A fantastic RPG that has some ruin of its own to worry about.
I’ll get this out of the way right now: I’ve never played League of Legends. But with Ruined King and its sister game Hextech Mayhem releasing just after the League of Legends Netflix show Arcane (as well as being followed up by the first trailer for the League of Legends fighting game), it’s clear that Riot Games is trying to reach a wider audience with their flagship property. With that in mind (as well as the fact that this is the first piece of the League franchise to release on Switch), I’m certain that many people playing Ruined King will also be unfamiliar with the world and characters of Runeterra, and I’m happy to say that there is a lot here for existing fans and newcomers alike. Unfortunately there’s also one very big issue that makes this unique spin-off fall short and ultimately disappoint.
Ruined King opens in the city of Bilgewater, where Miss Sarah Fortune has recently ousted and (as far as she believes) killed the tyrannical pirate king Gangplank. However all is not well, as the city is still terrorized by Harrowings—the invasion of a mystical black mist from the undead Shadow Isles. Elsewhere in Bilgewater, the Buhru priestess Illaoi has received a vision revealing that the black mists may be linked to Gangplank’s mysterious survival.
All of this is a lot to take in for someone who isn’t familiar with the franchise, and admittedly I had to double check a couple things on the League of Legends wiki just to write that summary. The story explains just enough for a newcomer to get the gist of what’s going on, but there’s so much ground that the exposition has to cover that it can feel a bit like showing up for an exam you didn’t study for.
Thankfully after the opening hours of the game, when the plot had really started moving and stopped trying to introduce a ton of characters and lore, the sheer charisma and charm exhibited from the dialogue and voice acting was enough to get me hooked on the world of Runeterra. Things like the cool confidence of Miss Fortune and the overbearing optimism of Braum got me excited to see more from these characters, and I’m almost tempted to finally give up and try out League of Legends for the first time in a decade.
As far as gameplay goes, Ruined King is a turn-based RPG that incorporates some of League’s MOBA flavor into the combat to spice things up a bit. Turns aren’t taken in order, but rather periodically on a timeline that works similarly to the ATB system found in Final Fantasy. Characters take their turns at set intervals on this timeline, with the frequency of their actions being determined by a stat called “haste.” Characters have a number of instant abilities that can be cast as soon as their turn arrives, but their best moves are all designated as “lane” abilities.
I’m sure anyone that actually plays a MOBA just got caught off guard hearing that, but Ruined King’s interpretation of the lane system is what sets it apart from most other RPGs. Instead of being cast instantly, lane abilities need to be charged up for a time before they follow through. Before using an ability you’ll choose which lane to charge it in. By default you’ll use the middle “balanced” lane, but you can also choose the top “speed” lane to shorten your charging time at the cost of attack power, or you can choose the bottom “power” lane to strengthen your move by extending its charge time.
The lanes add an extra depth to the battle by not only allowing you to choose whether it’s more important to hit hard or hit fast, but also by allowing you to adjust your position on the timeline. Every battle has a wildcard modifier that periodically appears on the timeline and affects any characters taking their turn within it. Careful planning with your lanes can allow you to avoid harmful effects like poison mist or induce helpful effects like extra healing or shields. The depth and versatility of the battle timeline that laning creates makes combat in Ruined King an absolute blast, and I loved planning ahead and figuring out exactly which combinations of lanes and abilities would maximize my potential in battle.
Unfortunately battle is also where Ruined King’s greatest flaw rears its head in the form of a game-breaking bug. Every now and then, the game simply stops letting you choose your target when using an ability. This affects both sides of the field; you can neither choose which enemy you’re attacking nor choose which ally you’re healing or buffing. As far as I can tell this bug happens completely at random. There was no clear pattern or trigger that I could detect. The only thing I could tell for sure was that it always triggered in the middle of a fight, and never on the very first turn. It also triggers often. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this bug occurred at least once literally every single time I sat down to play Ruined King.
Once this bug occurs, it does not go away until you completely close the game and re-open it. This puts you in an especially precarious position if you haven’t saved in a while. Once the bug triggers, you’ll need to quickly finish the combat encounter you’re in without the ability to choose your targets and hopefully be able to save the game unimpeded. God help you if this happens in the middle of a boss fight. It is unbelievably frustrating to constantly have the game break apart in my hands and force me to drop everything I’m doing just to fix it.
I want to say that Ruined King is great, because on a design level it is. It shows off the appeal of Runeterra while crafting a unique RPG battle system that is deep, engaging, and rewarding. But the presence of such an obvious and debilitating bug makes it difficult for me to recommend. Some may say that I’m making a mountain out of a molehill over having to take five minutes out of my time every couple of hours, and I have no doubt that many people will probably push past the bug and still love the game regardless.
Unfortunately, I just cannot give this one a pass. This bug occurs so frequently and is so obvious and game-breaking that I can only conclude the decision to release the game with the bug intact was one made knowingly, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a game to consistently function at a basic level. As of now, neither Airship Syndicate nor Riot Forge have directly acknowledged the bug, so there’s no way of knowing whether it’s going to be fixed.
With that in mind, for now I’m going to leave Ruined King unscored. I think it would be a shame to permanently condemn this game for a bug that could easily be fixed within days of me talking about it, but I think I owe it to anyone interested in the game to know about this before they commit to buying it. Time will tell if this bug is fixed, and once we know for certain, I’ll make sure to revisit Ruined King and either give it the praise it deserves or the scorn it’s earned.