League of Legends: A beginner’s introduction to MOBA
By Nicolas Chua (Raiyne), OnRPG Journalist
League of Legends (LoL) is another rising challenger in the unique genre of Defence of the Ancients (DotA) clones. That’s quite a mouthful, let’s just refer to them as Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs) from now on. LoL has two of the ex-DotA contributors on board their team, Steve “Guinsoo”, one of the early developers of DotA and Steve “Pendragon”, who created the popular DotA fan-site. With these two on the team, there are high expectations for LoL.
The Game Options
Once you login, you’ll be at the main area of the game lobby using the server, PVP.net. The lobby is the main place where you can access social functions, the LoL store and game options. The lobby currently feels very empty and few people bother to click on the chat tabs at the bottom of the screen to enter a chat room. You’ll find that outside the game’s arenas, you are pretty much by yourself. Additionally, you cannot choose the game you wish to join. The game employs a matchmaking system based on the Elo rating system used in board game tournaments such as Chess and Go. Also, from the game lobby you can access your summoner profile. This summoner system is LoL’s persistent feature, we’ll touch on that later on in the review.
After joining a game, you will be brought to the champion selection screen. LoL has a roster of 37 unique champions, meaning they aren’t copied over from DotA, so newbie or DotA veteran, you will definitely have to readjust to the new cast. A neat function is the filter they have added, where you can type in a keyword describing your desired champion, such as “assassin” and you can easily find a champion in the archetype you’d like to play. You will be able to see a bunch of bars roughly estimating the champion’s abilities in each area of expertise – health, attack, spells and difficulty. The other tabs also contain a wealth of information, such as suggested items and champion specific strategies. I find this a really nice touch and, for a newbie who hasn’t tried every champion, it brings a lot of convenience to champion selection. The next two screens are for Runes, another form of enhancement for your champions and your summoner’s skills, which give you additional spells to use in combat. After you have completed your character, the game will go to the loading screen where you will get your first look at your opponents. I found the game took a long time to load, sometimes taking a few minutes when you have an opponent with a slow computer.
A League of Legends battle
The core gameplay of LoL is the same as DotA, with slightly different elements added. In case you aren’t familiar with DotA, here’s how it goes: Separated into two teams, each player takes a champion unit and advances towards the opponent’s base. Defensive towers guard each side’s area of the map and lesser units, which are commonly referred to as ‘creeps’, spawn at regular intervals and serve as cannon fodder. Killing these units and opponent champions earns gold which can be spent at the shop to purchase items to empower your champion. The goal is to destroy your opponent’s key structure. There is a tutorial mode, which provides a good introduction for a new player, and there are A.I. bots to practice against as well.
Controlling my champion was extremely simple, more so than DotA. The same concept of getting the killing blow applies here, although it seems to have less significance, with less reward compared to its predecessor. The basic RTS hotkeys we’re familiar with are also non-existent, namely the stop and hold function. In their bid to attract newer players, this seems to make the game feel over simplified and it left me experiencing a lack of control over my champion.
One segment of gameplay I really had issues with is the purchasing of items. The shop is a series of menus. Under the under a first initial category is another list of subcategories under it. Unlike DotA’s different shops arranged in plain sight or Heroes of Newerth’s (another upcoming MOBA styled game) less dense ‘pop open’ menu, LoL has no option to quickly jump from the different sections and this made it hassle to buy items. The categories are well labelled, though.
Another issue is that there is no way to drop or trade items. This leaves a lot of options closed to the player. For example, in DotA players would often share a regeneration item, a consumable, or have a teammate ferry an item stored in the base out to them in the battlefield. As a result of this, I found myself rarely communicating with my teammates, only occasionally pinging the mini-map. However, I felt there was a small redeeming factor in this aspect of the design, and that was showing ‘item trees’, where the progressive path of an item is shown. The player is clearly shown the options he has to combine and improve his arsenal of items. – certainly a welcome feature for newbies.
