In 2009, a free-to-play and fun multiplayer real time strategy based on the hugely popular Warcraft III mod ‘Defense of the Ancients’ was released, stealing time but not money from the lives of PC RTS fans. With recent updates bringing the game into the new year (and NXT Gamer’s non-existence at the original time of release), now seems like as good a time as any to have a look at the game and what makes it so enjoyable.
As the comprehensive and well-voiced tutorial will dramatically inform you, you take the role of a Summoner, a mysterious being that controls powerful characters called Champions. Champions are the only characters that the game affords you direct control over, and come in various types, which I will come onto shortly. First, it is important to know how a game of League of Legends plays out.
The end goal of a match of League of Legends is to destroy the enemy’s ‘Nexus’, a structure found deep inside the enemy base. Powered by towers called ‘Inhibitors’, the player must first destroy enemy turrets (set out at points on the map beyond the player’s control, dealing large amounts of damage and taking plenty too), then Inhibitors, before taking on the Nexus to win the game. Obviously it wouldn’t be a very interesting game without enemies, which is where minions and Champions come in.
Minions are constantly respawning grunts, attacking in larger numbers but requiring little to defeat. Each side has an unlimited number of minions, which more than anything are useful in distracting opposing Champions and turrets from you, attacking your minions and allowing you to take on the turrets without being pulverised. They serve their purpose well, but their small amounts of health force you to think about when to follow them onwards or fall behind to regenerate your own health. You have no direct control over minions, so knowing when to attack and when to step back is important to success.
As a summoner you have the choice of various Champion characters with different skill-sets and abilities. They tend to fall into one of three categories- ranged attacker, melee and mage. The differences are not entirely obvious- ranged attacks can harm enemies from a distance, melee get up close and personal, while mage characters cast spells to attack, but the Champions vary in abilities, each having a different description to explain their play style and abilities. Some may be superior at tanking it, charging through enemies and dealing damage. Others might be better at attacking from a range, etc. Pre-game you can see the Champions your team have selected, and a chat box theoretically allows players to discuss what Champions to choose, allowing room for strategising rather than dumb luck in your team’s Champions complimenting one another.
You control one Champion in each match, with the other Champion spaces in either a 3 vs. 3 or 5 vs. 5 match being filled by other players online or bots. As the player progresses, winning matches against other players or bots, they earn IP (influence points). These can be used to purchase new Champions with better skills and abilities and Runes (which I’ll get onto in a moment). It’s a fairly simple system but one that works well to maintain a feeling of progression in a multiplayer-centric game. Winning matches also earns XP, levelling up your Summoner, further adding to the feeling of moving forward in the game as a whole. As a Summoner, you can also choose Summoner spells, such as healing, reviving, attacking and more that greatly impact the match. Each has a high cool-down time, but use none of your Champion’s mana, requiring strategic timing of use. Reviving, for example, has a cool-down time of nine minutes. This makes the player think about whether or not their team can survive without them for the 30-second respawn time, or if they will need an immediate respawn any time soon. With the game as a whole being a fairly simple to understand RTS, it helps that interesting additions like this add to the strategy.
Another interesting system is the two systems for improving your Champion’s performance. First are Masteries- essentially a skill tree system of upgrading your Summoner, there are three sections- offence, defence and utility. The first two are self-explanatory- the former upgrades abilities such as critical hit ratios, reduces cool-downs on particular attack spells, etc. The latter covers cool-down on healing spells, increasing dodge chances, etc. Utilities is more general, allowing you to use earned Mastery points to upgrade health and mana regeneration, reduce respawn times, etc. Masteries tend to have a more subtle effect on gameplay than Summoner spells, but can still make the difference in a difficult match.
The other system is that of Runes, which can be purchased in the game’s store in exchange for Influence Points. They have a similarly more subtle effect than Summoner spells, like Masteries, but are equipped items rather than skills, and are grouped into four types: Marks, Seals, Glyphs and Quintessences. Each of these types are tiered, higher tiered runes requiring a higher level Summoner. Marks effect attacks, Seals are defensive, Glyphs magic and Quintessence are more general, all-purpose runes. The effects tend to be very subtle, however, and will only make the difference in the higher-level matches.
Being a free-to-play game, you have the option of purchasing Riot Points, the game’s currency. These points can be used to purchase Champions or Champion skins (which customise appearance but have no real gameplay impact), but are only required to purchase skins. It is entirely possible to get a lot out of this game without paying a penny, although less patient players will appreciate the possibility to fast-track unlocking of Champions, should they not have the time to accumulate the high amount of IP required.
There are currently just two maps in League of Legends (not including the training area)- Summoner’s Rift and Twisted Treeline. The former has three lanes of attack and the latter two for minions to travel through, both having in-between areas where only Champions can travel. The maps are well designed and more are in development, but it’s hard to complain when the game is addictive enough as it is, and free.
For a base price of £0.00, it’s hard to fault League of Legends. There may only be two maps but that doesn’t detract from the fun, and if you’re even slightly interested in real-time strategy, you owe it to yourself to give this a download. The graphics are vibrant, the gameplay is fun, deep and addictive, and the audio isn’t too bad either.
- Completely free-to-play
- Addictive, fun gameplay
- Plenty of gameplay to keep you playing for hours
- Online community is not the most welcoming
- Pay-to-unlock characters