League of Legends (2009)

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Developer: Riot Games
Publisher: Riot Games
Platform: PC

© Copyright Riot Games

© Copyright Riot Games

As I’m vulnerable to peer pressure, I just had to check out League of Legends when my friends suggested it to me. I was less fascinated with the game itself than with its origin. Back in 2002, Blizzard Entertainment released Warcraft III, which allows users to create custom maps with its World Editor. One such map, “Defense of the Ancients”, became incredibly popular. Unlike regular maps, where you build a town to gather an army and resources to wage battle, this one had you control a single hero. Teams of five would engage in player-versus-player (PvP) combat with the objective of destroying the other team’s Ancient, a giant tree.

Seven years later, one of the creators of the “Defence of Ancients” map went on to make League of legends, a practically identical game in which players control a champion attempting to destroy the other team’s nexus in five-versus-five combat. As I downloaded the game, I kept wondering, how can a company take the mechanics from game A and use them for game B, which started as a single map created for game A. I mean, is that even legal?

A huge selection of champions is available in League of Legends, and many are sure to fit your gaming style. You can play as a damage dealer, whether a melee brawler, a range fighter, or a magic user. You can choose a support class, buffing or healing your team. You can even be a tank, absorbing the brunt of the other team’s assault while your teammates retaliate. Some champions start off strong, and others become more powerful near the end of the game, so players have to form a cohesive unit, choosing characters that complement each other and using teamwork to beat their opponents.

You gain experience and gold as you kill enemies, whether players on the other team or never-ending waves of creeps (weak monsters) heading toward your Nexus. Experience allows you to level up and gain more powerful abilities. Gold allows you to buy items, increasing the damage you can take or inflict. When your champion dies, you get benched for a while before re-spawning. This may seem like a small penalty for death. However, if it happens too often, your opponents can gain a huge advantage in terms of experience and items. In other words, the game encourages offense, but recklessness often backfires.

As a result, a typical match begins with players levelling up their characters by killing creeps. Then, one team attempts to gank (destroy by way of numerical advantage or surprise attack) the other in order to get the advantage with regard to items and experience. Finally, the strongest team pushes toward the enemy nexus, destroying its defences bit by bit. These matches tend to be lengthy, lasting thirty to forty minutes. The longest I’ve spent on the game is roughly two hours.

In September 2011, a new map made its debut: Dominion, which has five points to conquer. The more of these points a team controls, the more damage it inflicts on the other’s nexus. Players gain experience and gold automatically, negating the need to kill creeps and allowing players to focus more on PvP. Unfortunately, in my experience, the team that can conquer three of the points first usually ends up wining the game. As a result, most matches last twenty minutes, but the winner is decided thirty seconds in.

League of Legends supports three-versus-three and five-versus-five games. If you don’t have two or four friends online, the computer matches you with random players. If you’re lucky, you get teamed up with pleasant people, and you all have a blast. You can even put the teammates you really like on your friends list, and find them later when they’re online. If you’re slightly less lucky, you get teamed up with someone who speaks a different language, making it hard to strategise. Most of the time, though, you end up with an overly competitive jerk who blames all his failures on you and calls you a noob, a retard (classy), and a loser for the duration of the game. This is why I tend to only play with my friends. They call me all these names too but in a loving way.

If PvP is not your thing, League of legends also has bot games, which pit you against characters controlled by the computer. Before this feature was implemented, gamers could only play against the computer in practice mode. The AI was horrible. Bot games, on the other hand, provide an adequate challenge. Unfortunately, the variety of champions the computer can control is limited, so matches quickly become repetitive.

Unlike other MMOs, League of Legends is mostly free to play, mostly. All you need to do is download the game client, and you’re ready to go. A dozen free champions are made available every week. You can try them out in practice mode, and then move on to tougher matches against bots or other players. Because the selection of free-to-play champions is different from week to week, the gameplay experience changes as well.

Having mentioned that, the developers of League of Legends are quite good at making you purchase additional content for the game. For example, if there are champions you really like, you’ll want to buy the characters and play them all the time instead of waiting months for them to become free to play again. Alternatively, you can use the gaming points you accumulate with every match, but that takes forever.

© Copyright Riot Games

© Copyright Riot Games

Now, say you dished out for your favourite champion. He looks cool, but he could look cooler. That’s where payable skins come in. Why play as Ryze the Mage, when you can play as Uncle Sam Ryze instead? If you grew up watching Sesame Street, you can turn Nunu and his pal, the Yeti, into Oscar the Grouch and Cookie Monster. Teemo the Scout is one of the more adorable characters available, but you can make your opponents overdose on saccharine by dressing him up as a badger, a bunny or an astronaut.

A champion is added to the roster every month or so. These new characters typically remain payable for at least a few months. For some reason, they always start off much stronger than the others, and, as chance would have it, they usually get nerfed (weakened) before becoming free to play. As such, to use the most powerful champions and get a competitive edge over other players, you’ve got to cough up the cash.

This so-called free-to-play model has been extremely successful, garnering over fifteen million subscriptions. After all, what have consumers got to lose? The worse thing that can happen is they don’t like the game and they uninstall it. In response to this, freeware versions of both City of Heroes and World of Warcraft have been released. However, I feel League of Legends has got the better approach because you can get the full gaming experience for free, not just a neutered approximation of it. Besides, the Teemo badger costume is so darn cute!

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Category: Game Reviews, Verdict: 3.5 | Tags: ,

Video Game Correspondent: Nicolas or, as his friends like to call him, Dr Nick has a PhD in physics as well as an unhealthy obsession with video games. He won the 2006 Nininger Award for his work in astrophysics and hates vegetarians as a general rule.