I don’t know how we got to the point where I’m reviewing League of Legends in 2018, but we’re here and I’m surprisingly okay with this timeline. A mere six months ago, if you had told me that League of Legends would have sunk its hooks into me, I would’ve told you that you were crazy. I say this not because I expected the game to be bad by any means–there’s a reason it’s the most popular PC game on the planet–but instead just because I never saw myself getting into MOBAs.
Jump forward to today and League of Legends has quickly become a staple in my weekly gaming rotation to the point that it’s causing my current backlog of games to gather even more dust. I’ve played more League of Legends in the past six months than I likely have any other game of the past few years which says a lot about not only how replayable it is, but also how addicting it is. It’s this level of replayability combined with the continued pursuit of mastering the gameplay mechanics of many different champions that keeps me coming back to League of Legends, even though it’s definitely a game that isn’t without issues.
At this point in time, MOBAs are a known quantity and League of Legends has been out for nearly a decade so I don’t really need to explain the core ideas of the game too much. You select which of the five roles you’d like to play, choose one of the over 140 champions that League of Legends offers at this point in time, and head out onto Summoner’s Rift in the pursuit of destroying the enemy team’s Nexus that lies within the center of their base. Along the way, you’ll level up your champion, gain new abilities, and purchase items that further increase your stats to better equip you for battle.
I think what I find so compelling about League of Legends is that at its core, everything I just explained is the rough outline of what each game brings but the more you dig in, the more you see just how many different factors are at play in any given match. League of Legends is a game all about decisions and the decisions you make begin before you ever enter the Rift.
In addition to choosing your role and character to play as you also have to choose which runes you’d like to carry with you into a game. Each rune comes from a different skill tree and will give you vastly different stats bonuses or boosts that are typically passive to your character. You also have to choose two summoner spells to carry with you which give you added abilities such as teleporting across the map, igniting an enemy on fire to do damage, or flashing, which is a quick jump from one point to another.
Once you actually enter the game and start earning gold, you’ll then begin the process of building items, of which there are many. However, not every item is helpful to your own character and the traits that they specialize in, so it’s important to build these items out in a way that is going to help you scale.
What’s great is that often times, there is no exact “right” answer with how to approach any of this. Yes, there are certain schemes, builds, and champions that might be buffed or nerfed in a given patch that you might be encouraged to use, but that doesn’t mean they’re surefire bets to give you success. League of Legends at least gives you all of the tools to try new things and play in the style that you want, which is refreshing.
What can be a bit frustrating about all of this depth though is that League of Legends itself really doesn’t explain a lot of this to you as a new player. Yes, you’re prompted to go through a tutorial and play a few games against bots once you first begin playing League for the first time, but the added depth with things like runs and item building paths are never really further explained in the game. If I didn’t have a walking League of Legends encyclopedia for a roommate, I would’ve been completely lost in a lot of these finer details of the game at first. To really dig into these elements you’re mainly left to research it all for yourself outside of the confines of the game so that you’re better equipped next time you play. As GI Joe says, knowing is half the battle, or whatever.
As someone who is jumping in–and reviewing–League of Legends nearly ten years after its release, one thing that I can’t help but love is the number of champions that there are to play. As mentioned, the roster now sits at 141 different characters with each lane getting a roughly equal proportion of champs to choose from. Sadly, you don’t get all of these characters up front and have to purchase a vast number of them. It’s by no means a requirement to own the entire roster to have a good time with League of Legends, but by comparison to something like Overwatch, it feels asinine that you wouldn’t get more characters when first starting out.
Currently, I own 46 of the 141 champions that are in League of Legends and of the ones that I own, I’ve likely spent $40-$60 of my own money on. That’s also not even considering the fact that I’ve spent a fair amount of my own in-game currency (Blue Essence) to obtain those 46 champions. The real money that I’ve spent has mainly been to buy characters as part of larger bundles or to snag them when they go on sale. The highest valued champions in League of Legends cost 975 Riot Points, which equates to $7.99 in real money. That’s an incredibly steep price to purchase one single character. Skins are an even more egregious monetary proposition in the game’s market, but I have yet to purchase one for myself mainly due to just how asinine the cost is for most of them.
Issues with the storefront and its costs aside, where League of Legends truly shines is on the mechanic and macro front. Each match has so many different paths to victory and each individual character has an extraordinary amount of depth when it comes to mastering them. There’s also a great variety of champs from those who are technically difficult to use like Zed, Azir, and Irelia compared to those like Volibear, Pantheon, and Garen which are much more well-suited to those who want to point and click their way to success in a simpler fashion. Learning the ins and outs of each champion and slowly seeing yourself become better with them over time to dominate others is one of the best feelings that I’ve had in video games in years, even though I don’t do all that much dominating myself.
