If you’re like one-third of people on the planet, you will be playing some sort of mobile game in 2021, and since you found this article likely in search of information for Riot Games’ newly released MOBA title Wild Rift, chances are you have played a videogame or two in your time, haven’t you? May I dare to cold read you more and say that you’re likely to identify as a gamer, or at the very least have enjoyed gaming experiences on your PC or console that had you lost in a world of incredible depth, potentially to scratch the competitive itch every now and then? Are you tired of mobile games’ lack of depth as they can’t compare to the real thing you get once you’re sitting in front of your PC, even though you’d really love to have something to briefly sink your teeth into while you’re on your commute? You want a bit more than whatever your Words With Friends playing Mom is getting out of her gaming session? Sure, you could bring your Nintendo Switch, but that isn’t as easy to bring along as your phone that has been on an ethereal tether attached to your pocket, does it? Perhaps you played League of Legends before, and you’re asking yourself if Wild Rift is a mobile substitute?
I promise I’m not Derren Brown; I just feel your pain. Fortunately, having been part of the playtest for the beta, I might just have the thing for us. Here’s why you should be paying attention to League of Legends: Wild Rift.
A TRUE LEAGUE OF LEGENDS EXPERIENCE
Being wise to the people they are appealing to, at least initially, Riot Games aren’t at all shy about invoking the connections between their smash hit League of Legends (LoL) and its, granted, noticeably different mobile version. Once again, you are the summoner of champions you will all recognise, put into a rift to fight alongside your team against the opponent in a 5v5 battle. Advantages are gained by accruing more gold than your enemy and taking map objectives like Dragon and Baron. On three lanes and the connecting jungle, you will take a position to outmanoeuvre opponents with the goal to kill your opponent’s Nexus. Even in the systems running outside the game, like how you unlock new champions and how new ones will be released, is highly reminiscent of League of Legends and while they will keep to introducing established LoL champions, for now, Riot hasn’t closed the door to the possibility of introducing mobile-exclusive champions.
LEAGUE OF LEGENDS: WILD RIFT'S HOME SCREEN
In all meaningful ways, Wild Rift truly is League of Legends held between both hands in a straight forward manner. Where noticeable differences occur, the veteran League fan exploring Wild Rift will find themselves kept in a loop of “ah, yes! This makes sense!” to the adjustments the team had to make to meet the demands of the platform.
For example, because your typical mobile gaming session is expected to be shorter, Wild Rift had to make changes to the typical game time and will run you bite-sized 10-15 minute matches. Some things had to make way to reach that sweet spot, removing Inhibitors and Nexus turrets from the base and baking their functionality into the base towers and the Nexus itself. Moreover, items are noticeably different with, for instance, jungle item functionality being directly baked into the Summoner ability Smite, and some active components working differently to adjust for mobile controls. “Dead Buttons” such as passive abilities have all gained active components to keep the number of buttons you’ll have to press consistent between all champions.
One brain-breaking change is that the map will always play from the top left going to top right, with the directions being flipped at game start if you were to spawn top side. This is done to minimise the situations in which enemies show up at the bottom of your screen and therefore sitting under your buttons and potentially hidden by your thumbs touching the screen. The game does a great job at communicating that fact, showing you the rotation of perspective at game start and indicating where the “bottom” lane is by attaching arrows spelling out “duo lane” to the start. Still, wrapping your head around Dragon sometimes being on the top side of your map does take some getting used to.
BRINGING FRIENDS ALONG IS EASY ENOUGH
Another major selling point that Riot Games eyed after having secured the support of their long-term fanbase by attracting League of Legends players is the relative ease of access for friends of those dedicated fans. Realising that people do have phones, getting everyone on that platform gets rid of one major hurdle. Once you are on Wild Rift, the game is easier to pick up in mostly good ways, though the massive knowledge gap between a veteran League player and their new friend can still be expected to be massive. Here, the adapt friend needs patience in explaining game fundamentals, such as how a lane is supposed to be played or when grouping for major objectives will be required. Patience will once again be key, but we’d argue that it has become noticeably easier to get into the swing of things and learn the game bit by bit, with depth-creating decisions being introduced to you at a later point.
RIOT GAMES INCLUDED A POTENT 3D MODEL VIEWER TO GET A CLOSE UP OF YOUR SKINS.
