League of Legends Review
League of Legends is a free-to-play MOBA game (in the style of the Warcraft III map, Defense of the Ancients, and its upcoming successor from Valve, Dota2) from Riot Games. Players control a single character and, with the help of their team, attempt to destroy the buildings of the other team. This is facilitated by their own character’s unique abilities, as well as the items they choose to buy with gold they earn over the course of a match, and runes and masteries that the player can acquire and customize in the launcher outside the actual matches. Over the years since its release, Riot Games has been steadily adding content to the game, primarily in the form of new playable characters. These characters, as well as cosmetic-only customization options for them, can be purchased with actual currency, and characters (but not skins) can be purchased through an alternate currency that is earned over time by playing matches. All the “freemium” stuff aside, though, let’s talk about the gameplay:
I’ll start off by saying that this game has a massive learning curve. Even the not-particularly-intelligent bots can be difficult for new players until they learn the ropes. This is because the game is incredibly deep. For example, there are well over a hundred items to choose from, with any combination of which you can equip your character during a given match. Learning what the best combinations are comes with a lot of time, research and/or practice. Until you’ve played as or played against every character (again, 100+) in the game, there’s a good chance that your opponents will be able to surprise you with something you’re just not familiar with yet. If you want to get any sort of decent at this game, plan to invest some time. I recommend you play this game with friends – it’s more fun to play on a team with people you know, and it’s a lot easier to learn with someone to help you along.
More after the break:
This brings me to my next point: since it takes so long to learn, it’s a good thing the gameplay is addictive. With so many characters to choose from, players are free to find one or several that fit their play style – encouraged, in fact, because this tends to produce better play. It is incredibly rewarding when your team works together properly (again, play with friends or good players you meet online if you can help it) and pulls off a big score for your team, like taking out a chunk of their team without heavy losses to your own. Even when you lose, as long as the game was close and no bugs got in the way, it can be a fun experience just from the thrill of the fight. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
Matchmaking is a tricky thing. Riot has done a decent job with it, but it is not perfect by a long shot. This is yet another point to playing with friends – you have less chances of getting newbies and trolls on your team that ruin the gameplay experience. I don’t mean to put newbies down especially, but in a team game where kills heavily strengthen the victorious party, one player with a significantly lower skill level can and will skew the game to the other side. Bugs are another issue – at time of this writing, I can think of 7 current bugs in League of Legends that I have experienced personally (5 in the game, 2 in the launcher). It’s not like they show up every game, but when they do it can really throw things off and set the game down defeat street, as it were.
Finally, let’s talk about the overall game balance. With a game as deep and complex as League of Legends, good game balance is inherently difficult to achieve, and it’s only getting worse as they add more heroes at the extreme pace they’re on right now (every 2-3 weeks). Pile on top of that the many items available in-game, and myriad combinations of runes, and issues fall through the cracks. They’re constantly balancing and tweaking, and they do well overall, but this isn’t perfect either. Even for people that have played hundreds of matches, it occasionally happens that opponents manage to do far more damage than you could do (even with the same character), and you have no idea how they managed it – that happens a fair bit, which is aggravating. You are left to surmise that some combination of runes, masteries, items and character abilities that you haven’t found yet allows them inexplicable power. Whether it’s intentional or not, the newest champions also seem to be a touch more powerful than the others, which is a bit depressing since they may or may not fit your play style, and almost always cost the most, both in real money and in-game currency.
Overall, this game is a lot like Mass Effect 3 in that it’s an excellent game experience hidden under a couple layers of yuck. Enjoyable, deep and rewarding, but don’t expect a smooth experience every game.