I originally reviewed League of Legends two years ago. Back then it was a great game but compared to where it is now it was in its infancy stages. I decided to write a new review to showcase where the game has grown and advanced. As for what's new for one there is no more Collector's Edition in stores, although you can buy a digital version of the collector's edition directly through the League of Legends client. There are new game modes, new maps, about 50% more champions, and tons of features both in-game and in the community. Let's start from the basics first though.
What is League of Legends? If you've been living under a rock perhaps you've not heard of this game but the idea is simple: League of Legends is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (or MOBA) game that pits two teams against each other in a duel to destroy each other's bases. The game is based on the successful Warcraft 3 mod Defense of the Ancients (DotA) yet it's scale has far surpassed even what DotA achieved, becoming one of the most played game in the world currently. What makes the game so appealing is that the game can be played completely for free. Not only is it free to play but paying players have no advantage over free to play gamers. The only thing in the game that must be purchased with real world cash are custom skins for each champion which offer no advantage other than eye candy, everything else can be purchased just by playing the game. That said, I've yet to meet someone who's gotten into the game who's not spent some real money on sweet looking skins. This is how Riot Games will sucker you in, the game is free but I have friends who have spent well over $300 on League of Legends.
Player chooses one from over 100 champions each with a distinct role and skills and attempt to destroy the enemy team. This is achieved on several different levels: farming gold from enemy NPC minions, destroying the other team's towers, "ganking" (killing) the other team's champions, and completing objectives in the form of killing more power neutral NPC monsters. As you progress your champion will gain levels which allows you to use more powerful skills and purchase items that in turn increase your damage and survivability. Eventually your team will be strong enough to push into the enemy's base and destroy it. The key to success is having both a good presence as to what's going on in-game as well as a good team composition. Champions each have distinct roles (although some champions can do more than one role well): Carries typically lack in defense but have extremely high offensive abilities. Tanks and Support champions have a larger health pool and skills that focus on either negating damage to their teammates or crowd controlling (CC) enemy champs to disable them and keep them out of combat. Bruisers are typically a blend of the two roles with decent offense and defense, while Assassins typically do massive damage to single targets. On top of that, champions either fall into the "Attack Damage" (AD) or "Ability Power" (AP) class which determines whether buying items that build their AD or AP will make their skills more potent. What's really interesting is the natural evolution of champions as different people discover how to use them in different ways. For instance recently one or two champions that were designed to fulfill the role of pure AP Carries were discovered to work very well as support characters, and as champions are utilized more they spin in-and-out of favor. One week they'll be deemed overpowered by the community, a few weeks later no one will choose them.
Most PvP games break up into roughly the same team compositions but there will be some variance. The key to a good team is a balance between damage and survivability, this means putting your highest damage characters in a position where they can survive the longest and do the most damage. Summoner's Rift, the most popular map is broken into a few different sections, the bases (where you start the game, shop, and respawn if you die), the lanes (three lanes composed of bottom, middle, and top where the towers are and where you will farm creeps for gold), and the jungle (which is full of neutral monsters that you can farm for gold and special combat bonuses (faster mana regeneration, slow enemies when you attack, etc). Typically your team will have one tankier Bruiser champion in the top lane, a high damage AP Carry champ in the middle lane, your highest damage AD carry as well as a support champion to keep them alive in the bottom lane, and one champion with strong ganking skills who farms all of his gold from creeps in the jungle. The benefit of having one champion in the jungle is that it leaves more gold and experience for whoever is in the top lane by themselves and all allows for lots of surprise ganks. Games can last anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour depending on how balanced the teams are, how well each team fights each other and how well you "push" your lanes (work with your AI controlled minions to destroy enemy towers).
The developers are constantly adding new champions and items as well as balancing existing champions and items within the game. When I last reviewed the game there were around 70 total champions to choose from, since then that number has grown to 113 total champs. Items are another area where League of Legends has grown by leaps and bounds over where it was. When I first started playing the game there wasn't a terribly large selection of "good" items, you had a lot of choices but the majority weren't terribly viable or were drastically outclassed by other options. Through patches and between gaming "seasons" Riot has added a plethora of new items that help different roles do their job better. Supports now have items that heal, shield, and speed up teammates, bruisers buy items that both grant bonus damage as well as shield them from oncoming damage, and carries have a wider variety of items that help them both dish out damage and survive. The mix is quite good and lower tier items do a good job of building into better items. There is no set way to build your champion, customization of your build against different teams is necessary.
New champions are released at regular intervals (usually around one per month now) and they can be purchased through the in-client shop with either Riot Points (RP), currency that you can purchase with real cash or with Influence Points (IP), currency that can only be earned by playing the game. Even if you don't have any IP or RP there are 10 champions that are free to play at all times. The list of 10 changes every week and typically they are selected to fill a variety of roles and price points. Along with new champions there are a huge number of custom character skins for each champion. These can only be purchased with RP but add no tactical advantage in the game other than looking cool. The other thing you'll be buying a lot of are Runes, Runes are the one purchasable extra that give you an in-game advantage but wisely Riot has made it so you can only purchase these with IP points which you earn by playing games. You can't pay to win. Runes typically give small boosts to your champion such as extra damage, health, or defense. As with items different runes are better for different situations.
