League Of Legends Review: Free, Addictive, Worthy

What started as a modification of Warcraft III by a group of fans has turned into an ambitious free-to-play PC strategy title packed with a surprising amount of tactics in an easy to pick-up-and-play package.

In League of Legends you take on the role of a summoner, calling forth a champion that you control in Warcraft-esque skirmishes as you work to tear down defensive positions and destroy the enemy nexus. Working with other player-controlled champions, the game is based on cooperation and collaboration, with all of the micro-managing thrown out the window.

League of Legends won't cost you a dime to play, but is it good enough to convince you to shell out cash to upgrade and excel?

Loved Simplified Strategy: Built on the core of Warcraft III, League of Legends strips away the need to micro-manage, or manage at all. Defence towers exist when a match starts, minions spawn automatically and course through a map's paths on pre-determined routes, stopping to attack the first foes they encounter or to try and level enemy defence towers. You have no control over any of that. What you do have control over is your single champion, his or her ability to impact the lines of minions, and the champion's growing power, which can be used in battles to shift the tide of war. Of course you also have to look out for the other champions on the map looking to take you out or clear a path to your nexus home base.

Cornucopia of Champions: In many ways, League of Legends plays like a straight-up action role-playing title. The character you level up over the course of a match is selected from a growing number of champions, each with their own abilities, spells, attack styles and look. As you play through a match your champion earns experience and levels up, unlocking skills and spells that only last until the match ends. The game launches with 40 of these characters with a steady stream promised from the developers. Mastering the game is one challenge, but learning the ins and outs of each champion is the sort of enjoyable task that could takes months to complete.

Mastering Masteries: While the champion you summon and control is drawn from the same ever-expanding pool all of the other players draw from, the summoner (that's you) levels up over time, earning mastery points which can be applied to three different fields: offence, defence and utility. The way you spend these points impacts whatever champion you decide to use in a match giving them stronger attacks, better defence, improving their magic or even tweaking the spells they can cast. This summoner levelling adds another level of complexity to the already cleverly constructed game.

Items and Spells: Champions all start out as level one at the beginning of a map, but as you gain experience they level up, letting you assign points to their abilities and spells. The fact that you have some choice means that even if two of the same champions meet in battle, there's a good chance they won't play the same. On top of that, you can spend the gold your champion earns in battle to buy magical items that augment attack and defence abilities, spells and give your character new skills.

Stealth: While the maps can get a little old over time, the fact that there are creatures stalking the marsh and woods between paths can make things interesting. Better still, certain areas of the map allow you to hide from other characters, making it possible for you to slip behind them during battle and pull off a stealth attack.

Anime Warcraft: The selection of champions include a wide variety of art styles, from large-eyed, big-headed anime-ish characters, to characters that would fit in as heroes in Warcraft III. The look, as much as the abilities, of these champions are the biggest reason you may want to take the time to master one.

Free Forever: While it's probably worth dropping $US30 to pick up the collector's pack, and score special runes, items and a champion, you can actually play this game for absolutely nothing. The better you are at it, the more points you earn to use in the online store to purchase new champions and other power-up items. And the game always gives you access to 20 of the 40 champions. If you're not good, or you're impatient, you can also spend cash to buy items, champions or new skins. It's a serious win-win.

Hated Need More Maps: With the game already out for more than a week, there's really only one map to play on and earn experience. A snow version of the map is said to exist, but I could never find a match with one. A third, smaller map is in beta right now. As much as I love the game, and I borderline can't-stop-playing love it, the lack of maps is a serious issue. Riot Games' biggest push right now should be on rolling out more maps so the current one doesn't go so stale no one will ever want to play it again.

Slow Matchmaking: Matchmaking in League of Legends is a surprisingly long affair. I've waited as long as 15 minutes to find a match, though waits of closer to a few minutes is closer to the norm. While it's hard to directly control, I also found a high percentage of whinny, insular gamers in the matches I played. They complained about tactics, about losing, about experience points. Maybe creating different rooms or leagues could help cut down on the player in-fighting because it's a real turnoff.

As a long-time fan of real-time strategy games, I approached League of Legends with more than a little doubt that it could provide the sort of engagement and intellectual stimulation I'm used to from my RTS gaming sessions. But it only took a couple of matches to prove me wrong.

My biggest concern with League of Legends is not whether it's worth playing, but whether it can survive under the creative micro-transaction pricing system that Riot Games has established to financially support the title.

League of Legends was developed by and published by Riot Games for the PC on October 27. The game is free to play, though you can spend cash on upgrades. The collector's edition sells for $US29.99. A copy of the collector's edition and a $US10 gift card for in-game item purchases were given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through training mode and dozens of matches with 20 of the 40 champions.

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Comments

    Please get your facts right.

    League of Legends is based off a custom map for Warcraft 3 - not a modification of Warcraft 3 itself.

    That's all DotA - Defense of the Ancients - is. It's a single, custom, map. Nothing more.

    Man i respect your opinion but... I hate this game SO MUCH.

    If you like Dota, you should give both this game and heroes of newerth a try. HoN is better imo.

    I have to assume from the style that Crecente has just never played dota (the 'original') from reading this, but he's given a fairly good overview of the idea in general.

    What turns me off this particular dota clone is the worry that an overall 'gamer level' and micro transactions for items might unbalance the setup.

    Good news for gamers is that between League of Legends, Heroes of Newearth and Demigod we are spoilt for choice at the moment.

    I've been playing HoN more than the other 2 and I think it's the better of the 3, it does have balance issues though but it is still in beta.

    I bought Demigod to start with, found it enjoyable, but still had some issues and was somewhat slow paced and a smaller community (especially Australians) and didn't have the best netcode, especially since it was P2P, anyone with any sort of internet problem would make the game unplayable.

    I then found LoL, it was more fun and fast paced, but like stated by philomglol the added levels of the summoner, micro-transactions etc, will mean those who spend money will have better/stronger heroes.

    I then got into HoN CB. It is fast paced like LoL, but not as anime stylized. It still has some time to go since it to has limited maps, but has been expanding in game modes and heroes. They have balancing problems at the moment, mostly since they've not added all the heroes yet, thus some counters to others don't exist. The only problem with HoN atm is the community. It is full of ex-DoTA elitists and well jerks. Since it doesn't matchmake yet, games are often stacked and people are often abusive to others not up to their skill level.

    As was mentioned in the previous comments, HoN is the much better game overall. However, its true, the community is pretty hopeless at letting 'new players' in.

    LoL is ALOT more newb friendly than DotA or HoN ever were. And I think thats part of the issue with the game. That and it feels like I'm playing a flash game in a browser =\

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