Airship Syndicate’s work on Ruined King: A League of Legends Story weaves a wonderful tale that is primed to capture League of legends fans new and old. Blending the design ideas of its previous turn-based RPG, Battle Chasers: Nightwar, with LoL’s lore, it brings together a handful of favorite characters and gives them room to grow over the course of a lengthy and well-paced campaign. While some bugs slowed me down, a compelling story, gorgeous graphic novel-style art, modest character development, and versatile combat kept me entertained as I finally got to experience the world of Runeterra from a different perspective.
Riot has spent the last decade creating diverse, unique, and memorable characters for its MOBA, but until recently they’ve been showcased mainly through video shorts. All that changed in November 2021, first with Netflix’s brilliant animated series Arcane, and now Ruined King and its vast amount of dialogue and backstory, fans like myself can dive far deeper into what makes at least a small portion of the 157-character roster so special. Coming away from this adventure, I found myself more invested in characters I previously knew but had sidelined.
Ruined King’s plot centers around the impending awakening of King Viego at the hands – and hook – of Thresh, who plots to take over the world of Runeterra with the next Harrowing (a corrupting force that wreaks havoc on the world, claiming the souls of all who perish within for eternity) and harvest more souls to torment. The heroes and villains play the roles they need to move the average “stop the villain from destroying the world” story along, and while I found it predictable, the execution is still enjoyable thanks to the strong voice work of industry staples like Matt Mercer, Laura Bailey, Liam O’Brien, and others who reprise their respective roles from League of Legends. It added yet another level of authenticity and charm that pulled me in from the very beginning.
Ahri, Braum, Illaoi, Miss Fortune, Pyke, and Yasuo are each on journeys that resourcefully intertwine and unfold, depicted in a gorgeous graphic novel art style across my roughly 30-hour main campaign playthrough (and an extra five to 10 hours to finish side quests like bounties or fishing to obtain components to craft legendary weapons). Characters in my party were challenged by their own relatable yet all-too-familiar trials of vengeance, acceptance, and self-discovery that foster growth within them. It was neat to see more of them, but I would have loved to see them dive deeper into certain people; Yasuo’s arc is concluded with a singular battle that heals his trauma and sets him on a more purposeful path and it’s hardly mentioned afterward, making it feel a bit rushed.
The main story keeps everyone focused on the main objective and did a great job of keeping me invested. Most of my favorite moments came from conversations over a meal in cutscenes that accompany the scarcely placed rest points and give breathing room between a dungeon of enemies and the boss at the end. However, it was sometimes too much of a good thing; I wished there had been more rest points to split up the conversations instead of packing as many as four into one, plus I wouldn’t have minded more frequent auto-saves.
While the main story is enjoyable without any prior knowledge of the LoL universe, many of the side conversations involve characters telling stories grounded in their world by previously established lore. Anyone who has read Yasuo’s biography or watched the Kin of the Stained Blade will know his past and what haunts him and causes his hesitation in forging bonds with others, but it was the emotional evolution of him engaging with other characters, like the ever-jovial Braum, that became the driving force in captivating me in nearly every conversation.
The prologue starts things off with an enjoyable series of fast-paced in-battle tutorials as the Swashbuckling Miss Fortune fights off a mysterious black mist that harkens back to the previous Harrowings while teaching you just a fraction of the strategic turn-based combat mechanics. What makes Ruined King’s battle system interesting and versatile is how its Speed, Balanced, and Power attack types play out on the initiative bar timeline, and the counters to each. Casting Miss Fortunes’ “Guns Blazing” ability in the Power lane slows her down as she prepares to launch a heavy attack but pushes her allies forward in the turn order, giving them another chance to attack or defend before the enemies get to move while increasing her own evasion stat. Meanwhile, Speed casting Ahri’s Spirit Mend will heal and cleanse two debuffs from an ally or revive them if they are already KO’d.
Another layer is added with wildcards, boons, and hazards, that help or hinder via healing, poison, or temporary stat boosts. These mechanics continue to evolve with new ideas introduced at an unhurried pace until roughly the midway point of the main story, which is around the time you complete your party. From that point on it’s more about demonstrating your level of mastery of the systems, such as finishing an enemy off in 10 hits or less to prevent them from self-destructing and dealing massive damage or using a Power-based attack to knock an enemy out of their defensive stance, creating a window to defeat them before they regain their footing. I would’ve preferred to get to that point a little sooner, though, because in the early hours I felt ready to move on to the next concept before Ruined King was ready to teach it to me.
