MMO gaming meets RTS action in League of Legends


Lately I have been delving more deeply into the realm of free multiplayer games, as anyone who reads my articles can tell you. My laptop is rather under-powered and I jokingly refer to it as a cross between a laptop and a jalopy (hence the term ‘jalaptopy’) so my options for gaming, and specifically MMO gaming, are somewhat limited. League of Legends, or LoL as it’s called with pun totally intended, is a great real-time strategy game that mixes elements of RPG leveling and PvP action to create a frantic, click-fest style game that will have you biting your nails, pulling out your hair, and spraying your friends and family with champagne and beer in celebration. Metaphorically speaking, of course. LoL is also pretty loose on it’s PC system requirements (see end of this post for details requirements).

My jalaptopy, for example, doesn’t actually meet the minimum requirements and falls short in the CPU speed and graphics potential specifically but I am still able to play it. I just have to turn down some of the nicely scalable graphic options and deal with a somewhat slower frame rate than I would like. What this means is that even if you don’t meet the requirements, as long as you’re pretty close, you can still play the game and have fun doing it. LoL is available for Windows, but sadly, not for MacOS.

Normally speaking, I prefer to write about programs and games that are pretty recent, but in this case I feel LoL deserves mention because while it is not “brand new”, it does have a very strong following and continues to grow and offer new content all the time. League of Legends may be ‘old news’ but it continues to be a fresh, innovative, high-quality game. Combine that with the fact that it is free and that it runs on lower-end systems, and you’re starting to get an idea of its value in the realm of gaming on a budget. League of Legends was originally inspired by the Warcraft III level called “Defense of the Ancients”, and was created by Riot Games. Originally bearing a very strong resemblance to just being a new Warcraft III level, it quickly grew into a game all its own and gained a huge following among its players. As of October 22, 2009 LoL is in an ‘open Beta’ state of development. Even so, you won’t notice that it’s in Beta because the website, the game itself, and the community of players and developers are so very comprehensive, slick-looking, and very professional.

The graphics, the sound, the instructions, the gameplay, all of it is very well done and very high-end as far as it’s finished look goes. With all this being the case, one would expect this game to be a premium product costing the industry standard of $20 – $50 for the initial investment and a subscription fee of ten dollars a month or so. Well the happy news is that while there is, in fact, some expanded content for the game that costs real world cash, it is a free game to download and play. As with other games of this type, the expanded content usually consists of weapons, armor, spells or characters that are never absolutely necessary to play and enjoy the game. In the case of LoL, specifically, the expanded content is just that: expanded and extraneous, if truth be told. Additionally, much of this expanded content, like new characters, are available for purchase either with real world money or with in-game points that you accumulate simply by playing the game (more on that later). That’s a pretty sweet divergence from the standard for free-to-play MMO games that will often limit you to a specific level of play before demanding that you pony up some dough to continue advancing, and in my book makes LoL a winner already.

imageThe game itself is such an amalgamation of other types of games that it becomes difficult, at best, to lump it into one category or another. It contains elements of (RPG) roleplaying games, by offering you a character or ‘avatar’ to play and improve as you gain experience points. It contains elements of (TD) tower defense games, by giving each team a specific ‘base’ that must be protected and has some automated defenses as well as your active involvement. It has some (RTS) real-time strategy elements in that combat is done in real-time without a ‘pause’ feature and the game is viewed from the standardized ‘top-down’ point of view so popular in RTS games. It also, of course, has the multiplayer elements of playing with and against other real live players all over the world via a broadband internet connection and a server run by Riot Games.

Registering for the game was pretty painless, but does make you verify a “CAPTCHA” window to prove you are human, which is a small annoyance and is common to online games. Downloading the program’s core files is pretty quick and easy too, at a pretty reasonable 2.2 MB for the installer file and an additional couple of MB for the “Pando Media Booster” which is the online update service Riot Games uses. Installing the game is pretty easy, although it is not swift. The reason for this is that it loads all the game files from the online server directly on your initial install. This allows the developers to offer the most recent coding for the game from a central source without having to update their website every time they change a 1 to a 0 in the program. It may be a bit slow and slightly annoying, but in the end result it only took about forty-five minutes for me to get the files downloaded and installed, which is not bad when you compare it to, say, World of Warcraft which can literally take days to update the first time you load it. The updater they use runs on the ‘torrent’ protocol which basically means that you are downloading little bits of the program from multiple sources, including official servers and other players’ computers, all at one time. That speeds up what could, conceivably, be a day(s) long download process and is a common method for online games to maintain updates.