The MOBA Genre
Many mechanics of DotA have been stripped from LoL. For one thing, there is no loss of gold upon death, meaning even the most dim witted player will be able to obtain high tier items after time. There is also no option to deny your enemy killing your friendly unit. There are no activated items either, so at most you’ll be using potions for boosts or healing. There is no buyback (instantly revive your champion for a price) function. These features certainly give you a lot less to think about, however the price of this is what most players find, a rather watered down game.
What the developers had hoped to achieve with these decisions, was to promote engagement of the enemy and thus more action for players. They claim that “top level games include 5v5 battles at level 1”, however, I find this rather hard to believe.
In essence, I feel they missed out on the flaws and limitations of this genre. By making your players start with the bare minimum of 1 skill, you’re making them rely on their champions level, so there is no way you can encourage your players to engage at level 1 with a single weak skill in their arsenal. Focus has already been shifted from ‘farming’ creeps by decreasing reward and increasing hero kill reward.
Champions versus enemies
On the plus side, I find the community to be strangely docile. In all the games I have played, I have seen very little trash talk or players lashing out. Leavers are one thing, and that is a rather common issue, but perhaps LoL’s forgiving nature gives players a less stress and in turn, the players are nicer to each other. However, your experience may vary, so don’t take my word for it.
Moving on, the summoner is one of the unique features of LoL. As a player completes more games and levels up, he gets mastery points. These points can be added to 3 different paths, similar the talent trees in World of Warcraft. The three masteries are Offense, Defense and Utility. This adds a level of depth to the player’s choice of customization and a sense of progression, although it happens in plain statistics and figures. One drawback I can see, is that higher ranked players will have significant advantages over a newbie, although the matchmaking system is programmed to prevent such matches from occurring.
Taking notice of Battle.net’s flaw in multiplayer game hosting, LoL uses a server to client networking system. Hence, unlike DotA, the stability of each match will not depend on the speed of the host’s network. This also eliminates the advantage of the host having zero latency, which happens over internet games due to the way Warcraft 3 has been coded. Also, my experience with latency was surprisingly good, receiving less than 150 latency even with heavy network traffic on my side, so games went smooth as silk and not once did I experience any form of lag.
Graphics and Style
LoL has adopted rather cartoon-ish graphical style, with a very colourful palette. The game world really jumps out at you like a pop-out page from a child’s book. The characters are rendered in a cell shaded style, making them look almost 2D sometimes, giving you the impression of a cartoon. Animations are smooth and the effects compliment everything well, adding to the chaos in large battles. Visual quality is clear in LoL, however, preference is definitely the deciding factor here and it will be a hit or miss with the player. Also, it is quite a big change to go from the slightly dark mood of DotA, or the grim crispness of HoN to this prismatic bundle of joy. Alright, maybe not so much joy, but you get the point.
The audio in LoL is rather sub par. Each champion has his or her own unique voice and responses to your commands, but that is expected. We can’t have every character with the same voice now, can we? The sound effects are fitting but are basically the typical run-of-the-mill fantasy effects. A woosh of an arrow, the cling-clang of swords, nothing amazing here. Background music in the game is rather subtle, a low droning that doesn’t do much for the player.I found my aural experience to be really empty and it was better to just put some music on to fill that void in the background. Basically, the audio is there, but you’re not going to notice it much.
LoL is estimated to be released in Q4 2009, with a F2P with optional payments for other benefits. With this business scheme, I foresee it will be very appealing to new players who want to give this genre of games a try.
In conclusion, LoL brings a twist to the new MOBA genre, choosing not to limit itself to the style of its predecessor and instead shifting the focus of the game to what they envision is best for their player, a bold move. The learning curve is gentle, so newbies to this genre or to the game will not feel intimidated or overwhelmed at all. Overall, League of Legends is a simple, enjoyable MOBA, however it leaves something to be desired for the experienced MOBA player.
– Newbie friendly
– Simple and no frills gameplay
– Quality cell-shaded cartoon graphics.
– Oversimplified mechanics
– Bland audio
– Lacking in social interaction.