League of Legends: Wild Rift First Impressions
Mobile League of Legends has finally arrived. Well, the open beta version has. While the PC version just introduced its latest champion, Rell, to the servers, League of Legends: Wild Rift, came out in Europe with no timeline on a release in North America. It is Riot Games’ response to immensely popular titles such as Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and Arena of Valor. As the third title Riot Games is bringing to mobile devices, after League of Legends card game Legends of Runeterra and autobattler Teamfight Tactics had already found their way to the stores, Wild Rift has many eyes on it.
So, now that the mobile port of the world’s most popular game has arrived, it’s time to take it for a spin. Using a Samsung Galaxy S10, we explored the new yet familiar territory, wandering across ‘smartphone Summoner’s Rift’. Has Riot Games managed to deliver the League of Legends experience with their mobile port?
Walk me through the park
Switching from playing League of Legends on your PC to playing on your mobile phone is quite a transition, and Riot Games understands that perfectly. In a nine-part tutorial, they take mobile first-timers and people who have never played League of Legends before through the basic concepts of the game. Contrary to the tutorial in League of Legends itself, the bite-sized steps Wild Rift offers to help you understand the game are easily digestible and not much of a drag at all.
From simple auto attack instructions to more advanced ways to tune your target selection, when it comes to the in-game mechanics Wild Rift has you covered. The nine seminars aren’t all mandatory; if you want you can skip on the Baron Nashor explanation and move on to play on Summoner’s Rift, you’re entirely free to do so. Being a completionist (and, admittedly, a sucker for the free Random Champion Orb you receive for completing all tutorials) I did work my way through them all, however, giving me a bit more time to stroll around before facing enemies online.
Unfortunately, whereas the tutorials for in-game mechanics are helpful and teach you all you need to know for laning and combat, the instructions for building items and preparing your runes are lackluster. Once you open a specific champion’s loadouts page, you can create up to three item sets. When you load into a game you can select one of the three builds, and the game will offer you item components whenever you’re back in the base and have enough gold to buy them, working its way through your pre-built item selection from left to right.
You can deviate from this item path path if you want to, of course. By opening the shop in the base you can scroll through all the items available in Wild Rift. A quick glance learns that the large item overhaul that hit League of Legends in this preseason has yet to land in Wild Rift and that Wild Rift has a much smaller selection of items. But no harm no foul there; it’s a beta version and the more items you add, the less accessible Wild Rift becomes to the new players Riot Games hopes to lure. What’s jarring then, though, is that at no point the player is offered decent help with understanding how pre-builds work or how to navigate through the shop. For League of Legends players, this will be a clunky experience at most. For new players, though, it can be off-putting.
Likewise, the new rune page takes some getting used to. The most obvious first change that League of Legends players will notice is that the Sorcery rune has just completely disappeared. Parts of it are found as options in other runes—Gathering Storm is now a Domination rune, for example. Some runes, such as Dark Harvest, have also bit the dust for simplicity’s sake. It’s safe to say that the rune building overall is a different experience. Instead of committing to one Keystone Rune and a secondary rune as you do in League of Legends, you only have four runes to choose: One main rune and three lesser impactful runes. You don’t even have to commit to one Keystone, and can combine any unlocked lesser rune with your Keystone rune.
Again, for someone who comes from League of Legends it will be a minor inconvenience to see these changes. For players new to the genre, however, setting and understanding runes will be a head scratcher. On the Loadouts page, a small “?” icon opens a brief text rundown of items, runes, and spells. It’s insufficient for the impact these settings end up having on your games. Wild Rift spends three tutorials explaining different ways to auto attack, but more complex yet pivotal intricate parts of playing League of Legends are largely glossed over when it comes to taking new players by the hand.
Wild Rift is League in a nutshell
Luckily, the criticism of the shop and rune pages is about the only thing that will irk people who boot up League of Legends: Wild Rift, whether they are new to League of Legends altogether or have played the PC version before. Riot Games has made a right decision to not try and be innovative when it comes to gameplay controls, and instead base them on the controls that its competitors have perfected over the years. It still takes some getting used to, mind you, as there are quite a few controls to master, from target selection to pinging cross-map. But with some practice, they’ll quickly feel natural.
Using abilities, casting spells is what brings the spice to champion in League of Legends, and in Wild Rift these abilities have nearly all been flawlessly ported. Most of the champions work just as you’d expect them to work. If you’re locked on a target as Malphite and press the Seismic Shard button, the homing missile will make its way to the target. But not all the abilities work as they do on the PC version. Annie and Ashe, for example, each have an ability tweaked in how it functions just to make it easier to use in Wild Rift. Across the 49 champions that are in the game, though, the changes to abilities have been minimal and take just a few uses to get into your system. Mastering champions is all a fluid learning process, and never a frustrating one at that.
Another change worth mentioning is the fact that you’ll always, yes always, spawn on the bottom left side of the map. In League of Legends’s PC games this honor goes to the blue side—the red team spawns on the top right of the map. Wild Rift simply rotates the map 180 degrees if you’re on what would be the red side. The top lane (Wild Rift names this the ‘Baron Lane’) is now on the bottom right, and the bot lane on the top left (the ‘Dragon Lane’). While it’s hard to say how much of an issue it would be if Riot Games had simply stuck to their original layout, the change is another one of the things that take some getting used to, but are elegantly solved and the unfamiliarity dissipates within a few games.
Wild Rift games are a brief but thoroughly enjoyable port of a League of Legends match. You level faster, and unlock your Ultimate ability at level five instead of at level six. In combat you defeat your opponents quicker—but they deal more damage than in the PC version to you too—making each engagement a more thrilling one. Towers go down easier and so do drakes and Baron Nashor. All in all, a match of Wild Rift will last about ten minutes instead of the easy thirty minutes you’ll have to commit to playing League of Legends on PC.
This does come at the inevitable sacrifice of depth. In League of Legends, the scaling is such that you can adapt along the way while having time to carefully navigate the path you plan on walking to victory. Moments of inaction aren’t rare. In Wild Rift, action is all there is and though strategy is certainly important, it will never reach the levels of the PC version. You simply can’t execute ability combinations as quickly on your phone as you can with a mouse and keyboard.
But Wild Rift doesn’t need it. It doesn’t pretend to be League of Legends on PC—it’s perfectly fine being the way it is. Wild Rift aims to give a dose of League of Legends experience in a quick shot. If League of Legends is a crystal glass of single malt Scotch whiskey to sip from and enjoy, Wild Rift is a shotglass of vodka to pour down and yell “next!” for.
Wild Rift teaching League lessons
In its attempt to tie the mobile users to the League of Legends IP, Riot Games has outdone itself in several aspects that the PC development team can learn a lesson from. For the Wild Rift audience, unlocking champions is made incredibly easy at the start. Instead of earning champion shards, you can acquire ‘random champion orbs’ and ‘select champion orbs’, which do exactly what their names imply. With only 49 champions in the lineup at the moment, unlocking a random champion isn’t bad at all—the odds are quite in your favor. Additionally, leveling up (until level 10) rewards you with new champions, and afterwards you’ll still be showered with Blue Essence.
The spoiling doesn’t stop there either. Wild Rift welcomes you with several in-game events to complete the kid-in-a-candy-shop feeling. Barely a match passes without you unlocking something, expanding your collection. It’s an easy fix, of course. The most successful mobile games in their core keep players hooked by the constant flow of content and rewards, however small they might be. In Wild Rift, however, they contribute to a game with more to explore than most of the top-chart freemium mobile games. In League of Legends, unlocking new content can be somewhat of a grind, even with the in-game events. Wild Rift, with its significantly smaller champion roster, appears to want to help the player much faster.
“Ok,” you may think “of course you like free content and who wouldn’t want League of Legends to be more generous?” Yet, Wild Rift isn’t just a free content Willy Wonka; its out-of-game content is more immersive than that of League of Legends on PC too. Once you select the champion you want to play with, it hops onto a platform next to its teammates. There you can scroll through the skins, seeing the model change in real time. This stands in stark contrast to the relatively bland experience the PC version offers, where you only see a slice of the champion art before you enter the game.
Even something as simple as unlocking a champion, Riot Games has given a small cinematic twist. One can only dream of the day that the League of Legends PC client could possibly handle this.
A great first step
In League of Legends: Wild Rift, Riot Games has made a mobile version of their flagship game that is just about exactly what you’d want from a port. Champions have retained their identity solidly, making it an easy hook for League of Legends players who are in need of a quick fix. Quick it is indeed, because the match time of ten minutes fits perfectly in a short break from work or during a short trip. Nevertheless, no game of Wild Rift feels repetitive. The roster of available champions, combined with the duration of the match and the high octane action in each game keep Wild Rift vibrant and versatile.
For a game that just entered Open Beta, Wild Rift feels surprisingly complete. A more extensive explanation of items, runes, and spells is a must for new players. Besides that, some chat functionalities are a bit awkward, but not a huge hindrance in the game’s experience at the moment. League of Legends: Wild Rift has made a great first impression, and I eagerly await to see how it perfects its already delicious recipe.