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League of Legends Review
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Author:HiveFleetBehemoth
IP:c-98-198XXXX
Date: 08/20/11 06:08
Game Type: Other
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League of Legends, affectionately abbreviated by its fans as LoL, has to be the best game that many people have never heard of. But that's changing, in a good way. The game has been growing massively in popularity as of late, with over 15 million players. Developed and updated by the newly formed Riot Games, LoL has been spearheading the rising popularity of DotA type games with its free to play business model and easy to learn, damn tough to master, gameplay. Don’t know what DotA games are? DotA, short for Defense of the Ancients, was the wildly popular Warcraft 3 mod whose innovative yet simple gameplay revolves around teams of five players going head to head on a battlefield set with three lanes of eternally spawning minions backed up by immobile yet powerful towers to hold the line. The best part about DotA games is that they’re like a MMO in forty minutes; your champion’s stats and abilities become stronger as he levels up, while last hitting minions and destroying towers earns you gold, which you can use to buy items and thus expansively customize your character.


League of Legends possesses a number of new mechanics and improvements that make it a far better game than DotA, the best of which has to be the removal of denial, the act of killing your own minions to deny your opponent the XP and gold from killing them. Denial sucks, because it slows down the game dramatically and removes any strategy behind timing creep waves to knock out enemy towers, as well as ensuring that the champion who is naturally a better laner, rather than most skilled, will always win. While I won’t go too much into the differences between DotA and LoL, (you can find them here: http://na.leagueoflegends.com/learn/dota_and_lol) I will talk about the general features of League of Legends and why they make such a great game. Safe to say, being a multiplayer focused arena game makes LoL a very gameplay heavy game.


Gameplay


The objective of winning the game is destroying your opponent’s nexus, which is a lot more difficult than it sounds. That’s because destroying the nexus depends upon how well you can destroy your opponents’ towers. Towers are basically the axis that a game of LoL turns on, not only because they help you get to the nexus, but also because they provide gold, experience, control of your jungle, and can devastate enemy champions early in the game. Teams that lose a lot of their towers will find themselves hedged into their base, without any good line of sight or protection. However, towers do have a few restrictions. The most noticeable weakness is that they aren’t very good against minions, particularly the giant cannon ones. The second major weakness they have is that they won’t target enemy champions while there are still enemy minions within range, unless an enemy champion attacks a friendly champion. In that case the tower will target the enemy champion in question with impunity. The overwhelming weakness that towers have is their nonexistent scalability; they go from being incredibly powerful against minions and champions to being fairly weak against both by the end of a game. The two inner towers that solely protect the inhibitor, however, remain strong against champions across the duration of a game, and regenerate health over time. The outer towers protect the areas between each of the lanes, known collectively as the jungle. The jungle is overgrown with tons of brush, winding passageways, and filled with neutral creeps, some of which grant important buffs when slain.


             The jungle

             The line of three outer towers in each lane is good for more than just protecting the path to the nexus and the jungle. Their existence also protects their lane’s inhibitor, which is located inside the team in question’s base. Eliminating an opponent’s inhibitor is a crucial step towards victory, as an inhibitor’s destruction will cause your nexus to spawn super minions in that lane. Super minions are extremely tough and vastly superior to regular minion waves, so a team that has lost an inhibitor will be forced into leaving one man at their base to defend, unless they don’t mind endangering their inner towers to the threat of an inevitable super minion wave. Which is why timing is everything. Particularly when it comes to killing, or “farming”, enemy minions for gold.

Minion farming, the act of last hitting minions for gold and extra experience, is a lot more ingenious of an idea than it may initially sound. That’s because, while your champion is farming minions, you will have to contend with an enemy champion who is trying to do the exact same thing you are. To further complicate matters, you may have to contend with an additional enemy, or even an ally in your lane! This leads to a couple of important factors to consider, including how good you and your champion is at farming minions compared to your opponent, and how well you can compete against them. Outfarming and killing your opponents are important things to consider, and a bad match-up can rain on your parade unless you switch with champions in other lanes. In other words, the champion you pick will have a massive effect on you and your team’s gameplay.


