Ruined King: A League of Legends Story is a turn-based RPG based in the League of Legends‘ world of Runeterra. It is published by Riot Forge and is developed by Airship Syndicate. The Black Mists are returning. This haunting phenomenon periodically creeps across the water from the Shadow Isles to lay siege to the people of Bilgewater Bay. But this time, it seems the controller of the Black Mists has their eye set on more than just Bilgewater. This time, the whole of Runeterra is in danger. Can six unlikely allies manage to come together to stop this threat to their world?
When Riot announced that Airship Syndicate was getting to develop a turn-based strategy game for them, I was immediately intrigued. Airship Syndicate’s previous work in the genre, Battlechasers: Nightwar, boasted some unique gameplay mechanics while suffering from a forgettable cast and a story that did nothing to hook the player. But if the developer could successfully fuse a new iteration of their fantastic gameplay design with the wonderful characters of Runeterra it could be a genuine hit. Now, having spent numerous hours fighting back the Black Mists with the likes of Braum, Ahri, and Miss Fortune I can say Ruined King: A League of Legends Story delivers everything I was hoping for and so much more.
First, let’s start by talking about the biggest element that has held back Airship Syndicate games in the past. The story.
Just like Riot’s current smash hit animated series Arcane, Ruined King: A League of Legends Story does a great job of welcoming new fans into its rich world. But while the popular Netflix series keeps its scope small, focusing purely on the twin cities of Piltover and Zaun, this game broadens the scope, giving the player a taste of the larger Runeterra world. Happily, this larger focus is delivered beautifully through the utilization of its amazing cast.
For various reasons I won’t dive into, this game’s story revolves around a hodgepodge cast of characters who, each for their own reasons, has found themselves directly in the path of the Black Mists. Some have stumbled into this predicament, while others have charged in headlong. But whether by accident or intent, these characters have come to this story from several different regions of their world. With several Bilgewater natives not familiar with these distant lands, questions are asked of their new comrades that help to flesh out the world and the characters wonderfully. Small optional cutscenes are strewn throughout the game, letting interested players learn about the history and people of Runeterra in a way that is both interesting and personal.
The way Ruined King: A League of Legends Story utilizes its cast’s vibrant characters is first-rate. The voice work is pitch-perfect and the larger-than-life personalities at play are never held back. Whether it’s Braum booming positivity or Miss Fortune’s single-minded determination, the characterful game moments would keep a player coming back even if they weren’t combined with some of the best turn-based RPG mechanics I’ve ever played. Happily, however, Airship Syndicate has brought just as much attention to how the player controls the wonderful cast in combat as it has the story they play through.
The combat of Ruined King: A League of Legends Story is brought to life through a system that manages to deliver nuanced moment-to-moment decision making through what is, at its core, a relatively simple framework that gives the player all the information they need to make the tactical choices necessary to win the day.
The heart of this game’s combat is all about timing. Beneath the classic your force on one side, your enemies on the other side onscreen setup, there is a timeline that shows when characters will act. Before a player selects the action they want to do, they are shown where it will put that character’s next activation in the timeline. This in and of itself is not a new concept. It is in the added flourishes that Airship builds onto this system that gives the game a new and enthralling take on the classic setup.
The first thing that pops out about the combat timeline is that three distinct lanes are running through it. Characters are by default in the middle lane. Activating many of the abilities available to characters requires they wait a set amount of time. However, when casting a player can shift their character into the upper, or speed lane, to cast activate the ability quicker, but with a lessoned result. Or, if they have time to spare or really need that power to hit, they can shift their character down into the power lane where it will take longer to activate, but have a greater result.
This split lane timeline is also utilized for other gameplay mechanics beyond the above. Some enemies have special shields that can only be broken by attacks from certain lanes. Also, fights will feature hazards or buffs that pop up in the timeline that must be avoided/maneuvered into through clever manipulation of placement. The timeline brings its unique challenges to Ruined King: A League of Legends Story‘s combat. Happily, all of these innovative challenges are kept from being overwhelming by the developers’ generous willingness to give the player all the information they need.