My other issue with combat is the default battle speed: sure, it gives you more time to enjoy cute animations like Braum’s Poro Snack and vicious ones like Pyke’s ultimate, Reaper – but their novelty wore off quickly. After watching each character’s arsenal of 12 unique moves (many of which originate from League of Legends) half a dozen times, I was extremely grateful for the ability to double the battle speed for the rest of the campaign and immediately found myself enjoying combat more.
Across the journey, you acquire tons of materials like gunpowder, leather straps, and essence that enable you to enchant your items with valuable upgrades like life steal, reduced casting time for abilities, or pure stat increases. Using this system isn’t necessary on the lower difficulty levels, but becomes extremely valuable as you progress on the higher ones. This, coupled with the mix-and-match ability and rune upgrade system, gives you an extreme amount of control over how your characters’ stats shake out and what role they perform in battle, such as giving Illaoi a secondary role as a healer or building Miss Fortune as a support to simultaneously buff allies and debuff enemies. Using that setup enabled me to have Yasuo deal the damage with a near 100% critical ratio. There is a finite amount of skill points available by the time you max out at level 30, but what’s great is you can reallocate them for free, and overwrite upgrades on a weapon or armor for a reasonable cost of materials. This let me experiment with all the recipes, such as adding a shield to my tank whenever they got hit, or adding health regeneration after combat, which greatly reduced the number of consumable potions I needed to use between battles.
Ruined King isn’t going to ruin a lot of experienced RPG players with its difficulty, though. My playthrough on Heroic (the hardest difficulty) only slowed me down marginally compared to my time spent on the lower difficulty options, since upgrading and enchanting abilities and characters are efficient and effortless ways to gain the upper hand. Most notably, late-game enemies like the Guardian Prototype’s HP scaled from 16K on Story mode up to 36K on Heroic. Despite having more HP to deplete, itemizing and upgrading Illaoi to simultaneously tank and heal, Ahri to heal while dealing damage, and Pyke to add absurd amounts of debuffs with his damage ended most battles by the enemies second or third turn. In the rarest occasions where I did lose a battle, it was at the hands of a new enemy specifically made to test my mastery of a new concept that had been recently introduced, such as Wisp Mothers who could one-shot any party member with their Nightmare ability if you don’t take them down quickly, or bosses with ultimate abilities that could blast away 80% of my HP if specific debuffs weren’t removed in time.
However, if you’re new to RPGs and just want to enjoy the story without beating your head against a tougher fight, Story Mode allows you to skip any battle, including bosses, while still reaping the benefits in crafting materials and XP.
Ruined King hits its stride in the latter half, especially as party dynamics are challenged regularly to teach the value of synergy when fighting certain enemies. During a trip to The Shadow Isles, I encountered the extremely deadly Mistwalker Executioners that would use their Guillotine attack to one-shot lower HP allies if I failed to use a tank character like Braum to taunt and absorb the hit with his shields. Meanwhile, corrupted assassins like “Pain Harvesters” used Harvest Pain to remove all debuffs on its allies and grant itself a 10% damage buff per stack; this encouraged me to either kill him first or avoid using attacks that cause debuffs if I had other options, like Wisp Mothers.
While about 90% of games in League of Legends take place in a single location, I hoped Ruined King would take us on a more expansive tour of the world. Based on trailers and the opening sequence, I knew I would visit the Shadow Isles – home to Thresh, Hecarim, Viego, and others – and that got my hopes up for the chance of seeing places like Ionia, Piltover, or Noxus. But even after spending the first half dozen hours in Bilgewater and gaining access to my ship, that dream never came to fruition. The majority of the story splits its time between Bilgewater and The Shadow Isles, and while there are dungeons like the Purification Temple and Windrake Isle that break up the visual monotony, even they are limited in diversity. Windrake Isle starts out full of vibrant emerald greens, oranges, and reds while on the surface but upon entering the three-room dungeon it immediately reverts back to the muted blue and green color palette seen in the Purification Temple and Bhuru Temple.
Most locations do have plenty to explore, at least, and are inhabited with standard NPCs, enemies, optional quests, fishing spots, bounties to hunt, and puzzles to solve. Though exploration is hobbled by a map system that leaves a lot to be desired – such as typical functions like zoom or the ability to mark locations to come back to later.
It wasn’t all Poros and sunshine in Runeterra: Ruined King suffers from some game-crashing bugs that I encountered routinely playing on PS5 (sometimes at important story moments), and other issues that can slow down progress, like when character models become invisible and unable to interact with objects, and two separate instances where I came back to a corrupted save file or a load screen freezing at 95%. The good news is that things like this happened noticeably less frequently as I played, which may have been thanks to quick patches and hotfixes.
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Author: Dan Stapleton