Hands-on at E3 / League of Legends: Clash of Fates

So as some of you strategy buffs may know, there was this mod that came out for WarCraft III called Defense of the Ancients, or, as it came to be known, DotA. DotA got popular. So popular, in fact, that more people play it than the multiplayer component of WarCraft III itself. It didn’t take long for people to see that some sharp game design was at play and that the depth of the mechanics had both long-lasting and wide-appealing characteristics. Not to be ignored, a lot of the game’s core developers moved on to help found Riot Games, and, essentially, create a standalone DotA-but-not-really called League of Legends: Clash of Fates. On day 2 of E3, Riot Games treated me to some free booze as I got to have a hand at the game for myself. In short, this is a fun game. In long, read on…

So for those of you who have not played DotA, this will seem like a moderately different concept to you. It is a bird’s eye view strategy game, yes. There are some tactical decisions you make amid combat, and you most certainly have upgrades and powers that will help you gain an edge over your competitors. The thing that really stands out, though, is that you are one lone unit. You control no armies ala most Real-Time Strategy games, and you don’t even bother with small squads like in Dawn of War 2. You choose one lonely little unit, and you fight as hard as you can fight with that one unit. To spice things up, you’ll have a choice of over forty units at the games’s start. Each one will play differently. There are the magic users, the brutes, the range attackers, and a whole variety in between. Think of the fighting roster in Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and you have an idea.

The objective of a match will be to take your unit to victory. Victory here requires destroying the enemy’s base. You’ll have to work in tandem with your team mates but fighting well will reward you with money and experience (experience that starts from scratch each new game). Naturally, experience gains you levels, and each level up enables you to add a skill point to one of your four main skills that you choose at the start of a game. The money will enable you to buy unit upgrades, such as armor and weapons, and items such as healing potions. Ultimately, this is everything you need to know to jump in and start playing the game. Like any accessible strategy game, the core mechanics are not all too daunting, but to master them and navigate them with finesse and gusto will take a massive amount of time.

Given that I did not have that mass of time available to me, I did not win this game. I did not win, and I did not win hard. I used to play a lot of Quake 3 Arena one on one matches, and these matches tended to be incredibly tense ten minute battles of wits. From map awareness to successfully reading the personal ticks of your opponent, no detail could be overlooked, and simply running in guns blazing was guaranteed death against just about any moderately savvy opponent. I was surprised to witness a similar core to this game. It was very clearly spelled out for me when I did the game’s equivalent of running in guns blazing and eating it nearly every time. Gradually I started to use my character’s (Master Yi, he’s called) special skills to do some hit and runs, and back off to heal up with a potion and/or my healing spell. It helped, but it was no match for some of their long-term testers that were also at the LAN battle they had very nicely set up.

I played a full 30 minute battle in which my team (it was a 5 on 5 battle) was handily beaten, and no doubt due greatly to my horrible judgment calls at probably-pivotal moments. In that match, I did notice a variety of different characters, and truly envied the brutes as they crushed me repeatedly. What I did not get to notice, and there’s no way I could have, was the play balance. With over 40 characters, or Champions, as they’re called, and each with their own distinct play style and skill set, I would imagine that play balancing is the thing that will make or break it in regard to being seriously considered for competitive gaming. I don’t have too much doubt about Riot Games’ skills, though, as they have guys who created a mod that could achieve that balance to at least an acceptable level.

A sign of a good multiplayer game experience is losing track of time, which is precisely what I experienced playing this game. Hopefully the game will draw upon the masses that have come to learn and love DotA, and a whole new audience as well. The game is truly fun, and it’s coming from a company that has placed an active engagement with the game’s community at a high priority, promising more content to come, and a more refined experience over time.

Expect the game later this year, and I’ll see you on the battlegrounds.