GDC 09: League of Legends was a pleasant surprise

Here’s my prediction: League of Legends is going to be a popular game. Don’t be ashamed if you don’t know what it is, though. Even though I’ve heard the name before, I didn’t really know what the game was before today. Now I’ve come away pretty excited about the upcoming title.

League of Legends is an online multiplayer battle real-time strategy PC game from Riot Games. This is their first game, coming from a senior staff with several notable members: art director Hokyo Kim did art on Sucker Punch’s Sly Cooper games; director Mark Franz worked on Ultima Online and Sims Online, and Ian Pieragostini was the lead engineer on for EA’s Godfather and for Microsoft Racing Studios. And this is only a sampling of the experienced staff.

The team’s goal was to make a new kind of game, a sort of hybrid of strategy games and that MMO battle action that everyone seems to dig. But it’s not an MMO. It’s way more fast-paced — you still get leveling and new abilities and the like, but it all comes at a much faster speed, and in a more approachable package. This makes for a session-based game where you can sit down and go head-to-head with another group. I did just that and I really liked what I’ve seen so far.

If this game sounds kind of like a few things you’ve seen or played before, then you’re probably on the right track. The game combines the best parts of Defense of the Ancients (a Warcraft III mod) and something like World of Warcraft: Battlegrounds into a totally new title that breaks out of a mod’s limitations. In fact, Riot employs creators of DotA-Allstars. They gave us this analogy: the level of progression from DotA to League of Legends is similar to that of Everquest to World of Warcraft. You’re getting a focused, approachable game that doesn’t have dated graphics or limited features. The end result is something that’s easy to pick up, fun to play, and has a mass appeal that goes beyond any of the previously listed titles. In fact, if you know nothing of the above mentioned games, don’t worry — you’ll still probably enjoy League of Legends.

You play this game as a Summoner, a sort of god who watches over and guides your chosen Champion. There’s several of these legendary champions to chose from — you just pick one and jump into battle, guiding their attacks, boosting their abilities, and moving them toward victory against other online opponent Summoners on an opposing team. And it is team-based. You’ll pick preset characters much like you would in an arcade fighting game, and then it’s up to you to tell them where to attack, what spells or powers to use, and how to equip them.

Nice, stylized graphical style shown here.

In battle your goal is to take down an opposing team in short matches in various battle arenas. In battle you’ll find that you will grow as a Summoner, letting you build up your skills and powers, which in turn lets you channel that energy through your Champion on the battlefield. And your Champion will also quickly gain levels, starting out at level one but gaining powers and strength throughout the session. When the next session starts, your chosen Champion will be at level one again, though. You’ll summon and grow them as needed, per battle.

I had the pleasure of getting into a 3-on-3 match of League of Legends. After learning the simple mouse commands (right click to move, right click on targets to attack, left click for spells) and keyboard commands (keys Q, W, E, and R represent the four possible spells) I was set for battle. I chose a small, agile Champion that was a thorn in the side of my opponents, as he could poison, confuse, and basically annoy them all to death. It was a back-and-forth battle that took up the better part of an hour. Our goal was to take over the enemy base while defending ours, all while fighting and powering up. As the battle went on, I was able to pump earned experience points into my Champion, bringing him up from a weakling into a very fast and pretty powerful opponent, equipped with weapons and spells and tweaks. 

Ultimately my team lost, but the action was so addictive that I wanted to jump back in again. If I didn’t have other appointments lined up, I definitely would have asked for another go at it. Much like an arcade game you’d pop quarters into, LoL has a jump-in-and-go kind of feel, and I could easily see players having a favorite Champion, much like fighting game fanatics have a preferred character to play with.

League of Legends is a mixture between session-based battle games and the persistent elements of an MMO. It’s not really a real-time strategy game, and it’s definitely not an MMO. It takes the best of both and puts them in to a fun, stylized battle arena that’s easy to get into and enjoy. I really like this, and I’m really looking forward to playing more of it when it launches some time in 2009.

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Dale North
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