A few months ago, after I installed the League of Legends client and played through the tutorial, I wrote that I might have a better look at the game in the future. Well the future is now! After taking a break from WAR (indefinitely) I had to get my fix of PvP somewhere and the already installed LoL seemed suitable. A few weeks later and I’m at summoner level 15 with around 100 games under my belt. I think the time is right to write a few thoughts about the game.
In case you didn’t know, League of Legends (or LoL) is a remake of the famous Defense of the Ancients (DotA) custom map from Warcraft 3. DotA was and still is immensely popular with whole communities with even specialised servers formed around it. And because this map design was so successful some of the former DotA map creators got together and formed Riot Games with the idea to refine and remake the map as a standalone game. Since then several other DotA games have been confirmed/released, among them S2 Game’s Heroes of Newerth and Valve’s DotA 2, with the former already released and the latter slated for the fourth quarter of 2011. Unlike LoL, the two mentioned games were/are being developed as a sequel to the original, with DotA 2 claiming the original name (and with it the copyrights it seems) and HoN being a spinoff. (There’s also Bloodline Champions, a free-to-play game which utilises the DotA-esque isometric view and the control scheme to control a hero with a few abilities, but this time the battlefields are arenas, where you’re going head to head against other players.)
LoL on the other hand, has been developed as DotA-lite, with the foremost concerns for Riot games being newbie-friendliness, easy access and overall fun, rather than staying true to the original and aiming at the competitive scene. For exactly these reasons the game is free-to-play. Here’s my take on it, the quick and dirty way (the way you like it, etc..).
- LoL is very newbie friendly. I jumped in with only going through 3 or so horrible Warcraft 3 DotA games before and seem to be doing just fine. The tutorial will ease you in and once you’re done with that you start at level one with all the other newbies. The game will match you with and against people of similar levels, with the algorithm seemingly becoming less strict the higher you advance. In addition, you can always practice in custom games against bots. Also the launcher and the UI are intuitive and easy to use.
- It’s free. *expanded below
- The game is very colorful. DotA was already quite colorful with playful and interesting hero models because it was created in the W3 map editor, but LoL steps it up a notch. Sometimes it’s like playing a cartoon, with heroes like a Yeti rider, an Egyptian Anubis hero, a minotaur, an animated scarecrow, a mummy, several pirates and ninjas, several midgets, an armadillo, a werewolf, an animated rock, an animated tree and many more.
- LoL is a team game and with a few friends the fun will usually increase exponentially.
- About as casual friendly as it gets. You can finish a game or two in an hour, one usually takes between 20-40 minutes. No need to have extended periods of time reserved to be able to compete.
- Getting into a game is very simple and if you disconnect you can always reconnect if the game is still running. Riot definitely have the quick action part down.
- In an effort to make the game newbie-friendly and streamline the play at higher levels, Riot Games got rid of some DotA features veterans might miss. Things like denying, juxing and a bunch of other stuff I don’t know about because I never was a DotA regular.
- LoL never really was aimed at the competitive scene, so it doesn’t have any spectator options, no replay functionality and is using blindpick for picking champions, which is usually seen as inferior to the draft mode the original DotA has (HoN aswell). Sure, the game was played at WCG last year, is confirmed for WCG this year and was played at this year’s IEM, but the matches were slightly boring to watch (in the quarterfinals I watched even the casters seemed incredibly bored).
- The game was coded in Adobe AIR (flash, ajax and other web mumbo-jumbo), which isn’t one of the prevalent languages for game coding. It’s not surprising that a lot of players are having problems with the game’s performance, myself included. *expanded below
- There are only two maps available for play. One is the standard five player map that DotA was based on and the other is a three player map. Sure, in DotA only one map really made it big, but with a full standalone game you would expect Riot to crank out a few more maps. If nothing else for varieties sake.
- The hero balance is a bit out of whack. I appreciate the fact that some players like heroes that are harder to play than others, and that Riot is catering to them, but there’s a very fine line between a hero being hard to play and underpowered. Or between being easy to play and overpowered. One such hero in my opinion is the newish Jarvan, who has almost any utility/CC ability in the game at his disposal. Riot need to play their game a bit more.
The community in games is always a big part of how enjoyable they are for the player, but in a PvP game community is a crucial factor. DotA has always been known to be a bit of a cesspool of sore losers, egotistical maniacs, people with small penises and downright bad mannered people (all of it depends on the region and the seclusion of the community of course, the bigger it is, the more idiots you get). LoL is only slightly better in this regard. When something goes wrong, finger pointing and name calling starts, which usually quickly degrades into screaming and poo flinging and starts to resemble a scene out of Planet of the Apes. No matter how much the victim tries to sensibly defend or even admit their guilt, the shenanigans won’t stop until the game is over.
While LoL has team chat, it also has a chat for both sides, which only makes the players forget about good sportsmanship and manners quicker. The funny thing is that most of the time you’ll be frustrated with your teammates rather than the opposing team. Because unless you’re planning on only playing with people you know, you’ll be running into what is called PuGs in MMO terms. Everyone who has dealt with random players before knows to never count on them. Luckily (or unluckily), there are so many people playing LoL that you’ll rarely be matched with the same people twice.
But all of this has very little to do with how good or bad the game is, hence I put it in a separate section. A few tips that will make your life easier though. You can use the “/mute playername” (without the quotation marks) command to stop seeing that player’s messages in that game, while “/ignore playername” will completely ignore the player in and out of the game (in the launcher). Another handy one is “/surrender” which will start a voting on whether to surrender the game or not. If your teammates agree you can prematurely end a game you know you are slowly losing (not before the 20 minute mark though).
