Friday, April 9, 2010

Review: League of Legends (PC)

League of Legends (LoL) by Riot Games is basically a new iteration of the Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) mod for WarCraft III. LoL is actually free to play, with the revenue stream being from micro-transactions in the game’s store. I really enjoyed my time I spent in LoL’s beta, and when the game was fresh playing in the matchmaking was pretty good until I reached a certain level where the ratio of decent players to complete scum diminished to a point where LoL was no longer any fun. Hearing about Monday Night Combat from PAX East reminded me that I had LoL installed, so I loaded it up to give it another spin.


Funny Money Doesn't make a Game more Fun, or even Funny.

Updating the client after a few months of inactivity wasn’t a great experience, particularly as one of the patches got stuck in a loop of updating that utterly broke the install. Riot’s support forum basically advocates uninstalling the game and reinstalling. You really do get what you pay for, and this is also indicated by the central game server for LoL, which is incredibly laggy and is a source of major criticism on the official game forums. Without fail, I will also get disconnected from PvP.net, LoL's battle.net-like interface, with a message that I will not be able to "end or receive messages." This has persisted since the beta, which is quite humorous.

With the client reinstalled and up to date, I was ready to get into a game. LoL games typically last about 30 minutes, and during that time players assume the control of one hero from a zoomed out, isometric perspective. The hero starts out rather weak, and gradually earns experience and gold for killing enemy AI soldiers, players, and neutral monsters scattered about the map. Each hero has a unique ability-set which increases their power and effectiveness as ability points are earned and spent. Similarly, heroes have six gear slots which can hold vital weapons, armor, and potions. The ultimate goal of LoL and similar games is to push past the enemy defenses and obliterate their base.

One of the saving graces of LoL is that there is a “practice mode” where players can make their own games outside of the matchmaking functionality, and bots are available to fill player spots. The downside of these practice matches, besides being incredibly easy and not yielding points after a daily limit is reached, is that the experience and influence points that are earned are reduced in comparison to what can be earned in the matchmaking games. These points that I’m talking about are LoL’s major innovation to the DOTA model of game-play, in that the player’s profile is earning experience points with wins and losses. With these points, the player gets skill points to spend in three different stat trees to further enhance their heroes.



Persistent Talents, one of LoL's Real Innovations for its Genre.

Additionally, the player also gets access to spells that have long cool-downs and have functions like helping the hero make an escape or fortifying tower defenses temporarily. Influence points are how the player can get access to new heroes without spending real money to do so, and can also be spent to purchase runes, which are yet another way to enhance hero stats.

The practice mode is my preferred way to play LoL these days. As is usually the case, video of a game in action does more justice than words, so a small clip of game-play with some bots can be found below.



Here's me PWNING some Stupid Bots.  It's actually pretty fun.

If that was a “real” game, I would have been metaphorically chewed up, spit out, and then defecated on in the game, by players on both teams. I will be surprised if youtube comments to this video wont backup that sentiment. I don’t know what the deal is with DOTA and its games it has inspired, but they have the absolute worst gaming communities I’ve ever seen, and I play everything. Since I’m trying to keep this blog relatively professional, I can’t even begin to accurately display just how scummy and vile the community surrounding LoL and similar games really are. Kids with cracking voices playing unhealthy amounts of FPS games seem downright civil next to many of the players of these games. The thing is that I think the way that these games are designed encourages their anti-social behavior.

The first issue is that dying to an enemy player makes them stronger. After a few deaths a sizable advantage emerges that cannot be easily overcome as the person repeatedly dying has “fed” the opposing team experience and gold. This effectively leaves little room for mistakes on the part of the players.

Second, the open means to achieve the end of the game is problematic. I’ve had armchair generals telling me that my build order was dumb when I was outperforming them in the game. I’ve had enemies complaining that my “backdoor” tactic of attacking unattended towers was a “scrub” move that would never work in “pro games,” when clearly we were all in a match-making Pick-up Game (PUG) that was nothing close to a truly competitive match. Everyone has their own opinion, and even in the face of irrefutable evidence like victory, their opinion is better than yours. Though it is amusing to watch some of these LoL players ultimately insult themselves for losing to “scrub” strategies performed by a terrible player like myself, it really gets tiresome and is detrimental to the core gaming experience.

Not that Riot Games really cares. Just looking at their business model of selling playable heroes and hero skins for exorbitant amounts of money that would make Microsoft Xbox LIVE Avatar marketers blush is enough to show that LoL isn’t targeting an educated, let alone intelligent, base of gamers. League of Legends would be a great game for LANs if there was no grinding or pay-to-play mechanics involved beyond just buying a disc with all the content on it and available. Unfortunately, LoL is just mediocre.



Hmm... Still looks like a Ripoff even with Pretend Money.

As this quirky genre expands its tendrils into other styles of gameplay, like first-person shooters as Monday Night Combat seems to be doing, it will be fun to watch the evolving discussions. Currently, there’s no set name for this genre that encompasses DOTA, LoL, and the latest entry Heroes of Newerth, as various forum threads and even Wikipedia discussion pages capture. As a fan of general chaos, watching all this “meta” strife is incredibly satisfying as the game developers and their rabid zombie fans try and push their ideal label for marketing, be it Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) or RTS Arena, on everyone else. Hopefully Monday Night Combat (if it comes out for PC) will prove to be a better experience all around, with a community that I can accurately portray in good company.

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