At any time during the game, the player can tap a button to bring up the game’s inspect mode. Inspect mode allows the player to cycle through all of the onscreen elements, giving them insightful and critical information about what is happening. This information ranges from explanations about status effects, opponent abilities, and pertinent information about your party. Airship does a fantastic job of giving the player all the knowledge they need to succeed. It’s just up to them to utilize it.
This desire to empower the player to properly make the decisions they need goes beyond the combat scene and informs the game’s leveling systems as well. There are several different ways for characters to level up through ability points, runes, and enchanting equipment. Not only are most of the decisions players make in these areas remarkably clear, everything is undoable. If a player finds they don’t use an ability they sunk points into earlier, they can go back and move those points to something they have been using.
This dedication to clarity goes a long way to help the player navigate the many micro-decisions that makeup Ruined King: A League of Legends Story‘s gameplay. However, with so much attention on clarity throughout this game’s presentation, the aspects of the game that fall short in this regard become all the more noticeable.
The single biggest failing in this game’s design comes in its most critical element: the battle timeline. With the timeline divided into three separate lanes, and the bulk of the screen allotted to the action, there is often a bit of difficulty making out which character is which on the timeline. While there are ways to glean this information from the game, given the small number of characters that participate in battles, there are never more than six at any one time, I wish characters could’ve been given number or letter designations that are applied to there timeline icon, easily alleviating the lack of clarity that sometimes hampers combat.
The other frequent frustration is the map. Firstly, Ruined King: A League of Legends Story does not have an onscreen minimap. To get your bearings you must open the full map screen. This decision boggles my mind. The classic circular minimap would’ve easily fit in a corner of the screen easily, saving the frustration of bouncy in and out of the map screen.
The other problem that the map presents is that there is no indication of depth in it. Paths often appear to join up, when they aren’t intersecting, but rather overlapping. Resulting in backtracking as you search for the means to reach the appropriate level.
The only other noteworthy slip-up in Ruined King: A League of Legends Story is with some of the collectibles. As players explore the world they come across random writings. These provide flavor to the world and every one of them awards the player with lore points. When enough lore points are earned, the player unlocks a point that can be used to upgrade one of their characters. The problem is that there is no onscreen prompt to cue the player into the fact that one has been unlocked. Rather, the player must go to the page themselves to periodically check. And even then, rather than simply send the point to the appropriate menu, the player is given a chest that is sent to their inventory they must open first. Though the game doesn’t tell you this. Given how open-handed the rest of the game is with information this setup is baffling.
Lastly, let’s talk about the game’s visual presentation. Which is, by every metric I know of, top-notch.
The character and world design of Ruined King: A League of Legends Story brings an amazing amount of memorable elements to its stories. Places like Bilgewater could’ve easily been just another pirate harbor. Instead, the game delivers a unique look to the seaport that makes it new and fresh, while never failing to feel exactly like what it is.
The great design extends to the many characters the player encounters on their journey as well. While most of the notable cast members are taken from Riot’s previous work, several of them have been given new looks that separate them from their previous appearances. None of the characters I’m familiar with from previous games ever looked out of character, just slightly tweaked to make them stand out. I particularly liked the redesign of Miss Fortune. While her classic green is iconic, her new look perfectly captures her role as the Pirate Quen of Bilgewater.
This wonderful design infuses the game’s combat as well. As characters shoot, slam and magic their way through fights, every action is delivered with flourishes of personality. I almost looked forward to seeing new animations as much as actually using abilities during combat.
When all is said and done, Ruined King: A League of Legends Story blends wonderful characters and a fascinating world with some of the finest turn-based gameplay I’ve ever experienced. Despite a few stumbles, this is a package that anyone who loves this genre should check out. While I still have to give it some more thought, this game is most likely going to end up being my game of the year.
Ruined King: A League of Legends Story is available now for Playstation 4/5, Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X.
Ruined King: A League of Legends Story
Ruined King: A League of Legends Story blends wonderful characters and a fascinating world with some of the finest turn-based gameplay I’ve ever experienced. Despite a few stumbles, this is a package that anyone who loves this genre should check out. While I still have to give it some more thought, this game is most likely going to end up being my game of the year.