Champions are the focal point of League of Legends, and as such, there is a wide variety of and depth to them. One ability can be upgraded at every level up, so there is some customizability in the emphasis you wish to place on each ability. Each champion has five special abilities, three of which are normal, activated abilities with cooldowns from anywhere around two to ten seconds. These abilities are your champions’ meat and potatoes that you’ll be using a vast majority of the time, and as such, varying immensely from champion to champion. For example, Singed can toggle on a poison trail, Jarvan can throw a standard to a location and then activate the ability again to leap to that location, and Ashe can toggle a mana-consuming slowing ability on her basic attacks. On some champions, using abilities in a certain order will even give you combo bonuses. Another one of the abilities is your passive, which is constantly active while your champion is alive. Passives can be anything from increasing the experience gain of your team, or flat out negating 10% of all magic damage to your champion, or even boosting every fifth ability you use with a stun. The most important ability on every champion, an ultimate, is almost always very powerful but comes with a long cooldown time, making its usage very precious. Ultimates usually typify and strengthen a champion’s type. For instance, Soraka, who can be classified as a healing-heavy support champion, has an ultimate that immediately heals all friendly champions.


Soraka, Soraka's icon for her ultimate, Singed using poison trail, Jarvan IV

A player can also bring two special abilities into battle. These are called summoner skills, and can be taken on any champion. They typically have very, very long cooldowns, but are very utile. The most popular one is flash, which immediately teleports your champion a short distance away, towards the cursor. Other abilities include revealing parts of the map, and even burning your opponent to death.


(left) List of summoner skills (right) The clairvoyance eye

But abilities are not the only characteristics of a champion. A champion’s statistics help to determine his strengths and weaknesses. The two most important parts of a character’s stats are the quantity of health and the type of ability usage system they have. Having more health obviously makes a character more able to take damage, while ability usage systems are most commonly either mana or energy, though certain characters may have their ability usage based on nothing but cooldowns or some wacky system. Other stats include health and mana/energy regeneration, health and mana/energy gained per level, speed, damage, attack speed, attack damage type, and physical and magical resistance. Though these stats, in addition to abilities, give champions inclinations towards certain roles, these stats can be augmented to provide for some flexibility and variety.

As your champion acquires gold throughout the game, he can buy items whenever he teleports back to his nexus to heal up. Items stretch across a wide spectrum of roles, with some stretching in between. Items can be classified as either passive or active; similar to abilities, passive benefits from items are persistent, while active items require being used, either to target an enemy or just to boost your champion temporarily. One statistic that only items can benefit a champion with is ability power, which boosts the potency of champions’ abilities to varying degrees, unless specified otherwise. Some items can buff teammates within a certain radius at the expense of personal benefits, while others can debuff enemy players, and some even drain enemies’ health in a radius around the champion. A champion can only carry six items at a given moment, so planning out a good item build over the course of the game is key. While items are the main way to customize your champion during a game, there are two ways to customize your champion before a game.

The price for power...

They are called runes and masteries. Masteries act like skill trees in any MMO- you get one point to spend for each level of your online rank, or summoner level. (The maximum level is 30, and you can never decrease in rank) The three trees are attack, defense, and utility, with attack being a tree used by offensive classes, particularly attack damage (AD) champions, defense is used by brawlers and tanks, and utility is used by pretty much anyone, particularly casters and ability power (AP) champions. Only twenty one points are needed to get to the bottom of each tree, so all champions are involved in at least two trees. Runes are stat-boosters bought from the Riot store using influence points, which are acquired from fighting battles. Runes have a number of complex rules associated with them, and are categorized into four types. Smart summoners maximize their runes to the type of role they wish their champion to fulfill.

(Top) A rune page (Bottom) A mastery page

Thanks to the available options, champions can be categorized into five broad categories, with many smaller subtypes. Some champions even fulfill multiple roles and variants

Champion Types

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Your selection of champions...