For players brand new to the game League of Legends offers and in-game tutorial. The tutorial will teach you the basics of selecting a champion as well as summoner spells (default spells that everyone gets to choose at the beginning of a game), buying items, killing enemy-AI controlled minions and towers, and pushing to win the game. Upon completing the tutorials you have two options, you can go ahead and jump straight into standard PvP games or you can play co-op games against AI controlled bots. Bots were first introduced a few years ago but since then the number of champions they'll play, their tactics, and their overall intelligence has grown quite a bit. It's no longer like shooting fish in a barrel, bots know when to press you and when to retreat. There will come a time when your skill level will grow to the point that bot games are easy but they're still handy for trying out new champions or squeaking out a quick "first win of the day" IP bonus (150 IP bonus that can be earned once every 22 hours).
When it's time to play PvP you can play in several different modes but they all break down to playing one of two ways, by yourself (or with one friend) in the Solo Queue or in a pre-made team. You've always been able to play League of Legends with your friends but now the game has the ability for you to create and name a team and play through the competitive scene with them. The game's matchmaking will attempt to match you against a similarly skilled team and as you continue to improve in the game you will progress through the competitive leagues. It's an excellent addition. If you want to go at it alone or with just one buddy you can do that as well, the two queues are independent of each other now. Also you can be on several teams at once so don't avoid joining a team with one group of friends out of fear that it'll keep you from playing with other friends.
Now for the technical stuff. Graphically the game has received a fewer larger updates and remains in a constant state of being updated. Old champions with less than spectacular models are being updated and their skills are being reworked. The most popular map, Summoner's Rift, has received graphical tweaks and two new maps have been added: the Crystal Scar and Howling Abyss. The 3v3 map, Twisted Treeline received a complete overhaul in both design and graphics. The audio track does a good job of setting the mood for the game and keeping you in the action but it's nothing particularly special. One thing to note is that the game isn't very taxing on computer resources, older PC's shouldn't have too much trouble playing the game.
That's pretty much how it goes down; the big question is how does the game play? Is it fun? The game is tremendously fun but whether it's for you or not can depend on how you approach the game as well as how you play it.
If you are looking for serious competitive play then this is undoubtedly a great game for you. The competitive scene in League of Legends is massive and offers the chance to play up through increasingly difficult tiers of opponents and eventually reach the Challenger circuit where you can play in Riot-sponsored tournaments. League of Legends has a plethora of tournaments featuring everything from internationally recognized teams to smaller start up teams who are looking to break into the scene. Riot Games also offers the single largest prize pool of any e-sports organization. The winning team in last year's World Championship tournament took home $2 million.
What if you're the polar opposite and just want a really casual experience? I have friends who only play playing against AI bots as it gives them a chance to try out ridiculous builds and strategies without the chance of encountering toxic players. You can still have a lot of fun doing this but the game can get stale after a while. Bots are overly simple and eventually you'll find yourself winning every game easily. Also with the casual players you'll find those who play lots of PvP but they look for the fun of it and avoid the toxic aspects of the community whenever they can.
So that leaves us with the middle ground where probably 90%+ of the players fall. These are people who enjoy the game for what it is and want to play PvP but aren't worried about the structured competitive scene nor the simplicity of bot games (other than trying out new champions and builds or just getting a quick first win of the day bonus). This is honestly where League shines. You will undoubtedly meet jerks along the way, at times it may feel like they outnumber the friendly players but it's an excellent experience, one that is constantly being fine tuned by the amazing staff at Riot games.
I keep throwing around this term "toxic player" but what does it even mean? The vast majority of the League of Legends community is like you, they play to have fun and they play to win but they don't berate their teammates or opponents if things start going south. It's a game after all. But there is a small portion of the community (which feels much bigger than it is simply because it's so vocal) who will either take the game way too seriously and spend the entire time cursing at their teammates or intentionally playing in a manner that hurts the team simply because they feel as if they've been slighted. There's also a portion who is the exact opposite, they will play with the goal of helping the enemy team in an effort to just upset everyone. There is a built in system for reporting these players for their actions and when they've received enough reports against them (it doesn't take many) their case is brought before "The Tribunal", a voluntary group of summoners (anyone who is summoner level 30 in the game can do it) who can choose to pardon or punish them resulting in anything form a short-term ban to a permanent ban. The system isn't perfect but it works relatively well and it's a welcome addition to the game from when I last reviewed it. The biggest downside is that since it's a free game even if said player is banned chances are he'll just make a new account and start all over.
So there you have it, League of Legends. It honestly is a great game and on a fun scale it's a 10, on a replay value scale it's an 11, and on a "value for your money" scale it's immeasurable, it's just an excellent game all round. Yes there are a few bugs in the game, yes there are a few bad eggs in the community but it can't take away from how good the game is. So if you've been on the fence for a while as to whether or not you should give it a whirl you might as well give it a try, it won't cost you anything. But beware, it is highly addictive!