Sometimes, as a reviewer, I come across games that are completely outside my sphere of general knowledge or interest. League of Legends is just such a game, one that encompasses almost every element that I tend to avoid in my game choices. I prefer single-player games, League of Legends is very much a multiplayer event. I shy away from collectable games of any sort, and League depends heavily on players dumping at least some of their hard-earned real-world dollars (or tons of ever-fleeting free time) to unlocking goodies for the game. Still, from my “complete noob” prospective, League of Legends is an entertaining game, and would certainly find appeal for those a little more inclined to the PvP arena. However, the seemingly-unfinished nature of the game worries me more than a little.
Players take on the role of summoners who will control a Champion in the field of battle. These Champions can be chosen from a pool of dozens of character types, with at least a few sure to fit any player style. These Champions are then outfitted with a few spells and various ability boosts (called “runes”) and set loose on the arena. Generally joining with a team of fellow summoners, players vie to destroy the enemy team base. From the couple of maps I had a chance to see, the maps are arranged with each team base, called a Nexus, at opposite ends of the field of battle. Between these two Nexus points are various lanes of approach, each guarded by defense turrets. Once the game begins, computer-controlled cannon-fodder units begin pouring out of the friendly Nexus and charging toward the enemy. Without player intervention, these units tend to grind themselves uselessly against the defensive towers and enemy units. And that’s where the human players come in. The Summoners, through the use of their respective Champions, turn the tides of battle toward one end or other. Only through effective teamwork and efficient use of abilities can the forces eventually grind down enemy defenses and punch their way through to the enemy base.
Each champion has some unique and pre-set spells and abilities to add to the fray, in addition to their already-formidable combat prowess. As play progresses, champions (who start each battle at level 1) gain experience and unlock more powerful versions of their abilities. In addition, gold is earned with each kill (and at a steady trickle throughout the game), and this gold can be spent in-battle at the friendly Nexus to purchase powerful equipment. Equipment can even be combined into more powerful artifacts over the course of a single combat.
Since Champions are reset at the beginning of each match, it’s the players themselves that improve over time. Playing matches earns points that can be spent buying various Runic upgrades, unlocking additional Champion choices, and even customizing favorite champions with various skins. Or, should players wish to skip all that hard work, many of the improvements and characters can also be purchased with real-world money. In fact, given that a match takes upwards of an hour to complete, it could take a very, very long time to unlock everything through sweat equity alone. Still, since League of Legends is a free game initially, a little extra money doesn’t seem all that unreasonable. The Collector’s Edition, which I have been granted for review purposes, offers a decent package for the price. It permanently unlocks several of the champions (rather than forcing players to choose from the rotating roster of the 10 or so champions available for free play). It also doles out a handful of points at the store, allowing players to round out some good starting packages.
The game itself looks good and plays quite smoothly. There is a colorful and eclectic collection of Chamipons, with some appropriately impressive-looking abilities. And while there seems to be an overwhelming amount of things to take in for newer players, League of Legends does a good job bringing the newbie on board. Each game I tried takes about an hour to hash out, which does seem a little long for me—I would prefer matches of about half to a quarter of that time. With future maps to be released, that may change in days to come.
Which actually brings me to my biggest gripe about League of Legends—this just isn’t a finished product. I was actually hesitant to go forward with my review, as so many areas of each setup screen are still greyed out with “yet to come” signs posted on the tooltips. I only got to play on two maps (one of which is still Beta), so I have no idea what the full range of the game will be. There are promises of single-player missions, which have me a little excited, but hold out as I might they just didn’t appear before it was time to wrap up this review. If this were just a beta-stage I was previewing, I would be singing praises of what was to come. But since League of Legends is now asking players to begin sinking real-world money into the mix, with so many features yet to be realized, I can’t help but think players will be turned off. And since League of Legends is completely multi-player driven, that could mean bad things for the future.
Overall, I will give League of Legends a tentative thumbs-up, but I will only do so grudgingly at this point in time. There exists the promise of a great multi-player fantasy grind, and even now League of Legends is quite a bit of fun to play. But I’m still a little leery about the decision to go ahead and call the whole thing “finished” enough for public release. And, as a reviewer, I feel obligated to grade a game on what I see in the here-and-now, and not on what I’m promised in the future. League of Legends is definitely worth checking out, I just hope that we don’t see a good game get buried due to a premature push out the door.