The first, and most important type, is the tank:

Meet the Tank

Nunu, Shen, Amumu

Tanks are the garbage men of their team. (There's a joke in here, somewhere) They have to take sh** from the enemy team, as their priority is to take hits from them, and if necessary, die to protect their glass cannon carries. Even worse, they have to take sh** from trash talking teammates, as a tank’s score is always going to very underwhelming compared to his flashier teammates. Indeed, the hallmark of a good tank is a negligible death count, and usually a very low or small kill count as the tank allows the damage dealers to stack up on gold. Also, good tanks adapt to minimize the damage they take from the enemy team. A hallmark of a good team is its ability to properly function with its tank, as tanks are central in the role of teamwork. Having your tank, as opposed to your squishy carry, suck up the enemy team’s firepower, can make or break a game. As you may expect, tanks are good at sucking up damage to varying degrees, and possess crowd control abilities they can use to control the enemy team.

Carries

Wait, what’s a carry? A carry is a champion that deals as much damage as it can without dying. Not dying is always dependent upon the quality of your support and tank, but also, and especially, your skill. Because with a carry, positioning is key, since a bad step can result in you getting squished (which isn’t impossible considering your low health). Carries are named such because they carry their teams to victory (or defeat); the game revolves around their damage output. There are two types of carries. Having one of each is critical, as it allows the team to deal a variety of different damage types. Some champions may even be hybrids, and deal differing levels of physical or magical damage, such as Nidalee (below).


Nidalee

Type 1: Physical Carry


Ashe, Master Yi, Corki

Physical carries are, in short, carries that deal physical damage. This usually means they are attack damage based, meaning that they deal their damage through their basic auto-attack, while their abilities are usually there to augment their basic attacks, slow enemies, or just make them versatile. Physical carries also tend to have melee attacks, though this is not always the case.

Type 2: Magical Carries


Annie, Kassadin, Karthus

Magic carries are carries that deal magic damage. They tend to be mages and thus very ability based, making them more skill intensive than attack damage characters. As such, they are very often ranged attackers.

Support


Sona, Taric, Janna

Support champions are there to shield, heal, revive, and buff their allies, as well as debuff, antagonize, and control the enemy. Good supports protect their carries during a team fight, and nurture them in lane like a mother raises its child. Supports usually tend to be magic damage dealers, and all possess some sort of crowd control.

Junglers


Warwick, Udyr, Olaf

Named for their method of gold gathering throughout most of the game, junglers kill the neutral creeps in the jungle for gold. Their constant movement throughout the game affords them the ability to take laning champions by surprise with an ambush, earning their team kills and critical farming advantages. Junglers tend to be physical damage dealers, though they can also be tanks.

To concretize all these factors, let me present to you an example: Zilean.

He’s a support mage harasser. His passive is pretty good; while alive, he gives all friendly champions an 8% increase to experience gain. He possesses a strong support spell, Speed; it speeds up allies (including Zilean) and slows enemies, depending on whom he casts it. He possesses one offensive spell, Time Bomb, which can be placed on a friend or foe. After six seconds, the time bomb explodes, dealing a lot of area of effect magic damage to foes. Zilean’s next ability, Rewind, is the ability that everything else revolves around. It reduces the cooldown on Zilean’s abilities by ten seconds. This means that Time Bomb comes off its 8 second cooldown when Rewind is cast, meaning that Time Bomb can be cast again. If Time Bomb is cast upon an enemy with a Time Bomb still on it, then the first time bomb detonates and the second time bomb will detonate in 6 seconds. This makes Zilean the most annoying harasser. To compensate, all of his abilities have long cooldowns, but spamming rewind will get his abilities back up in a jiffy, his ultimate included. And his ultimate is amazing. Zilean’s  ultimate, when cast on a friendly (including himself), places runes around the target for ten seconds. If the target dies in that period of time, then it is revived with a good amount of health, and ready to get back into the fight. Dying is really bad, as it gives your opponents gold and keeps you out of the game for anywhere from ten seconds to a minute, depending on level. That’s why Chronoshift is amazing.


Zilean's abilities: Heightened Learning, Time Bomb, Rewind, Time Warp, Chrono Shift

Stat-wise, Zilean has an above average amount of health, and is thus very tanky for a support champion. He has a decent amount of mana and good armor, but poor magic resist and low health regeneration. For items, I usually stack a lot of ability power and mana items early on to make my Time Bomb harass devastating, and my Chronoshift very effective. Later on I get some magic resistance, as well as cooldown reduction/nuke item in addition to more AP. I maximize Time Bomb and Rewind as soon as possible, and upgrade Chronoshift whenever able. For summoner spells, I take clairvoyance, so I can reveal part of the map every 30 seconds, as well as flash, which allows me to teleport in addition to my speed boost. For my mastery tree and runes, I focus on reducing cooldowns, increasing mana, and buffing my magic penetration so my Time Bombs hit hard and often.


