Things I Like: League of Legends

I wouldn’t be writing this if my brother wasn’t hogging all the Skyrim.

World of Warcraft has been such a fixture in my online game-playing life, that I don’t remember much before it. It is the only game I’ve played consistently for, well, however long World of Warcraft has been out.  I know it intimately. It’s triumphs. It’s faults. Therefore, it is only natural that I’d compare the online games I’ve been trying lately to World of Warcraft, even if they aren’t in the same league. Games like League of Legends.

Based on the popular Warcraft 3 custom map, Defense of the Ancients, League of Legends is a pretty complex real time strategy game with a deceptively simple concept. Players, as “summoners”, take control of a champion, and along with fellow “summoners”, try to storm the enemy’s base located at the opposite end of the map. Each champion has different skills they can learn and improve as they level up  during combat, ranging from magical and physical attacks to  damage shields and healing spells. Each has a passive ability that may or may not get more powerful over time, and may or not aid friendly champions. Aside from experience, champions earn gold in battle to buy stat-increasing gear with.

Turrets are quite deadly, and should only be be attacked if a safe number of targets, er, minions seperate you from it.

Combat takes place in “lanes”, common pathways between bases in which endless waves of friendly and enemy minions travel from base to base, attempting to destroy protective turrets owned by each team. It is each player’s job to help destroy enemy minions, harass enemy champions, and destroy unfriendly turrets in order to clear a pathway to the center of their opponents base, wherein lies the “summoning nexus”. Destroy it, and the game is won.

At first,  League of Legends seems like a simple game of push and shove. It is. However, the game becomes more intricate as players get better. Players, gain levels as they win and lose battles. As players climb in levels, not only do they get perks, but they also get matched with more experience opponents, and the game play experience changes. The max level for a summoner is 30, and by then, games barely resemble what they once were.

While simply playing well within your “lane” will win games at the onset, team dynamics and cooperation with other summoners becomes a necessity at later levels. Traveling to other “lanes” to assist becomes a must. Learning how to navigate the “jungle”, the monster-infested connections between lanes can set opponents up for sneak-attacks. Engaging in  well-coordinated team battles, and knowing just what friendly champions are capable of, and what the enemy champions are capable of, makes or breaks games.

While each champion can be played simply, each one has several roles they are best at, from keeping friendly champions out of harm’s way to assassinating enemy champions. On top of this, each champion usually has several “builds”; gear sets which compliment their abilities and roles. On top of that, players earn skill points to invest in “talent trees”, defensive, offensive and “utility” bonuses affecting whatever champion they use. On  top of that, summoners also unlock slots for trinkets which incrementally increase champion abilities and statistics. On top of that, there are the many, many different champion combinations and strategies based on champion types and play style.

It might seem scary at first, but the games are easy to get into. The core concept is very simple, and the game doesn’t expect a lot in those first 10 levels. There are plenty of opportunities to learn the ropes and get used to new champions. It only takes a little research on League strategy sites like Mobafire to separate yourself from those who don’t put effort into learning the finer points of the game or how champions are designed to play.

This is one of the reasons I like LoL; it is mostly skill based. Despite the fact you gain levels and perks, they aren’t the kind that makes battles one-sided. A level one summoner’s champion could kill a level 30 summoner’s champion, if they have the skills. While gear matters, everybody starts out buck-naked, every single game. Players don’t have to spend time grinding levels in order to compete, and the game is just at level 1 as it is at level 30.  It isn’t as if you’re just killing time until you can play the “real” game. There are “ranked” matches at level 30, but it isn’t anything new, just a win-loss record to go on your profile.

Artistic renditon of Annie, a LoL champion with a nasty habit of dropping a flaming bear on opponents.

Artistic renditon of Annie, a champion with the nasty habit of dropping a flaming bear on opponents.

See, there I go. I’m comparing LoL to World of Warcraft. Did you hear that, WoW? No level grinding. No faction grinding. No ridiculous gear. Players can just jump in and have fun. Sometimes you’re worse than work.

However, LoL can get tedious too. Each game is generally the same. However, there are several types of games, 3 v.s. 3, 5 v.s 5, and “Dominion”, a “capture and defend” type game. LoL also tries to keep things fresh by having a rotating line-up of “free” champions.  There are over 80 champions in the game, each with a pretty unique set of abilities. Only about 10 of them are playable each week, giving players the opportunity to play champions they don’t own and making games more interesting by changing make-up of teams you’ll be facing. The catch to LoL is, it is free to play, but champions cost money or influence points gained by winning and losing battles. Buy one, and they’re yours to use forever.

Teams can be awful too, especially when queuing for a game alone. One new or dumb players ruining your chances for victory. Disconnects and drops are common in early levels too, despite harsh penalties for quitting mid-game (I believe you can be banned for up to 90 years), and being short a champion really hurts. Also, like other online games, team members can be pretty unforgiving with new players, especially if they are expereinced players using new accounts. Having a group of playes you regularly play with is still preferable to queing for games solo. There are also some situations where, no matter how skillful you are, your champion simply cannot win a fight against specific champions.

Despite these things, which pretty much plague all muti-player pursuits, League of Legends is a nice change of pace for those looking for a game that requires more skill than time or loot.  The selection of champions is very fun to play with; each really is pretty unique, and it is easy to learn the basics. Few online games, outside of shooters, have this kind of early accessibility. Even fewer online games can claim to have the depth League of Legends does, while remaining fairly simplistic.

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