Justice League of Legends: Hands-on with Infinite Crisis
I’m not an expert League of Legends player by any means, but I know enough about the game to know when it’s being shamelessly copied. I sat down with Infinite Crisis at GDC to find a game whose interface and game mechanics resemble Riot Games’ genre juggernaut in nearly every respect. Characters have four active skills (including, usually, one aimed skill-shot) and one passive skill, which are all leveled up during the match. Earning in-game currency means buying gear that offers incremental buffs. Players slaughter NPC minions and duke it out with other player-controlled heroes. The game will be free, monetized by microtransactions.
The game will ship with three maps and three modes, which will be largely familiar to experienced MOBA players. The circular map we played at GDC worked Dominion-style, with five capture points dispersed in a circular map. Control the majority, and your opponent’s score starts ticking down towards zero. Walking over certain special areas restored health and reset ability cooldowns.
There are a few small innovations. Because the game licenses the popular DC Comics universe, developers Turbine Entertainment had to do something to incorporate superheroics into the gameplay. In practice, this means that players can destroy and otherwise interact with the environment, calling down meteors and tossing cars at each other with super-strength. It’s a fun mechanic that makes you wonder what the game would have ended up like if it had the creative courage to be a little more original.
The game has a narrative of sorts, based on the Infinite Crisis series of comics that depicted DC heroes in a variety of alternate universes. These alternate universes inspire the rogue’s gallery of available heroes. Instead of playing as simply “Batman,” players can select “Nightmare Batman” (scary, supernatural) or “Gaslight Batman” (steampunk). Each alternate version of a character has his or her own abilities. There are 6 different alternate universes, which means that Turbine and publishers Warner Brothers will be introducing new playable characters for as long as they choose to do so.
They may not be reinventing the wheel, but at least the developers did a good job reproducing it. Over the course of two rounds, I was impressed by how Infinite Crisis handled. Abilities were fun to use, well-animated, and well-balanced. The game offered the kind of precise control that MOBA-style games require. Different hero classes had well-differentiated playstyles, and I had particular success with Gaslight Catwoman, stealthing into the melee, dealing heavy damage, and retreating.
League of Legends is such a runaway success that you can hardly blame people for trying to capture a bit of its market share. In the case of Infinite Crisis, though, the game so resembles LOL that I wonder if anyone who isn’t a die-hard DC Comics fan will be bothered to make the switch. The team that worked on the game is obviously talented, and it seems a shame that they weren’t given the opportunity to flex their creative muscle a little more. We’ll see what happens when the game goes live later this fall.