League of Legends Review

  • First Released Oct 27, 2009
  • PC

A modern legend.

League of Legends is not just a game: it's a cutthroat competitive digital sport where the winners roar in victory and the losers whimper in defeat. You don't need to play on the same level as the pros to experience the thrills of these online battlegrounds, however. Blending elements of action role-playing, real-time strategy, and tower defense games into an engrossing amalgam of awesome, League of Legends is a free-to-play game that ensures each play session yields a unique and explosive experience.

Each player in a match controls a single champion. In the default game mode, Summoner's Rift, two teams of five champions are pitted against each another with the ultimate goal of destroying the opposing team's nexus, which is guarded by three lanes of towers. The catch is that at the start of a match, your champion is only level 1 with no items to back up his or her quest for victory. To power up to a level sufficient enough to take on the enemy's base, a champion must first focus on killing AI-controlled minions for gold and experience.

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Now Playing: Updated Review for League of Legends

Bots offer great training for new players.
Bots offer great training for new players.

The gold can be spent at the shop at each team's respective base in order to purchase items like the appropriately named B. F. Sword (a big freakin' sword), or its mage-friendly counterpart, the Needlessly Large Rod. Once you're appropriately equipped, your goal shifts from slaughtering the endless waves of minions to pushing your army down the lanes by destroying the towers. Of course, your enemies won't stand idly by and watch you destroy them. League of Legends erupts in beautiful savagery once the teams of five group and fight as a unified force. As the two teams engage one another in a semi-chaotic brawl, players dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge skill-shots and target abilities in order to survive and kill the opposition. Team fights can make or break a match, as victory in a single battle means there will be no resistance to the siege of towers for some time. Trailing teams may attempt to turtle around a tower in order to use its power to make up for their weakness, and then mount a defense that turns the tides of battle into an epic comeback.

Team fights don't always erupt around towers, however. An elder lizard and an ancient golem both spawn in each team's jungle, and slaying one grants special sigil buffs. In the early stages of a game, some of the tensest moments occur when a team tries to steal away a buff from the opposing team. These skirmishes may not even result in a kill, but denying an enemy champion the mana regeneration of their ancient golem's blue sigil can grant a power play during which you may assert your dominance over the middle lane. Along the river, there are far more powerful neutral monsters which grant global gold to the team that bravely battles them. The dragon is a powder keg of early game team fights; combatants wage a war of vision-granting wards in order to ensure both, or neither, have vision over the dragon's pit so they may exterminate the beast out of sight of their foes.

Failing the Baron fight or having the enemy steal the kill quickly turns the tide into a tsunami of aggression against you and your teammates.

Late in the game, the powerful Baron Nashor serves as a cold war catalyst. You seek to kill him for the enormous stat boost he grants, but you also fear being nuked by a lurking enemy team, and so you wisely wait to fight him until you know your foes cannot contest. The stalemates over Baron are some of the most intense moments League of Legends has to offer, making the catharsis of overcoming a mighty challenge even greater. Beware, though, as failing the Baron fight or having the enemy steal the kill quickly turns the tide into a tsunami of aggression against you and your teammates.

Every match is a challenge, and with over 100 champions to choose from, there are countless ways for a team to overcome it. Whether your style involves dropping a flaming bear on the opposition to stun them all, flying in as a frozen phoenix to summon a wall of ice and cut off a path of retreat, or slashing through minions in a fit of undying barbaric rage, League of Legends has you covered. Champion designs draw influence from regional legends and mythology, though others are Riot's own unique creations. Although most can be categorized as a role-playing archetype (mage, marksman, assassin, tank, fighter, or support), some champions blend two or more archetypes and allow you flexibility in how to play.

Slaying Baron Nashor can buff up your team, but bring a friend!
Slaying Baron Nashor can buff up your team, but bring a friend!

Riot has worked to ensure that new players don't immediately mix with veterans. League of Legends requires new players to reach level 3 by playing tutorial matches and cooperative matches versus the AI before being allowed to queue for matchmaking. If you're a complete novice, however, it's best to avoid facing other humans until you are certain you understand the basics of the game. Some veteran players may lurk on lower-level accounts, while others have slipped past bans issued by Riot's automated tribunal system, and their familiarity with the game will give them an unfair advantage. In spite of the tribunal system, which removes particularly unsavory players from the player pool, plenty of combatants use the chat window to vent their frustration toward others. Underperforming, arrogant, and impolite players are still unfortunate hurdles you must occasionally overcome.

Dedicated theorycrafters will relish the ability to make a seemingly weak champion smash perceptions and succeed.