Since there are tens and tens more champions, there’s obviously a lot of great gameplay in League of Legends. Indeed, becoming adequate with one champion can take a week, while getting to level 30 and a skilled level of play can take seven months. Part of that long familiarization process is learning good strategy. Devising and enacting a good plan is usually more important than twitch skills, as smart planning produces tangible results, over both the long and short term. But good planning and coordination requires good teamwork, which is where LoL shines and sucks. Assembling a good team with everyone on voice chat makes a game rewarding, as everyone can communicate movements and intentions. Voice chat is one of LoL’s weak points; since there is no in-game voice chat system, you’re pretty screwed if you don’t have Ventrilo running in the background and the opposing team does. At least a ping function and text chat systems are built in, but these systems pale in comparison to the usefulness of voice chat. Honestly, during a fight, nobody’s going to scroll through text.


                That’s why finding a group of players who are at your skill level and voice chat equipped is essential for moving up into high quality ranked play. I currently play with two groups of players, though at level 29, I can only play normal matches, which are not easy in the least. Normal games can be joined by entering the matchmaking system through a solo queue or a pre-arranged team of up to five players. Really excellent solo players can get away with jumping into the solo queue, but arranging a team that contains at least four good players will make your game frustration-free and cordial.


Ranked matches, on the other hand, are strictly divided into two separate ladders and servers; one for solo queuers, and the other for arranged teams of five people. All ranked matches, which can only be played at level 30, are extremely tough and arduous; entering an arranged, ranked match without everyone on voice chat is tantamount to throwing a game. Because on ranked, everyone plays for keeps.

The Game Map


The game map has also been improved with the use of brush, which functions similarly to brush in Starcraft 2 in that only units within the brush may see inside it; units on the outside must be wary when approaching a piece of brush. The areas on both sides of the map that are dominated by narrow chokes and brush are known as the jungle. Essential to controlling the jungle through map vision are wards, which grant line of sight around the general area. Knowing how to place wards can avert ambushes and ganks. Wards, however, cost money and last for only a short period of time, so maintaining their presence throughout a game can make the difference between winning and losing. For instance, roaming players can be ambushed by enemy team members hiding in brush. Buying invisible wards can be even more useful, as they will reveal invisible units such as other wards.

Yes, there is a lot to keep track of. League of Legends is not a game that can be mastered in a matter of days.

Presentation

As you may have guessed, LoL is an incredibly gameplay-heavy game. Even so, it isn’t light on style. For a 2009 game, LoL has some really great graphics, some of which verge on the edge of cartoony while still maintaining a serious look.


Though gameplay, particularly teamwork, is and should be the focus of a MOBA game like League of Legends, the game’s presentation helps to set the tone. After all, League of Legends places itself above DotA by virtue of being on an all-new engine. The engine, dated from 2009, looks crisp and manages things wonderfully. The game isn’t meant to be a graphical masterpiece, but its artistic style, something that approaches cartoonish while still trending on the gritty side, keeps it looking excellent. The engine allows for a variety of ranges and types of skill shots to be used cleanly, with really precise animations. Riot hasn’t slowed down in experimenting with the engine. The latest champion added to the League, Wukong, creates a whole host of illusions with his abilities that can trick enemy champions into wasting abilities upon his ghost images. Wukong isn’t the only champion who can create clones of himself, but his cloning abilities are progressively more innovative than earlier champions.


Easily understood hotkeys are also available that allow you to better manage these complex abilities and save you from the endless clicking that some champions may find themselves forced into doing.


                Combat abilities are not the only thing that’s done well. Even touches like the close, yet simultaneously enveloping camera angle tend to lend a lot of weight to the action. IT can even be rotated towards the ground for a cinematic view, but you will find that the default view is more than good enough for your purposes.

