League of Legends: the Shen’s on the other foot

, | Game diaries

[Ed. note: League of Legends is the wildly successful the free-to-play (no, really!) RTS known for its unfriendly player community and it’s serious min/max gameplay. We’ve jumped in feet-first and we’ll be writing about it for the next week or so.]

In League of Legends, you don’t build a base or train armies or drag select units. You play a single dude. Such as Shen, a really annoying ninja who keeps killing me. At first, I thought it was because the guy playing Shen was really good.

After the jump, I find out that’s not necessarily the case

One of the best approaches you can take in a game like League of Legends — actually, pretty much any RTS — is to attempt the tactic that just beat you. It’s one thing to consider the stats or read over an enemy champion’s abilities. It’s something else entirely to jump into his shoes.

So my first time with Shen is a revelation. Because, yeah, tanks like him can be pretty tough. They can stand there and take a beating. They don’t have to wilt back into the lane when an enemy approaches. There’s a whole different psychology at work that you’re never going to learn if you just keep sticking to Heimerdinger or Annie or Karma, like I’ve been doing.

I still haven’t quite figured out how best to use the vorpal blade, which is supposed to heal me when I attack a designated enemy. Since my mana — err, fury? stamina? What’s that yellow stuff? — builds up regularly, I’m tagging minions right and left, but I’m still always low on health, probably because I’m standing up front and things are beating on me. It’s not called “tanking” for no reason. I tell myself my health would much lower if I weren’t vorpal blading, right?

At least all this extra mana/fury/stamina lets me use Shen’s shield. Being a hotkey nerd, I quickly figure out that I can either press W and then try to click on myself in the general jumble of meleeing units — oh, look, I’ve just shielded one of my disposible minions! — or I can press alt+W and automatically shield myself. Thanks, Riot Games, for understanding hotkeys. I feel closer to you.

Of course, Shadow Dashing is a real hoot because it’s nice to get to do it to someone else for a change. Look. Here’s me over here fighting little dudes while you plink at me from a distance. Look again! Here’s me in your face vorpal blading you! And once I get the Stand United power, which lets me shield a besieged teammate and teleport to him anywhere on the map, I manage to actually get kills with Shen by jumping people in close 1v1 squabbles. I am Shen, the Suddenly Appearing Ninja Here To Adjudicate Your Close Fight with My Vorpal Blade. Snicker snack, or whatever.

I’m later informed by some League of Legend know-it-alls that I’m “doing it wrong”. Which may be the case, but I’m in games with other people who aren’t even level ten yet. I’m pretty sure we’re all “doing it wrong”. It’s just that some of us are doing it less wrong than others.

League of Legends gets you with its apparent simplicity. You’re just one dude with two or three powers. If the game goes on long enough, you can get as many as four powers. Unlike other RTSs, you don’t have to multitask a war and an economy. Just move and occasionally use a spell. How simple is that?

The depth and strategy and doing-it-wrong come into play as you start to grok the interactions of the 78 characters’ four powers, and their passives, and their possible equipment loadouts, and the jungling buffs, and probably some other stuff I don’t realize yet because I’m not even level ten. But as you wrap your head around these different elements, you’ll wading into a different game, and play a different Shen, and become a very different kind of League Legends player. And the beauty of this game is that it belongs to both of us.

Tomorrow: Christien Murawski’s gotta catch ’em all?