Real-time strategy games started off with Herzog Zwei on the Sega Genesis and Dune II on home computers, but have ended up going in totally different directions. They started off in three simple phases: one, using little peon units to collect resources like wood, gold, space wood, space gold, and so on; two, using your collected resources to build structures that could either produce an army or unlock new technologies that would let you produce better armies; and three, churning out a bunch of armies (orcs, elves, jeeps, tanks, helicopters--basically little toy soldiers under your command) to send over to your enemies' bases to beat up their little toy soldiers and their buildings. Things have changed over the years, and one significant milestone was 2002's Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, a real-time strategy game that helped inform the universe of the online game everyone knows, World of Warcraft, but also launched a player-made modification, or "mod," called Defense of the Ancients.
Defense of the Ancients took the idea of Warcraft III's powerful "hero" units and stripped out most of the rest of the game. Instead of churning out an army, you controlled only a single hero, kind of like your own little main character in a role-playing game, to go out and pummel other players in online multiplayer matches. This neat little idea became a very popular mod, but because it was a mod for a different game, it also had a bunch of limitations, like only being able to play on one map, and having to use Warcraft III's interface, which was much more of a squad-based conflict game, not an I'm-controlling-one-character-only kind of game.
The solution was for the creators of the mod, along with some departing talent from Blizzard Entertainment itself, to create League of Legends: Clash of Fates, which you can basically think of as a "full game" version of Defense of The Ancients. Like DOTA, League of Legends will have a stylized 3D art style specifically intended to scale well to lower-end machines, and will also have plenty of solo heroes to play as in the game. Like in DOTA, your little hero character will start off each match at the lowly experience level of 1, but will gain up to 18 experience levels over the course of the match by beating up enemy characters controlled by other players, as well as enemy cannon fodder characters who will periodically and continuously stream out onto the map to patrol the area--just like heroes gained levels in Warcraft III by killing off enemy heroes, enemy units, and neutral "creep" monsters. Defeated enemies will also drop little piles of gold coins that you can spend at an in-game shop that sells handy items like healing potions, weapons, and armor.
The shop will also have combinations of items (known as "recipes" in DOTA) that will give your character more-powerful items once you have their components, like a suit of mail armor that will automatically be unlocked once you purchase both the components (in this case, a suit of leather armor and a pair of boots). These combinations will appear immediately in the store, so if you have enough cash to purchase all the components of a combined item, you can buy that item outright, and it, like all other items you purchase, will be equipped automatically onto your character. And even though your character will have to start from scratch in each new match, you'll also have a chat avatar tied to your online account known as a "summoner," and you can deck out your summoner with a cool floppy hat or shiny magic lantern as you win more matches and unlock more privileges for that character, so any time you're in between-game chat or about to jump into a match, all other players can take a glance at your incredible floppy-hat-wearing avatar and tremble.
In our play session with the game, we played as Alistar, the tough, purple-skinned minotaur hero with more than a slight resemblance to Cairne Bloodhoof, the tauren hero from the Warcraft III orc campaign. Alistar's specialties include soaking up damage, stunning enemies with short-range attacks, and healing nearby allies. Though we originally chose the character because the little guy seemed like a straightforward choice for beating up other little guys, the character's greatest strength seems to be in a support role, either hanging out with allied cannon fodder characters (which you won't be able to control, but will fight any nearby enemies), or helping soak up damage for weaker hero characters on your team, and periodically healing everyone. The character also isn't too fast on his feet, so you need to be smart about healing him properly if he's soaking up damage, since he can't break into a run easily (though you can get teleportation items and rarely use teleportation powers for hasty escapes). In addition to having a default attack ability, each hero will have four special powers tied to the Q, W, E, and R keys on your keyboard. Our hero's abilities included a "stomp" attack that stunned nearby enemies, a "headbutt" attack that knocks over and stuns a single opponent, and a few different "shout" abilities, including one that heals all nearby allies and is refreshed whenever an enemy unit is slain.
We played a three-on-three match on a medium-sized map in which the opposing factions with in the upper-right corner (us) and the lower-left corner (them). We had trouble making much progress at first because we made the mistake of following the nearest stream of allied cannon fodder units, who marched along like army ants all along the far left side of the screen (while our allies mixed it up in the middle). Our first few forays were unsuccessful, since we ended up taking way too much punishment as a primary attacker, especially when we came upon enemy defense towers supported by enemy troops. We quickly figured out that it was best to lean on the cannon fodder troops for defensive support, periodically healing them with our shout ability. Some time later, we figured out that since this is a team-based game, it might make even more sense for us to join our teammates.
In practice, Alistar seems to be a strong team player, and his stunning stomp and headbutts seem extremely good for immobilizing enemy heroes, setting them up for follow-up attacks by any of your teammates that may have more-focused ways to deal damage. After several abortive attempts to push through the middle of the map, we ground our way southward, though in many cases, faster enemy heroes were able to simply outrun us, so we contented ourselves with methodically picking apart enemy defense towers and fodder-spawning nodes, which netted us a good amount of experience points quickly. Gaining levels seemed to happen nice and fast, and because you gain a skill point at each level to enhance any one of your four Q, W, E, or R skills, we were able to liberally balance out our offense and healing powers to provide some very strong support. And by taking out all the perimeter defense, each of our team's southward pushes got farther each time until we finally hit the enemy base and destroyed it.
League of Legends' fast-paced, combat-heavy gameplay seems like it does a good job of taking DOTA to the next level. The game is currently in a closed beta testing state.