Early last week, I took a trip from the cold, windy state of Tennessee to the slightly warmer, yet even windier city of San Francisco to meet with Riot Games, developer of the upcoming game League of Legends: Clash of Fates. I admit that before my trip, I knew little of the game outside of what was available on the official site, but now things are much clearer.
"All in all, my time with League of Legends was chaotic fun."
Initially, I read that League of Legends was based off of the Warcraft III user-created mod "Defense of the Ancients" (DotA), so my assumption was that the game would be more real-time strategy and less RPG. After several hours with a beta build that Riot Games was demoing, I've come to see that League of Legends is a difficult game to define, because it blends many genres including RPG.
For those that are familiar with the Warcraft III "DotA" mod, the focus of League should be clear and they should also take note that some of the minds behind "DotA" are at work here as well. For everyone else it will take a little more explanation. To draw another quick comparison before jumping into a detailed description, it's like Battlegrounds in World of Warcraft without the rest of the game's persistent world. The team that works most efficiently together to destroy the other side's base will be the winner, but unlike Battlegrounds, there is no grinding and raiding outside of battle, so the game is easily accessible right from the start.
League of Legends is a session-based game in which two teams of players fight against each other on a field of battle. Each individual player gets to pick one from a selection of over a dozen unique Champions akin to selecting a fighter in a match of Street Fighter. Matches are generally expected to be six versus six, but there will be flexibility in that. Once all players have selected a character, the battle begins. Each Champion has four different combat skills available: three normal and one ultimate. With characters ranging from Nunu, the yeti rider, a Champion whose main focus is slowing down opposing units to help take them out quicker, to the little girl Annie, a great mage of tremendous power who carries around a stuffed teddy bear that is actually an enchanted demon bear, League of Legends offers players a wide variety of options to fit most any style of play.
In typical RPG fashion, Champions level up as they are successful in combat, but only for the session at hand. Players earn skill points as they gain levels, allowing them to access or empower their set of four skills. The level cap is currently set at eighteen for a match, and since levels are not maintained after the match, players will have many opportunities to try out lots of different character builds. Along with merely leveling up, an item shop is available to further customize your Champion, and like everything else in the game, money earned is for the current session only, so there is no need to hoard your earnings.
In one of the matches I played, I was on a team with two others playing against three opponents. I was controlling the evil, yet cute mage Annie and had the debuffing yeti rider Nunu and speedy melee fighter Master Yi on my side. Together, the three of us were able to whip the other side into submission, though it was never a landslide, as the battle went back and forth throughout the entire twenty minute session. Death during combat does no lasting damage; it only places a respawn on you until you can rejoin, so I was more than aggressive during my playtime since death held no reins over me. For a multiplayer game with lots of character options, play balance is going to be a concern, but Riot Games has a former Blizzard employee that was the head of play balance for Warcraft III and also worked on World of Warcraft's initial talent builds, so they are not without capable help.
All in all, my time with League of Legends was chaotic fun. The game is a mix of simple-to-play, yet hard-to-master gameplay, quick action-packed sessions, and lots of variety. It was really enjoyable, though would likely be even more so with an organized group of friends. I'm looking forward to the upcoming beta and hope to have more details then.