To keep you invested in the game, Riot allows you to unlock champions permanently using influence points (earned by playing matches in the game) or Riot points (purchased with real money). Riot points can also be spent on boosts to increase IP gain, but the most common reason you may end up purchasing RP is to unlock skins. The pricier skin options also tweak champions' animations, spell effects, and even voice-overs in the case of legendary and ultimate skins. Skins have no actual effect on a champion's combat ability, so spending money on the game doesn't offer any actual gameplay advantage. Don't be fooled by the free-to-play moniker, though: you might eventually find a skin that finally convinces you to pay to support the game, and soon find yourself staring at a vast library of looks.

However, the influence points earned through participating in matches can offer distinct gameplay advantages by adjusting the stats of a champion. Runes, which can only be purchased with influence points, can offer a flat bonus to a stat, or a bonus that gets more powerful over the course of a game as a champion levels up. All in all, you may assign up to 30 runes to your individual rune pages, with a new rune slot becoming available every time you gain in summoner level until you reach the cap at 30. Rune and mastery setups allow you to customize your champions' stats as you see fit, and dedicated theorycrafters will relish the ability to make a seemingly weak champion smash perceptions and succeed.

In the ARAM mode, all players face off in a very confined wintry lane
In the ARAM mode, all players face off in a very confined wintry lane

Also unlocking at summoner level 30 is the true focus of the more hardcore players: ranked solo/duo matchmaking queues. You may queue alone or drag a friend along for the ride as you play games with slightly higher stakes than the normal games. Winning or losing in a ranked game grants or deducts league points from the summoner account. League points help to sort players into tiers ranging from bronze to challenger, with the challenger tier being available only to the cream of the crop among League of Legends players. If you're a player with an insatiable competitive appetite, ranked queues are where you'll find your home.

If you don't find the initial Summoner's Rift map appealing, you'll be glad for the other vibrant battlefields on offer. Crystal Scar, Twisted Treeline, and Howling Abyss maps each stamp League of Legends with their own unique marks. Crystal Scar is a five-versus-five map with a focus on capturing territories in order to damage the opponent's nexus. Twisted Treeline plays mostly like Summoner's Rift, but with a limit of three players per team. And Howling Abyss, affectionately dubbed "Murderbridge" by the community, pits teams against one another in a single lane, with the queue for that map randomly selecting an available character to assign to each player in the game mode referred to as "ARAM" (short for "all random, all mid").

It's difficult to resist the constant thrill of the game's diverse battles.

Differences between League of Legends and Dota highlight LoL's focus on a cleaner learning curve for new players as well as the (normally) healthy competitive environment. The unintuitive mechanic of denying, in which you kill a minion or tower on your own team so that the opposition may not earn gold, does not exist. Although this slightly reduces the control you have over the lane and where minions meet, it also frees you up to focus more on interacting with the opposing champions, rather than with the minions. Additionally, randomized elements, such as a chance to do anything (critical hits excepted) have been removed from League of Legends, ensuring you have a greater ability to predict the outcome of a given situation.

Riot displays its eSports support with pride during major tournaments.
Riot displays its eSports support with pride during major tournaments.

The game is still expanding, with a new playable champion being introduced roughly every month. Riot is highly proactive in keeping the game as balanced as possible as new gameplay trends are discovered and rise in popularity. For instance, a robust spectator tool and multiple game modes have appeared over the game's four-year history. The only missing feature that could be labeled a staple for competitive games is a replay feature, but even that is currently in development, with an iteration available for testing on the test realm.

League of Legends is a fantastic game with something for players of all skill ranges to enjoy. Although it's better to play with friends, you are not left to your own devices if you tend to keep to yourself. The early hours can be frustrating as you learn the ropes, but once you are swept away by the ebb and flow, it's difficult to resist the constant thrill of the game's diverse battles. Once League of Legends has its hooks in you, don't be shocked to find you've spent a few hundred hours seeking digital fame in one of video gaming's finest battlegrounds.

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The Good

  • Tense, explosive gameplay makes every match a thrill
  • Large number of champions leads to lots of diversity and flexibility
  • Rich customization options
  • Fair free-to-play model
  • Spawning creatures further spice up the competition

The Bad

  • Experienced players on new accounts skew matchmaking

About the Author

Tyler Hicks likes to wave his cane at new-coming MOBA titles, recalling tales of "his day" when the StarCraft map Aeon of Strife and its spin-offs were the only creep-slaying game modes around. He's played several hundred hours of League of Legends, and has no plans to stop anytime soon.

Other Takes on League of Legends

Kevin VanOrd loves strategy games, RPGs, and MOBAs, and he spent many dozens of hours playing League of Legends during its launch window. Kevin's original review of League of Legends was published back when GameSpot only reviewed retail games, and he was disappointed in the boxed offering. He's glad that LoL's free-to-play model helped it become an international hit, but fears leaping back into the fray lest he be accused of feeding.
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