Along with this depth to each character, the amount of nuance, knowledge, map awareness, pathing, and focus that must be had in all five roles that League of Legends offers makes it even that much more complex. Having decided to specialize in the Jungler role out of the gate–a major error on my part to be sure–I still feel like I know next to nothing about how to properly play the role. That said, I still find myself strangely intrigued by this.
More so than any other competitive game I have played in the past, I have this weird, longing desire to actually want to get better at League of Legends. This is something that I’ve never really felt in a multiplayer game before and I think the reason why it clicks with me is because I do see how much depth it offers. It’s kind of like basketball in the sense that anyone can go shoot hoops on a basket, but not everyone can be Michael Jordan hitting game-winning shots in the NBA Finals. The ceiling of League of Legends is so high and while I know I’ll never be like the game’s best, I at least want to push myself to become better because I can see from others what it looks like to have mastered certain aspects of League of Legends.
This being said, the way in which League of Legends ranks its players is incredibly frustrating and your ranking doesn’t seem to accurately reflect your skills. When playing ranked games, the hierarchy and your movement up the ladder is determined solely by the number of victories you have. If you win a game, you’ll earn some points and move up the ladder to potentially move up to the next tier. Lose a game, and you’ll lose more of those same points. On paper, this makes relative sense but it becomes incredibly problematic in the sense that sometimes losing a game isn’t always your fault.
Look, I’m not using this as a means of flaming past teammates in this review and blaming them for losses — you win and lose as a team. That said, League of Legends more so than any other game I’ve really played in recent memory can go completely awry in a hurry due to poor play from only one of your players. If less than 10 minutes into a game one of your laners dies multiple times to those they’re facing in lane, your game could virtually be over no matter how hard you try to turn things around. That’s how quickly things can get out of control.
This means that to best climb the ranking ladder within League of Legends, you essentially need to learn how to play as hyper-carries that can lead your team to victory. As someone who prefers, and finds more success, on supportive players rather than those meant to lead the charge, the pursuit of climbing the ranks has become more annoying than anything else. This method of ranking doesn’t really provide much feedback on how good or bad that I am at League of Legends and furthermore, it doesn’t really tell the whole story of each game.
I also might as well mention this now, and it’s not usually something that I would take into account in a review, but I almost feel it necessary to touch on just how vile and toxic the League of Legends community can be. The more I’ve started to dig into this game, the more I’ve been asked by some friends how I can even stomach to play it so regularly due to the hatred from those that often populate its servers. Heck, even fellow staff writers here at DualShockers have asked me this same thing time and time again. As much as I love to play League of Legends, it really is hard stick around for too long at times just due to some of the interactions you’ll have while playing. It’s also challenging not to return that malice with some of your own and become exactly like everyone else. I don’t think the whole League of Legends community is bad by any means, but it’s far more negative than it is positive in my experience which is a shame.
There’s a lot of other smaller aspects of League of Legends that I really appreciate that don’t make big waves on their own, but in unison, they stand out. Having the ability to pour over your past stats from a game and see where you did well and where you didn’t is more helpful than anything else when trying to improve. I also love being able to watch back and clip footage from your last twenty games. When I got my first Pentakill–which might be one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had in a video game–being able to clip the sequence and save it onto my computer to show all of my friends was really cool.
Additionally, Riot Games does a great job of pushing out frequent updates that not only continue to shape League of Legends and its meta, but also add fun new events and game modes to play in. As of this writing, World Championships 2018 are occurring and I’ve been having a great time trying to knock out the weekly challenges that have coincided with the tournament. All For One, a mode that sees teams of five of the same character facing off against one another, is another mode that was added for a limited time earlier this year and was an absolute blast to play. Essentially, Riot just really nails the quality of life stuff in League of Legends and continues to entice you to come back even when the game is not really on your mind.
I’m not one to stick around and play multiplayer games for months on end but League of Legends has hooked me in a way that no other competitive game has before. The prospect of learning how to both utilize and counter nearly 150 characters in League of Legends mixed with an ever-changing meta continues to challenge me as the player to adapt and improve my own playstyle. League of Legends has kept me on my toes to the point where I’m now reading patch notes and researching methods of play for hours on end outside of actually playing.
Despite having some clear problems in certain avenues, League of Legends is one of the most replayable games I have ever poured my time into and I don’t see myself moving on from it anytime soon. For the first time in my life, I think I’ve found a game that I will actually continue returning to for years on end. Taking an educated guess that many others seem to mirror my own sentiments, it’s easy to see just how League of Legends has become as enormous as it is.