A few months back, I mentioned that a game called League of Legends had just been released. It's a free-to-play PC game that combines the interface of a real-time strategy (like Warcraft III) with the gameplay of a shooter (like Halo 3). It's an objective-based game between two teams of 1-5 "champions" each. Each side has a computer-controlled team that sends waves of foot soldiers towards the enemy base through three lanes. The champions disperse into lanes and try to push through the opposing soldiers and champions, through multiple fortifications, to destroy the enemy base.
At the beginning of each game, each player, or "summoner," selects one champion, and each champion has its own distinct abilities and characteristics. Some are ranged, others are melee. Some champions are sturdy, others are frail. Some are designed for sieging towers, or sneaking up on enemy champions, or healing and augmenting allies. There's a champion for just about every gamer's attitude. There are 40+ champions, but only 10 are free to use at any given time (more on this later).
You gain experience and gold from defeating soldiers, champions, and defense towers. Experience goes towards gaining levels, which unlock more skills and increase your champion's health. Gold can be used to purchase equipment to make your champion even more powerful. Towards the end of a game, most champions can cut through an entire wave of soldiers without much difficulty.
Each game starts with your champion at level one. However, your summoner (that is, you) gains experience as well with each game you play. As your summoner gains levels (levels that endure from game to game), you earn small bonuses that apply to any champion you use. Additionally, with each game you play, you earn "influence points" (IP for short). IP can be used to purchase runes, additional boosts that again apply to any champion. You can also use IP to permanently unlock champions, adding them to the rotating group of 10 champions that are available for free. It's generally worth the investment of a few hundred IP (you earn 50-300 IP per game) to find a character you can get comfortable using and can use anytime.
You do also have the option of paying real money for Riot Points, which can be exchanged for champions, alternate champion skins, and temporary boosts to your summoner's XP or IP gains from playing. In my experience, though, the game is plenty fun without spending any real money, and you'll want to try out many of the different champions anyways to find out who you like. The rotating free champion system is the perfect mechanism to make this happen.
The game isn't perfect. The matchmaking system still seems to pit me (an average player) against elite players with too much regularity, but that's better than not pitting me against anyone at all, so I'll tolerate the occasional beat down. Plain and simple, it's a fun game that lends itself perfectly to teamwork and trash-talking, two things that you simply must have when you play a game with friends.
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