While the summoner metagame with all the masteries, spells and runes does provide a nice distraction and some additional progression to the game, it might sound just a bit too much like the MMO grind or progression over skill. It certainly doesn’t feel and isn’t grindy in my opinion, but some may perceive it as such. You gradually learn your summoner spells and receive all by summoner rank 10 (as far as I can remember), which really only takes a few games. The masteries and runes however, you won’t be able to fully explore until the max level 30. Which I don’t see as a problem since you’ll most likely only be playing against people around your rank, so there won’t be any big disparities.
I’ve read arguments against masteries and runes in competitive play since they pigeon-hole people, reduce the possible hybridisation and (for runes at least) can’t be easily respeced to allow for reactionary play. Which means that someone luckily correctly speced for one situation will come out on top, even if players are equal. I have no idea how much of this is true because I never really played enough DotA. Just thought I should mention it.
As I keep repeating (like an old geezer), free-to-play doesn’t actually mean free. A free game is one that has all of its features and content at your disposal for absolutely no money. A free-to-play game is one you can play without spending, but you won’t get all of the features and content unless you splash some cash.
LoL isn’t free, it’s free-to-play. The way Riot funds the servers and game’s development is with microtransactions. You can spend money to buy Riot Points (RP), which can be spent on things like champions, champion skins, runes, rune pages and XP/IP boosts. If you download the game without buying any of the starter packs the only champions you will be able to play are the 10 that are currently in the rotation (they rotate approximately every week).
Before you start screaming from disgust at how exploitative of a microtransaction system Riot has, I need to tell you of the other system you can use to unlock almost everything in the game. It’s called Influence Points. You earn them from every single game you play (even in custom ones against bots), the amount varies depending on how good your team does and they can be used to unlock champions and runes. The prices are inflated and not subject to different discounts Riot does, but the option is there. Theoretically, you can play the whole game for free given enough time (except for the eye-candy).
Which is what I like about this system. You can opt to pay for instant access to everything or simply spend your time playing the game and slowly unlock what you can. The things you can only unlock by paying for them are purely cosmetic, things that shorten the time needed to level or add a bit of extra utility in the summoner metagame, and not items that grant any kind of increased power. This is exactly how a microtransaction system should work for every non-MMO game. I don’t want to see paying for progress in MMO games however, at least not in the ones that heavily rely on the amount of time invested in it (read: all MMOs), as that usually turns into paying for power.
As mentioned in the bullet points above, I’ve had a great deal of problems with LoL’s performance. It started a week after I begun playing regularly. After a few minutes of playing my FPS, otherwise hovering at 50-60, dropped down to 10-15. You might think that 15 FPS is still playable, and it certainly is, but the problem is that I’m not used to playing at such a low FPS and that playing at all that visual lag is highly detrimental to your performance with “skillshots”, not to mention everything else. Plus there’s the issue of my system setup being superior to the recommended one and the game still running like crap.
I eventually tracked down the problem to my Radeon 4890HD not getting along with the game engine. Which I fully blame on Adobe AIR being extremely rigid and not really a coding language you’d want to code a game in. It turns out that when my FPS dropped it was actually my graphics card downclocking to 2D mode (from 850Mhz core speed to 240Mhz), which is something all modern cards do automatically to lessen the wear on the cooling system. It wasn’t properly detecting LoL as a 3D application, which meant that my CPU had to take over the load. Graphics Processing Unit > Central Processing Unit at processing graphics, who’d have thunk it?
I partially solved this by forcing my GPU into 3D mode whenever LoL is running by using ATI Tray Tools. Despite being forced into 3D mode, my Radeon just randomly gives up somewhere between 15-30 minutes into the game, throws its arms into the air, points to the CPU and goes to sleep. After which there really isn’t anything I can do to get my FPS back up except for restarting the client, which isn’t something I fancy doing every game.
I’ve tried everything to fix this short of reinstalling Windows. I’ve tried several different ATI drivers, all the settings on my graphics card, all of the ones in-game, I’ve tried turning off unneeded processes, reinstalling the game, checking my GPU for overheating, artifacting or other signs of a faulty card and I’ve even tried an alternate client. My computer is defragmented regularly and is virus and spyware free. I’m at a loss on what more can I do short of switching to a different game. And by the looks of the forums I’m not the only one. There are heaps of people sporting systems way better than recommended who are battling the same FPS problems as I am.
Clearly, this is a lesson to any aspiring game developer to pick the coding language and the game engine carefully. One that you know won’t be receiving much attention from the hardware manufacturers clearly isn’t the best. The difficulty of coding isn’t the sole criteria you should be basing your decision on.
If you are looking for a game that is very easy to pick up and get into, but will be able to entertain you for a long, long time, then League of Legends is for you. It will keep getting updated with more and more content and its unobtrusive microtransaction system means that you can enjoy it for a long time without spending an euro. It’s also very friendly to casual players, since the only permanent leveling system isn’t that huge of a factor and because of the fact that you can always ask for being matched with players your level.
It’s also a great game to play with your friends because everyone can get it and because it has a functional buddy system. With a bunch of good, like-minded mates the game is heaps of fun.
The only two types of players that I wouldn’t recommend LoL to are either players who are looking for a highly competitive game that they could pick up semi-professionally (for that look in the direction of HoN or the upcoming DotA2), or people who get frustrated very easily by playing with and against random players or can’t handle a bit of the internet’s best — immature individuals and abusive language.
In general, I recommend LoL to any fan of PvP or really any kind of online games. Don’t be afraid to pick it up just because you are a newbie at the genre. We all were (are) before we made it past that stage and LoL has made that easier than ever.
PS: For any fans of electronic music, here’s one artist that has now become synonymous with LoL in my mind (through the sheer amount of his work I listened to while playing), whose unique and extremely diverse music I feel fits the game: Skrillex.