Not So Massively Extra: Our impressions of League of Legends

Not So Massively Extra title image
Of all the games in the newly emerged MOBA genre, League of Legends is by far the biggest and most successful. The original Defense of the Ancients mod for WarCraft 3 propelled that game to become one of the most played games of the past decade, and standalone remakes have come to challenge that position. LoL recently passed the 15 million registered player mark, with much of that success being due to the game's free-to-play business model and casual gameplay.

The recently launched Dominion game mode added capture-point gameplay in shorter and more casual matches, and we were keen to try it out. Last week Massively staffers Patrick Mackey, Matt Daniel and I were joined by Tina Lauro and friends from GamerGaia for a few games of League of Legends as part of our Not So Massively livestream. While we were all vaguely familiar with MOBA gameplay, most of us had never played League of Legends. After the stream, Patrick and I played several more games of Dominion to get a feel for LoL's newest game mode.

If you've ever been tempted to take the plunge into LoL, skip past the cut for our first impressions of both normal League of Legends games and Dominion matches.

Patrick Mackey title image
It's very hard to give an unbiased impression of League of Legends. I have a lot of friends who play the game, from the amateur voice actress who does Moekaiser to a few guys in the semi-pro scene. I've watched a few games here and there, so even before I played I already had ideas about what the game was like.

Classic League of Legends is a very typical MOBA game -- especially fitting since Riot Games is the company that coined the term. It plays like any Defense of the Ancients-inspired game, with laning, creeps, last-hitting, items, and the snowball effect that comes when one team is ahead. If you're familiar with the genre, you're probably familiar with LoL. For players new to the genre, MOBA games have a pretty sharp learning curve at first and can be punishing to new players. But there's a lot to like about MOBAs: They have tons of character variety, intense gameplay and a real sense of accomplishment when you win. As Classic games run for quite a long time (30-60 minutes), each match has a lot of mental energy invested in it, making victories sweet and defeats painful.

side-imageLoL differs from other games in the genre by being very accessible for novice and intermediate players. Once you start to understand how to lane and zone, there's quite a bit of depth there, and LoL does a good job of making that depth understandable. The one difficult mechanic to understand in most MOBA games is last-hitting -- making sure you get the final hit on a monster to get the gold from it.

I originally thought that last-hitting was counter-intuitive, but now I realize that removing last-hitting (as Blizzard DOTA has done) removes quite a bit of depth in the earlier parts of the game. When laning, you need to concentrate on the enemy players in your lane, the enemy players in other lanes that may ambush you, and the minions that you need to last-hit. Doing this all at once takes a lot of mental energy, and I'm of the opinion that having a greater degree of focus than the enemy should be rewarded in the early game.

The balance in LoL is slightly more homogeneous than Heroes of Newerth or the original DotA, but the characters are still extremely varied, and there are far fewer degenerate match-ups in the game. I've had my balanced team get trashed by an all-melee team because its members played the better game, and while there are hard match-ups, there aren't unwinnable ones. This is starkly contrasted with other MOBA games, which have very radical match-ups and a lot of rock-paper-scissors battles in which picking the counter almost invalidates the enemy in your lane.

First impressions of Dominion

The best part about League of Legends in my mind is Dominion. I'm not a big fan of the game mode because I like the slower laning gameplay of Classic. However, it cannot be denied that Dominion breathes fresh new life into the MOBA genre. It's fast paced and exciting from start to finish. It removes a lot of the difficult early learning curve of MOBA games and concentrates on just having fun. Dominion is a typical capture point game type, similar to World of Warcraft's Arathi Basin.

Players start at a slightly higher level, and a large amount of gold and experience is shared among the party. It still rewards pushing creep lanes towards the enemy capture points by giving last-hit gold, but overall the game is a lot simpler. For new players, I think going right into Dominion is the best plan, as the games are shorter and the gameplay is easier to understand. In Classic, your team can be up two kills in the midgame and go into a bad losing scenario immediately afterward. In Dominion, an early deficit just paves the way for a big comeback.

Overall, League of Legends is an excellent game, as its millions of players will attest to. It's one of the most popular MOBA games out there, and the Dominion game type adds new life to what I view as a somewhat stale formula. If you're interested at all in the genre, I think LoL is worth a shot.


Brendan Drain title image
As I wasn't really a WarCraft player, the original Defense of the Ancients flew completely under my radar until remakes like League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth started hitting the online gaming scene. My first taste of this reborn MOBA genre was HoN, a game that promised fast-paced action and authentic DotA competitive gameplay. HoN is home to a lot of the genre's hardcore players, but its competitive scene is small and largely supported by external sponsorship and fansites. Conversely, Riot Games pours tons of money into League of Legends' competitive scene, with a total of $5 million US up for grabs in Season 2's official tournaments.

Switching from HoN to LoL was a little daunting at first, as the game plays very differently. Last-hitting creeps is still an important skill, but characters are expected to use their abilities to farm rather than relying solely on base attacks. You can't deny creeps, which removes some of a classic DotA's competitive element but allows players to concentrate on farming and harassing in the laning stage. Tower-diving is practically out; apart from those using a few specific champions able to get kills under a tower and escape, players can expect to die if they find themselves the target of a defense tower. The huge turret damage resolves the back-dooring problem faced by other MOBAs and makes capturing a point in Dominion on your own very risky.

Have you seen my bear Tibbers?Once I got used to the slower pace of LoL and the need for an incredibly defensive playstyle, I found myself getting a lot better and quite liking the game. I've been playing mostly Xerath and Annie, finding both champions fun to play and easy to pick up. LoL is definitely a lot easier for new players to get into than some of the more competitive MOBAs, and the community has a higher proportion of friendly players than I expected.

Rest assured that while the game starts off simple with relatively few options, additional complexity is driven into the game as you gain persistent levels. Mastery trees and rune pages combine to produce customisable champion builds that complement items acquired in-game to make a character play a little differently. These customisation options initially provide only small bonuses, but at high persistent levels I could see them making a huge difference.

First impressions of Dominion

I'm in full agreement with Patrick Mackey that Dominion is where LoL really comes into its own. Introducing a capture-point game mode to the established DotA three-lane model was a risky move but one that definitely paid off. In a game of classic LoL, whichever team is currently losing at any point in the game will have a very hard time coming back from it. The other team will be getting gold and experience with each champion kill, widening the gap between the teams with every teamfight. Dominion flattens that slippery slope mechanic by adding ambient XP and gold gains over time for all champions, meaning players can potentially pull back a losing game from the brink. Several days ago I got a bitter taste of this when the enemy suddenly changed tactics and turned our 300-point lead into a very close and embarrassing defeat.

Overall, I found League of Legends to be great fun and even more fun when playing with a few friends over Skype. It has this addictive draw that makes me want to come back and play every day, and I think I am now thoroughly hooked.

Apologies for the skipping video, there is an error in the saved recording.

Join us every Monday for Not So Massively, our roundup of the top news from popular online games that aren't quite MMOs. If you think there's a game we should be covering in Not So Massively or you've found some interesting news you think deserves attention in the next roundup, please mail the details to brendan@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.