boost. To get to this point will take a while, but once you’re there it’s an entirely different feeling. There’s nothing like showing up on your enemy’s doorstep and vapourising them as you carry your team to victory. Show some persistence with a character you enjoy and you’ll surely get there... eventually.

Fun as League of Legends is, the game has an incredibly steep learning curve. It does come with a built-in tutorial that gives you the basics, but the only real way to learn is by jumping in a real match. Getting the last hit on minions, what items to build, how to play against certain characters; it's all incredibly important but isn’t explained all that well. It also doesn’t help that the community is overly hostile. Make one mistake (or several if you’re new) and prepare to feel the wroth of your team. Need to go to the bathroom? Has an emergency come up? Do you have to get the door for your buddy? Too bad. There’s no pause in play and the longer you’re out of the fight, the more you ruin your team’s chances to win. The worst situation is when you’re playing with a man down. Sometimes players just up-and-quit, since the game’s outcome is often gauged by the beginning of the game.

Some champions are also pretty imbalanced. Get ready to lose at higher levels of play if you don’t have the 'broken' or extremely powerful champions at your disposal. This is especially apparent when playing normal games. Since you can’t see the champions your opponents are choosing, the game could be over before it even began. Sure, there’s a measure of skill involved in gameplay and a whole team of the most powerful champions could lose to the worst ones, but it’s unlikely when controlled by competent players.

Players who attain the maximum rank of 30 (or 20 with a certain number of heroes and a full five-man party) are open to play ranked matches. These ranked matches come with a draft mode and are by far the best way to play the game. Each team may ban up to two champions and then teams take turns picking their heroes. This allows for counter-picking, ensuring the matches are a little more balanced. Unfortunately, draft modes are not available in normal games and I’m puzzled as to why.

Thankfully, despite all the bad, Riot constantly updates their game with all manner of fixes and goodies. Halloween brought the visually excellent "The Harrowing" map, and they're working on a brand new one as we speak. Riot also listens to community feedback, Lux being the prime example. As a character, her artwork was something awful and it still lacks in several departments, but Riot went back and recreated her moves and her art at the behest of the community. Now that's commendable.

If you have an affinity for strategy games and possess a certain patience for learning the game, League of Legends is all kinds of fun. Though it has its problems, the depth of the game and the interactive features outside it will keep you coming back for more. Just be prepared for a learning curve that could kill a small animal and some hair-removing moments you won’t soon forget.

7/10 [?]

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- Andrew Whipple III

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