First Impressions: Ruined King, A League of Legends Story
(Editor’s note: I wouldn’t feel right covering this if I didn’t at the very least acknowledge all of the ongoing grossness that came out of Riot Games in the last few years, so here are some links to get you caught up. Back to the Regularly Scheduled Chicanery.)
Last week saw the surprise release of the long-awaited RPG, Ruined King: A League of Legends Story. But before I get into that, a bit of a history lesson. Around the time of League’s tenth anniversary, Riot Games announced their publishing brand Riot Forge, which lets outside developers pick characters from their IP and make games out of them. This was also around the time they were being sued in court for allegations of overt sexism and harassment in the workplace. This naturally puts me in an awkward position because I like League of Legends, I like the developer of the topic of this week’s piece Airship Syndicate (Joe Madureira’s studio formed after Vigil Studios went under following THQ’s bankruptcy over a decade ago), and abhor what the victims went through. There will be some links to some of what I mean in the editor’s notes if you want to know more, for now, suffice it to say that it sucks and also I want Airship Syndicate to have success on their hands so they can make another Darksiders game.
With the navel-gazing done for the moment, let’s get into my time so far with Ruined King: A League of Legends Story. Originally announced as a prequel to a major story event in proper League, it got delayed like most things, cuzza Covid. The Ruination event has come and gone and while I didn’t get a chance to participate, it got thoroughly panned by everyone I talked to who played it for poor writing, even poorer pacing, and generally being a missed opportunity. The near year delay for Ruined King might have been a blessing in disguise because when taking the game into account in its own merits, it does what a JRPG style game set in the League of Legends universe is supposed to do: take a lot of characters that a lot of people like and have them bounce off of each other in a context other than a PvP game in several locations that are cool even when unfamiliar with the setting. On that front, I’d say it’s pretty successful.
While I’ve only played the first 5–6 hours so far, I’ve managed to get to the end of the first real dungeon so far. In that time, I’ve been introduced to both the major players in the story and the main mechanics thus far. The game is set in the free city of Bilgewatert, a city of sailors, pirates, and general ne’er do wells, a veritable hive of scum and villainy that has Mos Eisley and Nar Shadaa in Star Wars looking like a trip to Disney Land. You initially take control of Captain Sarah Fortune, former bounty hunter and current top dog of the city following her violent uprising against the former top dog Gangplank. Following some…negotiations that serve as the game’s combat tutorial, the city is once again besieged by the Black Mist, a supernatural corruption born of the literal broken heart of Viego, the titular Ruined King. Captain Fortune finds herself teaming up with other characters from League’s universe to beat back the mist; these are Illaoi, the priestess to the sea goddess Nagakabouros and continuation of Airship Syndacite’s tradition of the healer being the absolute unit, the Wandering ronin Yasuo who’s fueled by equal parts duty and guilt over killing his brother in self-defense, Freljordian folk hero, owner of a great mustache, and a beacon of positive masculinity Braum who washed up on shore looking for a cure plaguing his village, Reluctant Soul Vampire Ahri who’s trying to learn more of her heritage as Vastaya (a hybrid of human and spirit), and Pyke, an vengeful, undead serial killer that the Bilgewater locals refer to as “The Bloodharbor Ripper”, who’s memories of his betrayal and death are unreliable at the best of times. As an ensemble cast, they’ve interacted with each other in ways that range from curious to antagonistic to pretty funny and while my current party makeup only consists of Illaoi, Braum, and Yasuo, I can see who everyone else interacting with each other will be the highlight of the game’s writing much in the same way War and Strife’s interactions in Darksiders genesis were the best parts of that game’s writing.
The best thing about the game’s presentation is that it takes these parts of the universe of Runeterrra (the name of the setting in Lague of Legends) and filters it through the signature style of the studio’s founder, Joe Madureira. Like the six main player characters, all look they are Joe Mad’s take on these characters, the city of Bilgewater and later the SHadow Isles from what I’ve seen are Joe Mad’s take on those two areas, a lot of the monsters you might are Joe Mad’s take on these creatures, and so on. It’s led to some fantastic creature designs and I have a feeling that it can only get more ridiculous from there.
As a video game, Ruined King is a turn-based RPG that feels very reminiscent of Airship Syndicate’s first outing Battle Chasers Night War while also being mechanically dense in a way that comes from attempts to adapt the feel of League of Legends to an RPG. What I mean by this is that in combat, there is a three versus three setups, and the initiative order is determined by the Lane System. These top, middle and bottom lanes are the Speed, Balance, and Power Lanes respectively and they add a versatile layer of decision making in combat beyond “save up meter for big attack”. When casting Lane Abilities (your combat spells), you have an option of choosing which lane you want to cast it in for varying amounts of damage and turn cast time with Speed being almost instant at the cost of lower damage, Power being slower cast time to the benefit of increased damage, and balance being a…balance of the two. These combined with the enemies having specific abilities and buffs that can only be dispelled through the use of casting in specific lanes and all of the character-specific mechanics that serve as a decent translation of their MOBA abilities and it all ties together to make for an incredibly dense combat system. This is best shown off in boss fights as you are dynamically adjusting lanes on the fly to make sure you are countering enemy buffs and dispelling their abilities to make sure you don’t get got. There’s also the dungeon exploration where you solve puzzles and traverse through traps with the use of each character’s dungeon ability which range from Illaoi being able to decipher clues written in her culture’s language, Yasuo being able to activate faraway machines with a thrown out tornado and Braum sending out his Poro to traverse small cracks and crevices to gain access to hidden goodies and keys.
While I’m not sure if I’ll keep going with Ruined King at this point due to releases for the season starting to ramp up and getting my Game of The Year List ready (seriously December is ridiculously packed for some reason), I enjoyed what I played of it so far. It’s a well-made dungeon-crawling RPG that satisfies a specific itch for that kind of game. And I hope Airship Syndicate gets to make another Darksiders game in the future.