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How League of Legends Is Changing In More Than Just Appearance
Though the redesigned Summoner’s Rift has made it plain to many gamers that League of Legends is not the same game it was when it launched back in October 2009, fans have found that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Riot’s overall direction for the game.
For a long time, Riot’s big commitment to making League centered around striking a balance between making League a more accessible game than their competitors (Heroes of Newerth and DOTA 2) while maintaining a level of depth that keeps fans playing.
Even back during the game’s beta when the game had barely two dozen champions to its roster, Riot placed a greater emphasis on easy-to-learn-hard-to-master champion designs than it did arcane mechanics like creep denial and build orders. While these things have certainly grown to become big parts of the game, Riot has always stuck to promoting and building on that core idea of creating a game that’s just as deep as the original Defence of the Ancients but more accessible – until now, that is.
In September of last year, Riot announced one of the biggest-yet-understated-shifts in their design philosophy surrounding the game: the reboot of League of Legends’ expansive lore.
According to Riot’s Tommy Gnox, the reboot was long overdue and “In the early days of League, we created a fictional background that would justify how players could control champions during games. We came up with concepts like Summoners, Fields of Justice, an Institute of War, and indeed, the League of Legends itself – all in an attempt to provide fictional context for in-game action. After a while, these early choices began to create unexpected problems. Every new champion needed a reason to join and remain in the League, and as their number grew, the net result was that over time the world started to feel, well, small, and eventually less interesting. The institutions we’d designed fostered creative stagnation, limiting the ways that champions, factions and Runeterra itself could grow and change.“
Given the ancillary nature of League of Legends lore, It’s easy to dismiss this as a minor change in direction – but I would argue its just one manifestation of a greater shift in vision by Riot that goes hand in hand with their recent map redesigns.
Through events like the recent Sands of Shurima and Battle for Freljord (and the new gametypes and maps that have accompanied them), Riot are not only pushing the boundaries of storytelling in their fictional setting of Runeterra but also in the MOBA genre.
With each map redesign, the game’s fictional setting has become more coherent, detailed and taken on a flavor of its own – rather than simply being the evolution of Warcraft 3’s art and design like it’s predecessors and rivals, Runeterra is shifting away from just being a backdrop to gameplay and becoming a compelling fantasy setting in its own right.
It’s a big shift from the game’s previously-static style of storytelling and, as a long-time advocate who wants to see Riot to produce something with all the memorable characters more tailored to a single-player experience, it’s something very cool to see the company build on.
You need only look at the game’s three most recent additions to its champions roster to see further evidence of this design shift in action. Since the release of Jinx, The Loose Cannon, champion launches have been as much about their personalities as well as the strategic options they present to players.
Recent champions like Azir and Kalista have further shaken things up by not just shuffling the deck of character archetypes but by implementing whole new playstyles and mechanics into the mix. Furthermore, Riot’s commitment to updating older champions has allowed them to begin spreading this more innovative approach retroactively through their roster.
League of Legends is a game that’s likely never going to be ‘done’ in the traditional sense – but Riot’s vision of its flagship title as one where character choice isn’t defined by cliched roles but unique gameplay is something I’m very excited to see unfold over the next year or so.
Though admittedly a very different game from Valve’s popular hat simulator, gamers haven’t really seen this level of intense post-release support outside of TF2 (and obviously, DOTA 2). Riot have been literally rebuilding League of Legends from the ground up. Not satisfied by the game’s status as the most popular online game and grosser of over $1 billion in microtransactions, Riot are continuing to innovate and make League of Legends the game they want it to be – not just the simplified version of DOTA critics often dismiss it as.