Access


League of Legends is perhaps the easiest game to boot up and patch, thanks to a new, stable patching system that requires nothing of the user. The menu itself is well organized. Want to mess around with your rune pages and masteries? Check out the daily news? Read those all-important patch notes? Start a new game? Check out a new champion or buy one using experience points from the store? Look no further than two feet in front of you, cause it’s all neatly packaged for you.


                Games themselves are organized into an excellent matchmaking system that is divided into normal and ranked queues, both of which can be played with an arranged team or just going solo. Games usually take about 30 seconds before entering champion select, which means that it takes less than two minutes to start a game of LoL. And inviting friends is very easy, though inviting too many while the server is under heavy pressure can mess up your game lobby, as Riot tries to preserve the stability of the players who are actually in game. I suppose that’s the disadvantage of League of Legends being such a popular, free to play game. But since Riot is such a great company, they recently released a patch that massively improved stability, to where I have never seen any major stability issues like I did earlier this year. Especially in Europe, where the sheer volume of players has forced Riot to divide the continent into two different gaming zones in order to maintain server stability. Entering a game of LoL is as easy as it’s ever been.


Sound


League of Legends just isn’t one of those sound-dependent games. What’s here is nice, though, as abilities may appropriate sounds, be it Kassadin’s eerie void-walking or Anivia’s exploding frost shell. There is no real themed music to speak of, save for what’s in the trailer, which I suppose is quite alright. The game’s background music does what it does. You’ll be too carried away listening to the cha-chings of farming minions to care much.

Lasting Appeal

League of Legends is a huge game with 81 champions, 15 million players, and constant patches that add new champions to the league and balance the current ones. Add to that a legitimately entertaining pro circuit that broadcasts extremely intensive games to watch, and it’s fair to say that LoL is more than just a game; it’s a hobby. Which is exactly why it has been absorbing a great amount of my time. A new game mode, Dominion, is even on the horizon, so there’s no reason to scamper off to play LoL’s cheap imitators, DotA2 or HoN.


                Though the number of players does put World of Warcraft to shame in a handbasket, that number of people can have its drawbacks. While the aforementioned server instability is one issue, that has been resolved quite aptly by Riot’s server redesign. The most prominent issue you’ll discover is in regard to the playerbase. There are a lot of verbally abusive people with bad attitudes who like to call their teammates noobs whenever anyone dies. Since League of Legends is a team game, this sort of unpleasantry can ruin a game. Never underestimate what a positive attitude can do for you; I’ve pulled comebacks out of a disastrous game where the enemy team’s carries got fed early on, somebody dropped, teammates were moaning and calling everyone fags the entire time. So Riot did something about it.


                Riot’s cleaning out of the viler parts of its playerbase is done through the tribunal system. In the postgame summary, you have the option to report any players for going AFK, verbally abusing teammates, or intentionally feeding. Accumulate enough reports, and level 30 players will be able to look at your scores, champion, reports, and the entire chat log across every game you were reported in. The level 30 can punish you, acquit you, or pass on your case. While the level 30’s assigned to your case are the guys who determine whether or not you are punished, Riot themselves determine the actual punishment, so the Tribunal doesn’t become democratic mob rule. It’s more of a republican system, if any term of government can even be ascribed to a company. And it’s been damned effective. I’ve noticed a significant drop in losers and trolls since I began in November.


                And don’t forget the pro games! Riot Games casts quite frequently on its live stream (found here: http://www.own3d.tv/live/8624/Riot_Games_High_Definition_Stream ), and LoL is quickly becoming a premiere E-sport, with a $5 million prize pool. The pros are really, really good, and make for some very exciting matches. Even though you and I may not be pros, there are some really sweet moves you can pull off in your games that will make you feel pro. That’s why I play annoying champions with tons of jukes. But when it comes to champion choice, it really is up to you.

Happy Leaguing!


PS: What if this is the first time you’ve ever really read anything about League of Legends? Everything you’ve heard so far sounds cool, but what might an actual game play out like? Well, I’m glad you asked. The pros are good to watch, but it's good to see what a lower ranked game might look like. Here is a pretty highly-ranked game, well-commentated by a history professor and game enthusiast Sullla, whom I have had the pleasure of playing with.

Here it is

Also, don't forget to check out MobaFire, a site chock full of really helpful champion builds and the like.

Mobafire

And, of course, The Trailer


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