By Steve Butts for IGN
Built using the same principles as the wildly popular Defense of the Ancients mod for Warcraft III, League of Legends gives each player control of a powerful champion unit in a team-based battle to destroy each other’s bases. real-time strategy elements, like AI controlled foot soldiers and turrets, and roleplaying features, like leveling abilities and buying better equipment, provide lots of variety and flexibility. The popularity of this Defense of the Ancients gameplay style seems to be rising with the release of not just League of Legends, but also Demigod and Heroes of Newerth.
With so many options on the market, it can be hard to tell just which of the games is right for you. Whichever way your own personal tastes are leaning, there’s a lot to like about League of Legends. The game design is relatively direct but still has a lot of nuance, and the core strategies are basic but still allow for multi-layered tactics. On the downside, the game’s official launch status is still a mystery with no clear reason for the abundance or shortage of various features throughout the game.
The highly inventive champions are clearly the best part of the game. The developers have created something like forty different champions you can choose from, from hulking brutes to nimble archers to stealthy assassins. The visual style is very charming, so you’ll see mad scientists, giant robots, jesters, little girls with dolls, big-headed mummies all fighting it out with explosive and colorful visual effects. As you defeat enemy AI minions and champions you’ll level up and gain access to even more powerful abilities that allow you turn invisible, fire missiles, set glue traps and a host of other options. Heading out into the field of battle with these effects at the ready is an awesom feeling and at higher levels you can really chew through enemy minions and even other champions.
Each champion has his or her (or its) own abilities but one of the downsides is that there can seem to be almost too many much to choose from at times. Fortunately, you can filter the champions based on the general characteristics you’d like and even investigate their abilities and read tips for fighting as and against them. Even so, it can be hard to settle on a favorite, much less determine what your opponents are likely to do. Sure, you’ll soon learn that Ashe hits at long range and can slow you down, but you’ll spend a lot of the early game being surprised by your enemies. Fortunately, there’s a less competitive solo practice mode where you can fight against entire teams of bots.
Leveling up your abilities is only half the story. As you kill the AI minions, destroy turrets and slay other champions, you’ll also be earning gold that you can use in the item shop. Unlike Defense of the Ancients, there’s just one shop here and the items are all laid out in smart groups. So if you know you need mana regeneration, you can just flip to that page and see all the items that confer that ability. Better still, you can see all the combinations at a glance and can even buy finished projects for the full price of all the items it contains. It makes for a much faster way to customize your champion and get right back into the action.
There’s a persistent element to your character as well. As you level up you’ll be earning points you can spend in a few different skill trees that help you further refine and customize your individual champions. You can also equip various runes to help you in certain areas, like magic resistance or health regeneration. Having a persistent element that exists outside of the individual battles discourages players on the losing side from quitting outright, but it also increases the pressure on new players to get good fast.
Though some of the champions tend to play the same way, the level of variety is incredibly high here and it’s to the designers’ credit that most of the champions are interesting and competitive. We’ve found a few popular ones that we hate and some quirky ones that we love.
If you liked the colorful and bright style of Warcraft III, you’ll like League of Legends. The game’s visuals are very lively, particularly when the more outrageous spell effects start flying. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but I like the stylized approach. It can sometimes be a bit too much when lots of folks are involved in a fight, and at that moment it can be particularly difficult to pick out targets or even your own health bar, even when zoomed all the way in. The audio side of the game is generally pleasant with solid music and effects, but I can do without the repetitive unit acknowledgements.