Defense of the Ancients (DotA) was originally created in 2003 as a mod to Blizzard's successful Warcraft III. Few could have predicted its meteoric rise in the world of gaming, with it arguably the most popular free, non-supported gaming mode in the world; it's even been included in some editions of the World Cyber Games. Taking all this on board, Riot Games took it upon themselves to make a stand-alone version, which would feature an entirely new engine and would act as the spiritual successor to DotA.
Due to the nature of the game, League of Legends doesn't really have any kind of premise behind the action. There's no dramatic story that tries to entice players to take part and while it might be seen as a negative, it's quite difficult to see how any kind of narrative could actually be included in a functional manner. There are numerous Champions, all with their own back story, but it's all quite circumstantial.
The Champions are essentially the playable characters in the game and there is a huge number of them featured. With 40 on offer, it can actually be quite daunting to new players, as they all have their own advantages and disadvantages. To help players out, there are some basic stats, as well as a difficulty meter, but players will have to experiment and find a Champion that suits their playing style. The diversity means that there will likely be a Champion to suit most playing types, as there are ranged fighters, short-range melee, tanks and support classes. Some Champions also cross multiple class types, so it's really down to personal preference. There is no character that's any better than the rest, it all depends on how they are used.
Currently there is only one proper map available, Summoner's Rift, with another, Twisted Treeline, currently in the beta phase. There will be plenty more added in the future though, but even with only one map, the gameplay is still showcased perfectly. It's important to note that players take the role of the Summoner, and they are the ones that summon the Champions. The Summoner can be levelled up, whereas the Champions don't, and upon levelling they can unlock more stats, spells and runes can be unlocked. These affect any Champion they choose to send into battle. The generic battle is 5 vs 5 and after selecting a suitable Champion to represent them, players can then select which two spells they wish to take into combat, as well as any Runes they've collected.
To win, players must destroy the other team's base, but this can only be done by destroying all of the towers in one channel. It's no easy feat, as the towers can cause considerable damage. Fortunately, minions spawn from the allies' bases at regular intervals, and they are more than happy to distract the towers. Should there be no other Champions roaming the map, it would be a relatively easy task to win, but this is where the fun begins. Due to the game being 5 vs 5, it creates an interesting dynamic, as players are generally forced to work together for the greater good. It creates a constant battle for ground and momentum, and a single Champion's death can turn the tides dramatically. There is a definite sense of risk and reward, and it gives players plenty to think about as they are trying to slowly gain ground on their opposite number.Each Champion enters the level at level 1 and they can gain experience from killing minions, or other Champions. Upon levelling, their stats increase and they can also assign an ability point. There are four abilities for a Champion to use, with one of them being an Ultimate move that usually has a long cooldown time. Learning when and how to use these abilities can make all the difference in combat. A Champion's experience is capped at level 18, but all the time they are also collecting gold. Gold can be used to purchase equipment, which helps to significantly amplify a Champion's abilities. All of a Champion's stats can be increased by purchasing the correct equipment, so it's important to shop wisely, otherwise combat could become increasingly difficult as the battle progresses.
It's easy to see why the DotA model has become so successful over the years, as the gameplay is exceedingly rewarding. There is a bit of a steep learning curve as players try to find a suitable Champion and the game can be very harsh sometimes as it forces players to adapt and learn. Fortunately, the gameplay model is exceedingly balanced and even the maps are symmetrical, so there is a strong emphasis on skill, as opposed to luck. If a team loses, it's because they were out played, it's as simple as that. It's also worth stressing that even if one team has the best player in the world, if the other team is a well oiled machine, it will more than likely prevail. It's one of those games where matches can easily last an hour, but it feels like only 5 minutes have passed.
The art style is adorable, and all of the Champions look completely unique. There are the burly melee types, but there are also some that are quite unexpected. The environments are suitably crisp, but due to the symmetrical nature, there isn't really much deviation in the scenery - it does get a bit boring after a while. Sound is present, but it doesn't really radiate any great qualities - there isn't really any inspirational music, just short sound-bytes that Champions repeat over and over.
Despite only featuring a small array of content at the moment, League of Legends is surprisingly addictive. Riot Games have stated that they intend to fully support the game and let's hope they stay true to their word because once more content is added, the replayability will increase considerably. It's honestly not difficult to envision people playing this game for years to come as it's such a rewarding game that has great production values.
On the surface, League of Legends probably looks like it's lacking in depth. It doesn't have any real single player experience, and there's essentially no story. However, once players start to play the game, they will find themselves getting drawn in more and more. Matches are actually quite long, but it doesn't matter because the gameplay is so finely tuned; time literally just disappears because it's so enjoyable - win or lose. The presentation is a down-side, but with more content hopefully coming in the future, it's something that's pretty easy to overlook. League of Legends is easy to recommend as a great online multiplayer experience.