League of Legends is one of those games that, by simply existing, manage to completely stretch, shake and re-invent it's genre.
Every now and then there are games that come along in the industry that, by simply existing, manage to completely stretch, shake and re-define their genre. In this regard, there are games, like Metal Gear, that start as the launch point of an entirely new genre (stealth action shooters) or there are games, like Counter-Strike or World of Warcraft, that pack together many pre-existing ideas, but also manage to elevate and polish these concepts into something altogether remarkable.
Of course, there are many developers who try to create some of these afore-mentioned diamonds; churning away to make games that imitate and evolve a pre-existing concept that has experienced success, all the while adding their own ideas, to give a unique twist to their creations. In very rare cases, these 'spiritual successors' achieve something, but more often than not, these games fail to meet the standards set by their predecessors. Perhaps it was this fear of failure that has kept many developers from capitalizing upon the incredible success of the Warcraft III mod, Defence of the Ancients (DotA). But now, six years after DotA's initial creation, Riot Games' League of Legends has decided that the time is ripe for this underdeveloped genre to finally flex its wings and fly.
And boy does this game soar.
To give some background, League of Legends is the spiritual successor to DotA, a single map game played on the Warcraft III engine. For the longest period of time, DotA was also the only game that fell under the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre. DotA was originally developed by a user named "Eul," but after its abandonment, Steve 'Guinsoo' Feak, now the lead Game Designer on Riot Games, took up the reins and developed the map we all know and love today: DotA Allstars. The DotA / MOBA genre is essentially a game where players control a 'hero,' and, with the aid of NPC units, try to destroy their opponent's base. Throughout the game, heroes can also gain experience points and gold to level up their abilities and buy items, respectively.
While this may sound simple in theory, DotA has one of the steepest learning curves of any game, often demanding players spend hours and hours learning the intricacies of one Warcraft III mod. What nobody was expecting, however, was the incredible success experienced by DotA. It currently boasts millions of users worldwide and is considered to be a staple at any prestigious LAN tournament. In this way, while many companies may see DotA as fertile ground for development, it would be nearly impossible to succeed against a free game with millions of rabid fans across the globe. Of course, now that I've told you why most DotA successors will fail if they make even one wrong move, I'll tell you why League of Legends is definitely on to something extraordinary.
To begin, League of Legends does a fantastic job of balancing itself between retaining that 'DotA feel,' while adding in a massive range of new additions that make the game distinctly theirs. While DotA players may feel that twinge of recognition when they see the familiar tri-lane starter map, they may not realize that the map is actually much smaller than a DotA map, and the forests have been entirely re-designed, to facilitate more dynamic team fights. Not only this, but Riot Games has stated that their initial map designs (typically centered around 5v5, with a 3v3 map on the way) imitates DotA in order to help players in the transition from DotA to LoL. Riot has promised, however, that after launch they will also begin working on new map types of all shapes and sizes, not to mention unique game modes. In fact, if they do things right, I wouldn't be surprised to see innovative maps with entirely new objectives, like capture the flag or death match modes.
Speaking of smooth transitions from DotA to League of Legends, DotA veterans may also find that combat in League of Legends is quite similar. I was, however, delighted to discover that, since the game has centralized hosting and the coding has been written to reflect this, my hero was incredibly responsive, with no delay in his actions. Of course, the team didn't just completely copy the combat mechanics of DotA over to LoL, as there are more 'creeps' that spawn per wave (they give less gold per kill), and 'denying' (killing one of your low health creeps to 'deny' your opponent EXP and gold) has been taken completely out of the game. Of course, while these changes may sound odd, they make sense in light of Guinsoo's explanations. Denying, in a sense, is a method of passively harassing a lane, but it promotes a very slow defensive style of play. In this way, Riot took out denying out so that players need to lane harass in a more aggressive manner i.e.; attacking the enemy hero, if they want to establish some form of dominance.
Of course, the sign of a true evolutionary game lies in its ability to deviate from the path and create something new, and League of Legends definitely does not disappoint here. What they've done is bind together the persistence of an MMO world with the 'pick up and play' nature of MOBA style games. In addition to their normal array of hero abilities, players will be able to pick two 'summoner spells' to employ in-game. These summoner spells add a new layer of depth to hero selection, as there is a plethora of spells to choose from, and they supplement the hero in a variety of different ways. For example, there is one summoner spell that allows the hero to move faster for a period of time, or there is a summoner spell that heals everyone around the hero for a set amount, or there is even a summoner spell that allows the hero to 'blink' forward a few hundred feet to engage in, or escape, a fight. As players gain summoner levels, by playing games, they'll also unlock new abilities throughout the course of their playing.
In addition to unlocking summoner abilities, players will also be able to unlock 'Runes' and gain 'Mastery Points' with every new level. Runes go into the summoner's 'Rune Book,' and, while these runes give small bonuses that don't do much on their own, when you collect about 30 runes (the max you can slot into your book, I believe) that each give a small damage bonus, it eventually stacks up to something respectable. Mastery Points, on the other hand, have greater effects than their runic counterparts, as the mastery trees (Utility, Offence and Defence) do offer some fairly decent bonuses, especially the level 21 ones. Think of these trees like World of Warcraft's talent trees, where players can work to tailor their talents to their specific play style by picking masteries that grant bonuses to summoner abilities that they uses.
On the other hand, however, while these level based additions do give fairly decent bonuses to the dedicated player over the more 'casual' participant, it should be noted that runes, masteries and unlocked summoner abilities don't actually grant game breaking stats to everyone willing to dedicate the time and money to acquire them. I can't even begin to recall the times when a bunch of hard-nosed, enthusiastic level 5-10s would absolutely smash through an unprepared team of level 30s. The only ability that I would say grants a solid advantage over others would be 'Flash,' which is a 'blink' like ability that warps the player in a specific direction across a fair distance. This ability, however, is unlocked at level 13, which is fairly easy to attain, but there are many abilities that can be used very effectively in the interim, in some cases more effectively than Flash. If I were to give some solid percentages to the advantage that these persistent bonuses grant, I'd say it would amount to 15% persistent bonuses, 15% champion selection and 70% player skill.
The real point of these persistent bonuses lies in the sheer amount of customization the game offers to all of its players. While it's certainly difficult to 'spec' a hero to play in a manner that's completely opposite of what it's intended to play like, it's definitely been a blast to know that I can uniquely tailor my hero to utilize specific summoner abilities and excel in certain stats.
Speaking of heroes, while the game doesn't boast the incredible cast of heroes like DotA's impressive 95 hero count, Riot is currently in overdrive mode to produce unique heroes at light speed. Every week or two has seen the implementation of one or two heroes, and it seems as though they've been picking up speed, if anything. Of course, each hero added to the game also comes with a unique story and unique feel; it's good to know that there is very little play style 'cross-over' between heroes. My personal favorite is the little pyromaniac, Annie, who skips along the ground as she walks, chucking out deadly fireballs and dropping massive flaming teddy bear golems on her unsuspecting foes.
All in all, League of Legends is definitely shaping up to be an incredibly deep and satisfying evolution of that single Warcraft III mod, DotA, which many already believed to be one of the best. Somehow, Riot Games has managed to replicate everything I love about DotA, but they've also added so much of their own flavor that I can guarantee that League of Legends is going to revolutionize the MOBA gaming genre. As Marc Merrill noted in a press address a few months back, "DotA is a mod. It has innovated this really phenomenal game play, it's extremely fun and it has fans all across the world, but it is a mod. . . League of Legends is being designed from the ground up to solve the problems of DotA." Well folks, League of Legends is, very certainly, doing that. And more.
Christopher "Pwyff" Tom