Review: League of Legends
League of Legends is a free to play RTS / RPG hybrid that originally released in the latter part of 2009, but recently launched it's "Season 1" patch which introduces the start of competitive play with ladder rankings. While I normally don't write too often about non-MMO games here, I feel somewhat compelled to talk about this game for the sole reason that it has been getting a tremendous amount of playtime by me and many in my guild these last few weeks.
All I knew about LoL is that it was the same type of game as DotA and HoN, two games I had no interest in paying money for. I can be a stubborn bastard when it comes to picking games I invest time into, and my guild literally had to drag me kicking and screaming into trying it. The only reason I ended up trying it was that the price tag was free and some of my guys were looking for something to help kill time for Starcraft 2. The irony in this situation is that part of me likes this game better than SC2.
For those of you who have no experience with the likes of DotA, HoN, or LoL, I'll try to give a brief overview of the gameplay. Games are divided into teams of 5 vs 5 or 3 vs 3, and start in opposite corners of the map in a team base. The object of the game is to destroy the center of the other team's base. Each map is divided into "lanes" or paths that lead from your base to the enemy's. Waves of weak NPC minions spawn and advance down all the lanes in short intervals, and try to push guard towers and ultimately into the enemy base. Players choose a "champion" and fan out to help advance their minions in the lanes which ultimately leads to PvP battles with the enemy team. As the game goes on, players earn exp and money for killing minions and others players, which are used to buy better items to try to overpower the other players. The average game usually lasts between 25 minutes at the minimum, and it is not uncommon for games to go as long as 45 minutes or longer. At the end of the game, IP and EXP are awarded to all players accounts (with the winning team gets more than losing team).
IP points can be cashed in at the store to on a variety of things, the main being access to new champions. League of Legends currently features 55 different champions that all have their own unique abilities and stats. All of the different champions are suited for different roles in the team, such as tank, DPS, support etc. At the start of your career, you own no champions and have no points, but there are certain champions that are freely accessible to anyone for a week. Once that week is over, another batch of champions are selected from the list for free access in a never ending random rotation. This gives you the ability to try a variety of champions for free on any given week to get a feel for different playstyles. Once you opt to spend your IP on a champion, he is yours to play with forever.
In addition to unlocking champions, IP may also be used to buy runes for your account. Rune slots are unlocked as your account levels up, and each slot may be socketed with a rune of the matching type from the store. Runes offer a wide array of bonuses to whatever champ your using and range from things like adding max HP, Crit Chance, Dodge, Cooldown Reduction just to name a few. This allows players to customize their bonuses to fit the playstyle they want for the champ they are using. The interface also has multiple pages for you to have 2 different rune layouts. You may want more caster oriented runes for one champ, while you have have another page set aside for tanking. Rune pages are selected at the start of every match after you pick your champion.
As I mentioned earlier, the other reward for playing in addition to the IP, are experience points for leveling up your game account. Your PvP.net (League of Legends version of Battle.net) account start's at level 1 and can level up to 30. Every level gained on your account unlocks rune slots and rewards mastery points which can be spent on talent trees. Points can be allocated into offensive, defensive, and utility tress which are self-explanatory. Like runes, these bonuses are applied to whatever champion you use and help to add another layer of character customization and tweaking, especially when combined with runes. You can respec your mastery at no cost anytime you like, as much as you like.
Once your account reaches level 20, you become eligible to participate in the official ranked ladder matches that recently kicked off in the "Season One" update. One of the main differences between the regular games and the ranked games is in the pregame section where champions are selected. In regular games champions are blind picked so that the enemy team has no idea which champs you are playing until the game starts, and all characters are allowed. In the ladder ranked matches, there is a new draft mode that allows each team to ban 2 champions from the list that neither team can play. Players then take turns picking their champions and both teams are able to view selections in real-time. This gives teams a chance to counter the build of the other team by picking particular champs that may prove better against certain match ups. The final difference in the ranked matches is that once a champion is picked, it becomes off limits for anyone else to play on the other team, where in regular matches the same champ can be played by opposite teams at the same time.
Along with ranked games, there is advanced stat tracking so you can keep track of how well you are doing in a variety of areas, and break down the data by champ to see which ones have been performing better for you. Season one also allows you to the ability to click on your friends from your buddy list and examine all their stats as well. I think my only gripe about the stat tracking is that there really isn't any for the unranked games after the season one patch. I think it would be nice for the data to be available for the non-ranked games because it would give people under level 20 a way to monitor their own performance (only your win total is tracked).
Overall League of Legends offers the same sort of service with their PvP.net as I saw with Starcraft 2 and Battle.net. They feature interactive friends lists, a matchmaking system, and ladder rankings for competitive play. Starcraft 2 comes with a $60 price tag (but includes single player campaign) while LoL is and will always remain completely free to download and play. A lot of free to play games come with a catch of a cash shop where you can spend real cash for goodies that can give unfair advantages against non-paying people, but this is not the case here. While the option is available for you to spend real money in their shop, the only thing in the online store that requires real cash in order to purchase are different skins for your favorite champs to make them look different. Everything else in the store can be obtained just by playing the game for free.
In conclusion I would definitely recommend League of Legends to anyone looking for something to play. It's free price tag, fun gameplay, and competitive ladder matches make it well worth the few minutes it takes to get it up and running. The number of champions combined with the various item build, rune layouts, and mastery specializations help to add several layers of customization that theorycrafters will sink their teeth into. I find it funny that my guild originally started playing this to kill time for Starcraft 2 and now many of them prefer this game. If you decide you want to check it out use THIS LINK and maybe I'll see you on the battlefield.
Co-Leader of Inquisition