Logging in and getting started playing is also exceptionally painless, and the program leads you through it quickly. There’s a very robust tutorial to teach you how to play, called “the proving grounds”, which is another great accomplishment for a game that is, technically, still in it’s Beta phase of development. The tutorial takes you through your very first “match” in LoL by pitting you against various computer controlled opponents. Each playing field, or ‘map’, is set up for player vs. player (PvP) matches of teams consisting of 3 or 5 players. Usually the players are human but computer controlled opponents, known as ‘bots’ are also offered as an option. Once logged into the game, the action begins almost instantly. Each team has a ‘base’ which must be protected while the players also pursue the goal of destroying the opposing base. In between each of the bases are many ‘lanes’ which your team’s players use to approach the enemy base. Each lane has a number of towers called ‘inhibitors’ that automatically attack any approaching enemy. The basic idea is to destroy your opponent’s towers one by one, which is called ‘pushing’, until the line of conflict makes it to the enemy base, which must then be destroyed in its own turn. This sounds simple and at its heart it really is, but there is a depth of gameplay here that may go unnoticed at first.

Through accruing points just by playing the game, your character and your team mates’ characters can be upgraded and become more powerful. The same goes for the enemy. There are foot soldiers, essentially cannon fodder, that are controlled by the computer and emit from your base on a timed schedule. Your character and the other players’ characters are therefore known as “Champions” and the name is quite fitting when you see your character standing next to a foot soldier. One is powerful and awe-inspiring, while the other is something you’d distastefully scrape from your boots after a tough day of destroying your enemies. Bear in mind, too, that the visuals in LoL are all done by the talented group of artists that Riot Games employs for this project specifically and their dedication shows. In short, the graphics are beautiful, and anyone who is an eye-candy glutton like me will be in pixel heaven while playing this game. Even the conceptual artwork is offered on the home page for LoL as some really gorgeous desktop backgrounds. That means your favorite character can be your desktop background, rendered in stunning detail by the conceptual artists who work on the game. The game’s graphics during play are very much like the concept art, in that they are cell-shaded for that great “comic-booky” style that makes for sharp definition and fluid animations.

There is a learning curve to the game, as with any game that is complex in it’s options, but the community of players and developers are always right there to help you out and for the most part I found the other players very friendly and helpful. Of course, it is in their own best interest, considering that they may find themselves playing on a team with you at any point. There’s a robust chat interface both in game and in the game ‘lobby’ where you choose a game to join or create your own. There’s also a very dedicated group of players and devs that post in a forum specifically for LoL and I can pretty much guarantee that no matter what else, you can always find an answer to your questions in there.

There are a number of different game modes offered, including the standard human against human PvP mode, a Co-Op mode in which the enemy team is played by the computer, and even some custom modes where the variables are determined by the players themselves. As mentioned, the game has a great depth of RPG elements that keep it fresh time after time. It seems there is always something new available to me. From new champions to new spells and abilities, new maps and all kinds of other great content designed by the first-rate developing team at Riot Games. The “Store” allows you to get the expanded content mentioned in two ways. You can use real money to purchase “Riot Points” and then use them in the store to buy whatever you like. You can also use Influence Points, which are acquired and accumulated by playing the game. Essentially, this means that you never have to pay any real money for any of the expanded content, if you have the time to devote to playing enough to earn the required amount of Influence Points. Even if you can’t devote that much time to it, though, you won’t suffer a lack of content or a nasty level cap, preventing you from progress.

The final thing I want to mention about LoL is their “Summoner’s Code”. This is a code of ethical game playing that you must agree to when you sign up to play and it keeps the game as ‘fair’ as possible by ensuring that players do not quit the game when it looks like their team is losing, or that they don’t decide to turn the whole thing into an excuse to call people unflattering names. The code tells you that if you quit the game in the middle of a match, your account may be ‘suspended’ and they won’t let you play for a day or two. Repeated ‘drops’ like this will cause your account to get banned. This might seem harsh at first, and many folks would ask “Well what if I just got disconnected from the internet because my cat thinks “Cat5” cables are food?” but don’t worry! The moderators take this kind of thing into account and do allow a certain amount of leeway. Your first drop, for example, results in a simple warning that if it becomes a habit you’ll get a suspension. If, however, it’s a constant problem for you, you may want to look into playing a different game. In either case, it just wouldn’t be fair if you were allowed to just quit the game when it looked like you might lose a match. In essence, I would recommend that if you decide to play, give it at least an hour or so for each match, just to be sure. The match times can vary based on what happens during the match itself but in general an hour is a good yard stick for an average match, in my experience.

So, with the gameplay, graphics, sound, support, and the constant updates all being top-notch, to my way of thinking, my conclusion is that this game kicks butt with style and panache. With all of this on offer for free, I know I will be playing LoL for a long time to come. Also, as of the time and date of this post, Riot Games is actually hiring more people to work on the game’s continuing development so if you’re into creating games, you may want to apply! Personally I will continue as a humble player and reviewer, but its nice to see that they are still expanding their talent base and concentrating on offering a superior gaming experience at no cost. Until next time, my friends!

{Thanks to Steven P. for getting me into LoL}

Tested on: Windows 32-bit Home Premium, Acer Aspire 5532

Sign up and download at the League of Legends site.




System Requirements:

  • 2 GHz processor
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 750 MB available hard disk space
  • Shader version 2.0 capable video card
  • DirectX 9.0 capable video card
  • Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 (Mac OS is currently not supported, no news yet as to whether this will change)

Recommended System Requirements: