A League of Its Own
When porting an existing game to mobile there are a plethora of issues to consider. Controls, visuals, balance, and overall game-feel can all make or break a port. Considering a game as well established as League of Legends those issues are exacerbated to the nth degree. With a huge and rabid fan base, any tweaks to the aforementioned mechanics are bound to inspire skepticism. As such, most mobile ports remain as loyal as possible to their source material. League of Legends: Wild Rift opts instead to lean into this criticism full-tilt and offer something familiar but wholly unique. With Wild Rift, developer Riot Games have undoubtedly started the next chapter in the game’s storied history. All these measures taken to boost the game player count are worth it as Riot Games’ games were watched for a total of more than 35.5 million combined streaming hours on average. You can get a lot of interesting information on this topic from online gaming stats, research on esports income, esports channels, or specialized esports websites. In fact, the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena tournaments have the highest payouts. League Of Legends is among the top in the MOBA genre, going side by side with Dota 2, Arena of Valor, Heroes of the Storm. MOBA games have around $432 million in the total prize pool, which shows that the League Of Legends has its fixed place in the gamers’ hearts.
Reimagining a Classic
Wild Rift is undoubtedly aimed at bringing new players into the fold. Fans of the PC version of League will still find Wild Rift incredibly familiar. However, newcomers enjoy a completely revamped tutorial system. While necessary to explain the shift in perspective and updated UI, the game overall feels geared towards the uninitiated. Explanation of roles, lane assignments and objectives are more robust that it’s PC counterpart. Rewards and in-game quests are more frequent and offer more incentive to try different play styles. In fact, Summoner’s Rift, the traditional 3-lane-plus-jungle arena that League games are played on has changed. Visually the map is more vivid and colorful. Mechanically the jungle has had a redesign to comply with the mobile format’s limitations. In fact the entire map is much more condensed and plays much faster than traditional League.
At times, traditional games of League can burst into wild, fast-paced slugfests. However, Wild Rift’s games are always played at breakneck speeds, for better and worse. The mobile format is much more attuned to fast-paced, quick hitting bursts of gameplay. However, League is a game of incredible depth and variety. Fast-paced team compositions that focus on getting ahead and “snowballing” the enemy team will find Wild Rift’s pace incredibly satisfying. Conversely, those that prefer slower, more methodical gameplay may find themselves swept up in the feeding frenzy Wild Rift offers. While the overall revamp breathes a freshness into this nearly 12 year-old game, it also makes some more interesting (read: potentially dubious) decisions.
At time of writing, there are 154 champions in League of Legends. Instead of overwhelming newcomers, Wild Rift slims this down to a more manageable 58. All champions can be acquired for free through quests, leveling up and redeeming Blue Motes, Wild Rift’s free currency. Players can also pay for Wild Cores, which is the game’s premium currency. Wild Cores allow players to purchase champions, champion skins, ward skins, emotes and profile icons. Since champions are relatively balanced and awarded frequently, Wild Rift steers clear of pay-to-win territory. However, where Wild Rift ventures into dubious territory is with its skins.
Skins and champions in League are awarded through random chest drops for leveling up and by purchasing them directly. Players who have spent time in League, will then naturally accrue a cache of both. Even though players are able to link their PC and Wild Rift accounts, these skins and characters do not cross over. Instead of being rewarded for their faithfulness, players are instead asked to shell out money for the exact same skins. In fact, as someone who has been playing for about three years, I received no bonus for linking my accounts. For context, three years is considered relatively new for the League community, so older fans will feel even more disappointed. While by no means a deal breaker, this money-grubbing tactic is an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise beautifully presented package.
Same Old Blood Rush, With a New Touch
Another odd choice is the character redesigns. League being as old as it is means that inevitably some of the character models are outdated. These outdated models stand out against the newer, sleeker models of the newer champions. It makes sense that Wild Rift incorporates these newer models since it is a new game. However, there is at least one champion in the game that seemingly received a complete visual overhaul. Ordinarily that would be great, but this champion did not receive the same treatment in the PC version. This raises questions moving forward. Will Wild Rift become the focus of development moving forward? Will features be gated to specific versions of the same game? Time will tell.
The only real gameplay issue with Wild Rift is its movement. In the PC version, players click on the map where they want to go and the champion automatically paths to that spot. Sometimes clicking multiple times can frustratingly cause your champion to simply pace back and forth. However, it is a simple and relatively good system. The same issues have carried over to Wild Rift, albeit in a slightly different form.
Players move using on onscreen control stick; a staple of mobile game movement. This again works well enough but has the drawback of imprecision. On multiple occasions I would be trying to navigate around an obstacle only to have the stick glitch out. This caused instances of simply running into terrain, or running away from what I actually wanted to path towards. The onscreen control also inherently blocks a portion of your field of view, exacerbating the issue. Again, this isn’t a deal breaker but seems to be more of an unfortunate limitation of the medium.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
Wild Rift makes some smart choices too. Aside from the condensed map size, it appears that enemy AI has improved. In League for PC, playing against bots is a great way to try new champions in a low stakes scenario. The enemy champions in this mode are little more than walking target dummies. However, Wild Rift Riot has seemingly made some improvements to their AI. Enemies seem at least marginally smarter and react to you and your opponents more like regular players would. They group up to fight, lane smarter, and overall make the game a much better practice scenario. All this while still offering a low stakes match to learn a new champion or to simply boost your ego.
In fact, matchmaking on the whole is much faster and smoother than its PC counterpart. This is at least partially due to only one option being available for PvP at time of writing. Even with that, it never took longer than 10 seconds to find a match at any point in the day. On PC, once a game is found and all players lock in their champions, there is a loading screen. This loading screen can either last several seconds or several minutes, depending on each player’s ping. Loading times are consistently faster in Wild Rift. Intentional or not, this is a welcome addition and serves to get players in games faster.
But Is It Worth It?
Fans of League of Legends should absolutely check out Wild Rift. While it certainly does not serve as a direct replacement, it is a fun, easy going romp through familiar territory. Games serve as great small distractions, offering that quick fix of gameplay while on the go. Moving forward, Riot needs to address the issue of monetization. Linked accounts need to carry over all purchases between games. Additionally, Wild Rift would heavily benefit from a ranked matchmaking system for players looking for a more competitive experience. Although, it looks like that is already in the works. Wild Rift shows promise of a bright and exciting future.
Is It Hardcore?
While not flawless, Wild Rift adapts well to conform to mobile constraints. It brings some long overdue changes to the League formula while remaining true to the PC version. Returning fans will welcome these changes while feeling at home with the familiar scenery. Newcomers now have the most robust introduction to the game ever seen. Riot needs to fix their monetization issues, particularly with cross-platform accounts. With some UI and interface tweaks and updates to competitive matchmaking, Wild Rift could be truly exceptional.