So, if you’ve been playing games for the past few years, odds are high you’ve heard of the wildly successful modification to Warcraft 3 called “Defense of the Ancients” or “DotA”. If not, there’s no need to worry. Trouble Thinking is here to hold your hand.
DotA is a game that grew out of another game. That is, the Real Time Strategy game Warcraft 3 was released with a little toolkit that allowed you to make your own maps to play on. One map, called “Defense of the Ancients” happened to be very cleverly conceived and grew to be very popular. Part of what made it so interesting is that the map bore little resemblance to the normal gameplay of Warcraft. Instead, it was a very idiosyncratic mix of RPG and competetive RTS. And Lemmings.
The free-to-play game League of Legends, by Riot Studios, grew out of that modification. Here’s how the game usually plays: you pick your hero from a cast of dozens of non-sequitur heroic archetypes. Each of them is unique, but it takes a few games to tease much out beyond the fact that some attack from a distance and some from close up. The map is a square, with team Blue of players starting at the bottom-left base, and team Purple starting at the top-right base. A minute or so after the players connect, minions spawn.
Minions are these little lines of pretty weak little uncontrollable… minions… who walk in a straight line until they meet at the center and then fight. Whoever wins that fight then keeps walking until they get to the enemy base, at which point they try to destroy it. Defense towers line the paths to each base, making it harder for the little minions to get through. So what is there for a player to do?
Plenty! See, it’s the players job to help these poor little morons not get squished quite so fast, and let them make some actual progress.
Your hero is much bigger and stronger than a minion, so it’s easy to help them by wiping out the opposing team’s units. Or well, it would be. See, the other team also has heroes. And they’re trying to kill your units.
A lot of the gameplay comes from slowly but steadily improving your hero in order to better compete with your (presumably) evil opposites. Each time you kill an enemy minion, or are even nearby when one dies, you gain some Experience. Each time you gain enough Experience you go up one level, and can improve one of your skills. Your skills generally help you by either making it easier to kill minions, or easier to kill an opposing hero. If you kill an opposing hero, they take a little while (depending on how high level they are) to rest and recuperate before being dropped back at their base. What this means in gameplay terms is that you have some uninterrupted time to really go to town on the enemy minions, and push your own forward to attack.
In addition to gaining experience, you can make your hero better by spending Gold. You get Gold by landing the killing blow on a unit, hero, or structure. That adds an element of timing to the game, making you click on the enemy just before they die in order to get the reward. When you have enough, you can traipse back to town and buy various fantastical enhancements to your character.
The shopping and leveling-up systems make League of Legends a fun little microcosm of an RPG that never manages to drag on long enough to overstay its welcome. Each game is 30-60 minutes of constantly making a new decision on how to advance, because the short length of play means there’s no reason to artificially lengthen the time it takes to get your character to their peak.
Pit five people on each team against each other with a staggering variety of unique heroes and the game can get complex and interesting pretty fast. I can see this freaking out a potential new player, even with the free price tag.
But what I like about League of Legends is that it’s quite easy to acclimate to. First of all, it comes with a reasonably simple to understand and useful tutorial that introduces you to all of the mechanics of play. Second of all, it’s a team game that isn’t usually won or lost on the back of a single player. If you want to hang back and watch what someone else is doing, stepping in only when you know you can help, there’s nothing stopping you. League of Legends also has a system of specifically “practice” games, with very low stakes and the option to sub in computer players for humans so you can hone your skills without worrying about trash-talk.
Anyone even vaguely interested games should give League of Legends a play. To try it out, click the link, then click on “PLAY FOR FREE”. It’s free, which can’t really be beaten, and it’s a uniquely engaging mixture of styles that I think would have a much wider appeal if it were just easier to explain. Try it out, and see if it’s the sort of thing you’ll enjoy.
Also this is a sweet intro video: