In MMOs there are typically two types of players, those who enjoy scripted PvE encounters with large groups of their friends and those who enjoy chaotic PvP encounters where they get to crush other players under their heels. In a traditional MMO experience these two activities often overlap in both execution and balance in either instanced locations (such as arenas and battlegrounds) or within the game-world itself with factions fighting over large-scale objectives. If you are an adamant PvP player you are no doubt aware of the difficulties that can plague the PvP gameplay of an MMO: be it a horrid class imbalance, a radical shift in the current meta-game, or a PvE balance change drastically changing the efficacy of your favourite PvP skill. This back and forth occurrence in MMO PvP balancing is a crucial part of the gameplay experience and anyone wanting that satisfying player versus player action has to accept the give and take as a part of the package. However, what if I told you that the very same fast-paced, heated, competitive PvP action you crave from your favourite MMO was available in a more stream-lined, condensed, and controlled environment? Would you be willing to take the plunge into the universe of Runeterra and join the League of Legends with all the millions of players who play it?
Being a multiplayer online battle area (or MOBA) game, League of Legends draws its chief inspiration from the popular Warcraft 3 mod Defense of the Ancients (or DOTA). It’s not specifically an MMORPG, but shares a lot of inspiration from such games. As Warcraft 3 was an RTS you controlled your champion via the typical RTS means of control with the use of vast amounts of clicking, scrolling, and hotkey manipulation. Combined with this means of navigation are other typical RPG and PvP elements such as levelling up, buying equipment and items for your champion, skill selection and prioritization, battle positioning, stationary global objectives and buffs, and PvE farming for gold. Players (called Summoners) are granted a deceptively simple mission in League of Legends, and that is to destroy the enemy Nexus, the font of magical energy which enables the enemy Summoners to control their champions. All that stands between your team of five gallant champions and the enemy Nexus is and endless supply of minions and monsters, implacable defensive towers, and five very powerful, very angry enemy champions. Sounds easy enough, right? Just as in typical MMO PvP combat the basic concept would be rather straightforward (just push hotkeys, avoid dying, and kill stuff!) if not for the latticework of interactions, objectives, and strategies that are layered into every single game of League of Legends.
At the beginning of every match both teams chose their champions (five each), Summoner spells, runes, and masteries. Summoner spells are abilities which are available independently of your selected champion while runes and masteries are two sources of customizable and often unique bonuses that you are free to change at any time before the match begins. Once the game loads each team starts out at their home base with a bit of gold and a minute and a half to prepare for battle. From here on out the game is a gauntlet of small skirmishes and all-out-wars between players, creeps, and structures. The best and most gratifying traits of PVP combat from an MMO are abundant in League of Legends as it will become painfully clear early on in your career that the single most important element of the game is teamwork. While a player of extraordinary skill can carry a team to victory, nine times out of ten if you run into two or three champions alone, you will die a gruesome death. The champions at your disposal do fall into traditional RPG archetypes, ranging from tank to DPS to healing, but furthermore these are broken down into the following: tank, ranged physical DPS, melee physical DPS, magic DPS, healer, support, crowd control specialist, bruisers and fighters, pokers, initiators, junglers, farmers and assassins (who farm enemy champions instead of creeps!). A team cannot hope to win against an evenly matched team without either a sound team composition or a truly unique and creative approach to team-fights.
Beyond the player versus player fights there is much to do in a game of League of Legends. To level up and empower your skills you must be near enemy creeps (the never ending horde of enemy minions the Nexus spawns) when they perish to gain experience, and to accrue gold you must kill those minions and enemy champions. All the while you are fighting these pve enemies the enemy champions are in the same locations as you trying to accomplish the same goals! It is exceedingly common for level 1 fights to occur and the hostilities between players attempting to achieve a variety of objectives never cease. You’ll have powerful early game champions harassing you tryingto deny you gold while a support champion keeps them healed, you’ll have champions whom farm neutral creep camps exclusively early game coming out of the jungle to try and gank you in conjunction with the enemy champions in lane, you’ll have global abilities and objectives to assault and defend with your team, often simultaneous at multiple points on the map. During your struggle for survival and domination you’ll be trying to save money for your most powerful items while also keeping in mind items which counter the enemy as much as possible. Every game of League of Legends is a unique and hectic experience, and with nearly 80 champions and counting (as Riot games releases a new champion every two weeks) you can be sure that the game will never get stale as the cast of characters is always growing.
As a player you may be doubting the connection between a ten man instanced area game with a full-fledged MMO. However League of Legends goes to great lengths to make players feel a sense of accomplishment and progression. Your Summoner profile starts at level one and each game completed grants experience to level up your Summoner. As you gain levels you unlock more Summoner abilities and game modes (via ranked play). All your stats are saved and accumulated and once you start playing ranked you’ll have a complete history of all your champion statistics (KDR, gold accumulated per game, damage done and taken, objectives successfully destroyed, double/triple/quadra/penta kills, et cetera) and you are granted a rating (called ELO) based on your team’s performance. Combined with your acquisition of champions, runes, and masteries there is a solid sense of progression much akin to the feeling players get from levelling a toon from a bright-eyed acolyte to a death-dealing behemoth in a normal MMO. Coupled with this is the way your champion grows each and every game as you buy items and level up, there is a palpable sense of the power you gain and hold as the game goes on, and it feels very empowering as you assert your dominance over the enemy team. As a player who is no stranger to end-game content in MMOs I can assure you that the sense of accomplishment and power you strive for in PvP are completely intact in every match of League of Legends.
Ultimately though one may wonder what exactly sets League of Legends apart from your favourite PvP experience in your favourite MMO as well as question just how “massively multiplayer” the game is. While Riot Games hasn’t released numbers for quite some time, back in early 2010 they did announce that they had over one million accounts, and their recent acquisition by Tencent points at an astonishingly large player base. League of Legends is also making major headway into the competitive e-sports scene and has a $100,000 prize pool for the winners of the upcoming Dreamhack tournament to be held in Sweden. Furthermore League of Legends has an advantage over other PvP titles in that Riot releases balance changes with its bimonthly champion releases. Riot closely follows both its forum community and their best players (via fansites and in-house counsel meetings) to gain an understanding of the complex and ever-shifting metagame in order to correctly balance both the champions and the gameplay to keep anything from stagnating or adversely influencing their vision of the game. Combine this with the Tribunal, a player-based regulatory system that any level 30 Summoner can use, their automatic leaver (deserter) and ban systems, and the impending graphical overhaul and replay system slated for release later this year League of Legends has everything going for it.
League of Legends has all the qualities a player could want in a competitive online gaming experience and more, so if any of this sounds attractive to you don’t be afraid to take the first step into the world of Runeterra! The game is free people, so you having nothing to lose!
Be sure to read Melinda Haren's E3 2011 Hands On Report.