SEATTLE — I miss Defense of the Ancients. “Well, Marc, it’s not like DotA has disappeared–you can go play it right now!” While true, I haven’t played in a long time, and there have been so many changes to characters, additions of new ones and balancing in every which direction that I stand no chance against those who have been playing the game since before I stopped, not unless I want to look like a total noob for a considerable length of time. That’s no fun for anyone, so when I read that a new game, League of Legends, was being created by Riot Games, my interest piqued. Here was a new, built-from-the-ground-up experience, and without the restrictions that a mod of Warcraft 3 came up against, and it was not just being worked on by former Blizzard developers, but was also receiving an assist from some of the folks who brought DotA to being in the first place.
At the least, League of Legends would turn out to be on the same level as DotA, which isn’t a bad thing. After all, the one reason I said I haven’t jumped back in to that game, one I have spent more time than I care to admit playing, is due to the extended break and reeducation that would be necessary for me to get back into it. Here was a whole new experience though, still in beta, that everyone had to learn anew, putting myself and anyone else who feels the same way–or new audiences altogether–on equal footing.That’s why I’m excited to report that League of Legends isn’t “just” as good as as DotA–it’s got the potential to be noticeably better, to the point of keeping you from DotA servers from now on.
For those unfamiliar with this style of gameplay, it’s arena based PvP play. You pick a champion–League of Legends boasts 40 original champions, each with their own skillset–and you, along with your teammates and AI controlled minions, attempt to take out enemy towers along the way to their base, which your goal is to destroy. That was the point of DotA as well, but there have been some changes. First of all, League of Legends is designed to run matches a bit faster than DotA, so you may not have as many epic-length matches (read: drawn out matches where you are clearly going to lose, but the game isn’t ready for that to happen yet) but competitors of even skill levels will see matches go a bit longer. The matchmaking system will also help this along a bit, as it will put you with similarly skilled opponents and teammates.
Second, there’s just one shop this time around, and you can get everything you need there. Anyone who has ever navigated the mess that was the DotA shops will appreciate the refinements made here. There’s a recommended item set, and each item you can create has the full recipe necessary for it listed for you as well, so you can just buy from there rather than searching out all of the individual pieces yourself. Item types are broken down into weapons, armors, etc., but are further broken down into categories, such as life steal, armor, critical hit, etc. That’s going to be wonderful for those who want to go beyond the recommended items and create some nifty pieces on their own.
One other major change that bears mentioning is the new summoner system. Whereas in DotA, each match was a one and done deal, in League of Legends there is incentive to play, play often, and stick around in the matches you are involved in, even if defeat is imminent. The summoner is you; it’s your account, and the summoner is the one who picks the champions for use in each match. Your summoner gains experience from your matches, and this XP leads to earning levels that unlock skills for you to use. Your champion will have their own four skills, but you can add two of your summoner’s powers to their own; things like Teleport and Heal, so you can move around the map more easily or heal yourself and allies close to you. There are tons of these skills, but you have to unlock them as stated, but it gives you another strategic level to work with, and also plenty of incentive to play a whole lot of League of Legends.
The game will have a retail version, but also be available to play for free. Riot Games has reconciled these two different versions in an intelligent manner–the boxed, retail version will have all of the bonus materials unlocked from the start (though nothing that makes gameplay easier for them, just the kind of stuff you would unlock if you played a lot of League of Legends over the course of six months). The free-to-play version will not have those same goods, and you’ll have to earn them the old-fashioned way.
I’ve played a few matches of League of Legends in the beta that’s running right now in addition to my time with the title at PAX, and I’m impressed by its ease of use. It’s very much like DotA in all of the good ways, but has also improved in areas where DotA either did not or could not, and that makes it a title worth paying attention to. We have beta codes to give away if you want to give the game a looksie on your own, and we’ll have more details for you very soon on how you can score yourself one of them. For now, enjoy the massive gallery of screenshots that features almost every champion in the game.