It's been nearly a year since I first took a look at the then-fledgling
League of Legends, the free-to-play team-based RTS. Back then, I saw a lot of promise in the title, although at the time of my review there were a few too many features and areas roped off as "under construction" to get a hearty thumbs-up. I'm happy to say that my predictions have come true--League of Legends has matured into an incredibly fun, surprisingly deep, and thoroughly enjoyable multiplayer experience.
As a quick re-cap of the game, League of Legends puts players (or Summoners) in control of a chosen Champion on the field of battle. These maps (of which there are currently two) feature either 5x5 or 3x3 team-based play. Each team defends a base, or Nexus, from which spawns waves of mostly mindless minions. These minions charge headlong down various lanes of attack, only to be met by opposing minions and enemy defensive towers. Without any Champion assistance, these waves of minions would crash off each other endlessly--it's up to the players to push the flow of battle toward the enemy base, and ultimately destroy the opposing Nexus. There's a definite ebb-and-flow to battle, as players move forward with waves of minions, strive to destroy the powerful enemy towers, and work to defeat enemy champions. Teamwork is vital, as it often requires two or three Champions to unite to give the needed push past an enemy tower or Champion.
Speaking of Champions, there are now many more to choose from, bringing the amount of playable characters to a dizzying number. As always, there is a rotation of unlocked Champions, and players can spend a bit of real-world cash or Riot Points (earned from repeated plays) to unlock a favorite champion permanently. There are now two maps upon which to wage battle, and while this may not seem like much, it takes quite a bit of time to fully learn the nuances of a given map. I was actually lucky enough to have a guided tour with one of the guys from Riot this time around, and playing with him adding his wisdom and knowledge opened up many deeper layers to these maps. I began to get a grasp of the nuances of the neutral creeps that populated the maps, which can grant various bonuses to those who defeat them. Also, a working knowledge of the enemy Champions (and the tactics needed to defeat or avoid them) made this time around a wholly different experience.
Following my battles with the League of Legends guru at my side, I went back for several more on my own. Since I was a low-level Summoner, I was appropriately placed with several similarly-experienced players, and the game was completely different again. It was still fun, but it lacked the subtleties of playing with the advanced set. Also, none of the newer players even seemed to know about (or were willing to try) to use the maps to their fullest advantage. And I understand this--as a new player, I found myself almost overwhelmed with the choices offered in terms of Champions, runes, items, and spells. I heard that an improved tutorial system is in the works to help ease newer players into the mix, which will be a welcome addition to an increasingly strong title.
As an additional note to newcomers, I will advise that a little patience may be in order. The match-making system is quite good, but as a new player it took some time to find enough other low-level Summoners to begin a game. Many times I waited over ten minutes before starting a match (and several times I just quit and tried again later after too long a wait). As I gained a few bumps in levels, it seemed to take less and less time to find an appropriate mix of players to battle, so this problem soon alleviated itself. Also, players do gain experience from the AI-only battles, which may be the best way to practice and work their way into playable form very early on.
All in all, League of Legends: Season One is looking great. For a free-to-play game, this is a surprising amount of fun to play, even for players like me who tend to shy away from the multiplayer arena. With the promise of more maps, even more Champions, and the strong support of a very active player community, League of Legends has come into its own.