DEPTH ON MOBILE AND DARE WE SAY ESPORTS READY?
One of the sweetest realisations here is that Riot Games has created a game that’s about 80% as deep as what you’re getting on PC, which feels approximately 800% deeper than whatever mobile game you’ve likely been playing. Decisions about which items to buy, how to lane, and map rotations are basically just as complex as in the main game, which is a paradigm shift that few other games on those platforms have accomplished. The macro of it all feels more condensed, and here some of the gameplay experiences such as laning will feel more rushed than in the PC game, not least due to the decreased game time, which you may or may not enjoy depending on your preferences.
However, because of the incredible complexity its big brother, Wild Rift feels satisfying on a level you likely aren’t used to from an on-the-go gameplay experience on your phone. Indeed, it has such depth and flavour that it’s basically guaranteed to have a rich ranked ladder, an ecosystem with guides and wikis to support it, and likely even an esports scene.
Perhaps you are feeling some scepticism towards this idea and so did I. If you’re a League player and you’ve followed this article’s descriptions, there probably is still one area yet to illuminate that might just kill the appeal of the idea of a mobile League of Legends singlehandedly. How are the controls holding up?
CONTROLS - MAKE OR BREAK?
I couldn’t believe it until I tried, but the controls hold up outstandingly well, and you can clearly tell that a lot of development time had to have gone into finding sensible solutions for the platform. What’s more impressive is that the vast majority of your fine-tuned interactions will be happening on your right-hand side where dexterity should be the highest. Left-handers shouldn’t fret, as the game comes with a lot of button layout customisation, allowing you to essentially flip controls. If you aren’t a fan of the layouts or button interactions in general, you may also move the buttons to more convenient positions and increase or decrease their size.
Auto attacking and aiming of them has undergone a sort of “auto-aim” solution giving you assistance in much the same way that you’d receive when playing an FPS game on a console. Tapping the auto-attack button attacks the nearest target and pressing it down for a longer period of time allows you to aim with a crosshair, which, once locked on, will only shoot the selected target if they are in your range. Because of that, auto-attacking, especially for Attack Damage carries, feels intuitive, and stutter-stepping becomes entirely possible, and perhaps even easier than on PC.
For skillshots, you open the known visual indicator once tapping the screen, which moves out from your champion, not the button itself. This might need some getting used to but is picked up rather quickly. Playing Jinx, hitting her skillshots is mechanically demanding but doable. For skillshots which require less precision and would rather need a quick use like Ahri’s Charm, quickly tapping the button does the trick as the game fires a fairly accurate projectile towards your opponent. Some abilities like Jinx’s Flame Chompers feel admittedly wonky to place though.
Looking around on the map can be done in several different ways, either using a free cam mode which by default is located in the top right-hand corner around where your ward will be, or tapping the mini-map on the respective locations.
THE UI LAYOUT LOOKS MILDLY OVERWHELMING BUT FEELS VERY MANAGABLE.
In terms of using the real estate of your phone’s screen, the default options feel crisply optimised, with no UI element seeming in the way or needlessly large. Playing on a 6.39-inch screen with sausage fingers like yours truly didn’t pose many challenges in the way of finding the right buttons at the right time.
Because Wild Rift is also expected to hit consoles at some point, we initially thought that playing with a controller would be a significantly different gameplay experience which would likely bring competitive advantages. Even when Riot developers told us that they thought of the different input methods as more of a preferential choice rather than a big advantage, we remained sceptical. After many hours of playtesting, their assessment appeared to be bang on.
More than just the technical side of things, controlling your champion on Wild Rift feels much more satisfying than you may imagine and as high-skilled players showed us during the playtest, allow for a fairly high mechanical skill cap despite its assistance.
Riot Games has delivered an impressively LoL-like experience that cuts corners in ways which allow players to get into the action much more quickly than its PC client, cutting down the time investment each game will require, automating or gently suggesting many of the hard decisions the PC version will regularly pose to new users, though never really forgetting to reward knowledge and skill earned through experience and practice. The vision that Riot might have had for you to consume in a horizontal position while lounging on your sofa and talking to your friends you previously have never gotten to play with, may just become a reality. If anything, Wild Rift might just be good enough to get you away from your PC, potentially threatening a split of player bases that might meaningfully impact its esports landscape.