If popularity is a measure of implied quality then Riot Games League of Legends is up there with the best. With over 32 million accounts, 11.5 million playing monthly and 4 million getting their daily dose of session based strategy fun there’s no shortage of participants.
Sadly though history has shown that mass appeal is no surety of quality, just look at Jeremy Kyle and the resurgence of wolf fleeces, so after a few months of intensive play I thought I would share my thoughts on League of Legends and its long term appeal.
My adventure began quite by chance three months ago when I exposed myself (not in a literal sense) to a League of Legends tournament game on YouTube. With a $10,000 prize it made for compelling viewing and having observed glimpses of talent trees and experience based levelling mechanics I got all giddy, found it was free to play and signed right up.
Defence of the Ancients, a popular mod for Warcraft 3 is credited as the driving inspiration behind League of Legends and the gameplay mechanics – which I will endeavour to describe – are almost identical. It’s hardly surprising when you consider that many of those involved in the development of Defence of the Ancients were instrumental in the setting up of Riot Games in September 2006. However production values from mod to stand alone game have escalated dramatically and the first thing that really grabs your attention is how truly polished the product is. The interface is clean, there’s an absolute wealth of content with over ninety champions to choose from and game maps, character models and environment graphics can only be described as superb.
Each game sees you controlling a champion who fits one of the stereotypical MMO archetypes and has a variety of melee or ranged attacks. I play Caitlyn who does little to deter the objectification of women with her oversized boppers but falls neatly into the ranged DPS hunter mould. She fires various projectiles from her beautiful musket and I found myself immediately drawn to her having once observed a lady in a Blackpool nightclub do something similar with ping pong balls.
Games are either 3v3 or 5v5 and require you to transit from your spawning pool along three horizontal lanes crossing each map to the enemy base. You are supported in your assault by minions (think Orko from He-Man) that periodically spawn from a Nexus within your base. Whilst travelling the lanes you destroy enemy turrets, battle enemy champions, explore jungle areas housing neutral monsters to kill for rewards and ultimately try to destroy the enemy Nexus leaving your team victorious. Each victory increases your experience unlocking newer, stronger champions, Influence Points which can be used to acquire upgrades and Masteries. Masteries are essentially talent tree points, giving you various passive effect perks grouped as defensive, offensive and utility.
There’s a lot to take in and thankfully for new players the tutorial and AI game modes provide an opportunity to get to grips with the mechanics in a safe environment which is helpful. Helpful is not however a word which could be used to describe the League of Legends community. As a Starcraft player I’m used to bumping into the occasional ‘brain wrong’ but the ratio of mentalist to non-mentalist in the League of Legends community is out of this world. From the moment you start playing you’re bombarded with abuse and aggressive instruction from elitist biffers who become increasingly distressed that you are not playing the game exactly how they think you should, I affectionately refer to them as the League of Bellends. Admittedly these people exist in every game but the free to play model means there are more of them here than any other game I have ever played.
If you so wish, the free to play model facilitates the cash purchase of a higher level champion to avoid much of the levelling process but there really is no need. Things improve dramatically as you start to gain familiarity with the strategies at play and once your experience level increases the matchmaking system drags you out of the depths of depravity, the insults start to decline and the game becomes genuinely enjoyable. Most games last around 45 minutes to an hour and thanks to the quick spawning system following death you are rarely sat on the sidelines spectating like Bob Carolgees at a swingers party.
The revelation that there are only three maps can also be off-putting to some, but I have to say the repetition is wholly mitigated by every game feeling completely unique. This has also been alleviated with the recent introduction of a new game mode called Dominion which introduces the wonderful Crystal Scar map. Dominion moves away from traditional Nexus bashing gameplay to more of a capture and hold position style of match. This in turn offers more action, the opportunity for more tactical play and shorter game times; I have yet to play a game which has gone over 30 minutes.
There is also a ranked mode which can only be accessed once you reach level 30. This places you on a ladder system and reaching the upper echelons earns you the right to compete in tournaments with cash prizes of up to $100,000 adding a further aspect to the longevity of the game. As you can no doubt imagine such high vale prize funds have made the game very popular on the ESports scene and I find watching these high level matches helps give me a greater understanding of how the game is best played.
One of my biggest gripes is that the method for reporting players who employ game breaking behaviour is ineffective, this is a particular problem when you are dependent on team mates who subsequently go ‘away from keyboard’ or just sit there trolling making the match unplayable.
Ultimately I’m finding it quite difficult to give the game an overall score. The negatives are wholly attributable to the venomous community, lack of repercussions for disruptive players and streams of verbal abuse from pillarks. I really hope Riot Games will address this in the near future because if you can tolerate the downsides then your reward is an engrossing, beautiful game of tactics and turmoil with great longevity which when played with friends verges on the absolute sublime.
MLG Rating: 8/10 Platform: PC Release Date: 27/10/2009
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer community member ShatnerzBassoon were played League of Legends for review purposes. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.