Have you ever had the feeling that you paid good money for a game that's still in the beta-testing stage? As of this writing, if you buy the $29.99 retail edition of League of Legends: Clash of Fates, you are paying for features that you receive not now, but later. For now, what you get in the retail box is exactly the same as the freely downloadable version, which is a sparse package. Yet you shouldn't dismiss League of Legends outright, for while it clearly appeared on store shelves before it should have, you'll still get enjoyment from this fast-paced strategy game. If you've played the immensely popular Warcraft III modification Defense of the Ancients, you'll already have a basic understanding of what League of Legends offers: an addictive team-based experience that never plays the same way twice. It's a good thing matches are a total blast, given the number of not-yet-implemented features. Developer Riot Games promises these features are coming, but for now, be aware that what you're paying for is highly entertaining but not yet a complete game.
Matches can last up to an hour or more, but they remain fun from start to finish.
League of Legends is easy to learn, though this isn't to say that newcomers will immediately grasp every nuance. At the start of each match, you choose a champion, join a team of up to five players, and set out to destroy the opposing team's central structure, which is called the nexus. However, your real-life foes are not the only obstacle to becoming a true legend: The routes that lead to the enemy's nexus are defended by powerful turrets that are quick to dispatch you if you let your guard down for even a moment. This is where minions come in. A stream of AI-controlled units is frequently released from your base, and by assisting their charge down their predetermined lanes, you can more easily take down the towers--and players--that stand in your way. The click-heavy, Diablo-esque gameplay is simple enough, but the subtleties take time to master. You'll need to learn how to use minions to your advantage, when to push the lane (that is, aggressively charge forward) and when to pull back, and how to best utilize the strengths and weaknesses of your chosen champion. Matches are tense and exciting because there is little to no downtime. The action is quick to get started and the opposition isn't about to let up, so be ready to give each match your full focus.
Successfully fending off an attack means more than just frantically clicking on your enemies. Your champion levels up during the match, and in turn, you earn and improve your four primary skills (you also have a fifth passive ability). These skills determine the role your chosen champion plays during the match. Corki, a mustachioed gnome that flits about in a gyrocopter, is good for crowd control, enhancing his ranged fire with additional machine-gun rounds and area-of-effect attacks. Annie is a creepy little girl who flings fireballs at targets and summons her pet bear to assist in battle. While champions don't have the varied skill trees featured in Demigod, a similar Defense of the Ancients-inspired game, the large number of characters offers more general diversity, and almost all of them are great fun to play. Further diversity comes from the in-game item store, where you can spend gold you earn during the match on equipment and consumables that improve your health regeneration, enhance damage resistance, improve your speed, and much more. If you're confused by the number of items available, don't worry: The game offers smart suggestions based on the champion you choose.
You can practice offline, but the lackluster AI won't put up a challenge.
League of Legends is a multiplayer-focused game. You can practice offline, but even new players aren't apt to be challenged by the pushover AI, which comes in only two difficulty levels: noob and easy. You'll want to join online games as soon as you can, and the matchmaking option lets you find other players who are theoretically around your level of ability. Yet even during your initial games, you're likely to face experienced players who are familiar with the formula's subtleties and are not afraid of vocalizing displeasure with a teammate's performance in--er--profane ways. Thankfully, if you've never tasted this particular game recipe, a tutorial level will introduce you to the basics, including one of League of Legends' unique additions: brush. You can hide in brush to conceal yourself from enemies, and good teams will use it to set up effective ambushes. Like Demigod, League of Legends does not feature any kind of single-player campaign, but online play is buttery smooth and finding a match is quick and easy.