League of Legends is so successful that it single-handedly sustained its developer, Riot Games, for more than a decade. Now, the massively popular, free-to-play MOBA comes to mobile devices as League of Legends: Wild Rift. Translating an esports-caliber, competitive PC game to phones requires appreciated tweaks, but also some that are less than ideal. However, Wild Rift retains enough of the tactical gameplay and lavishly produced League of Legends magic that millions of people love, making this an Editors’ Choice pick for iPhone games.
Defense of the Ancients
While League of Legends: Wild Rift is technically a new game, you’ll experience more enjoyment if you have some familiarity with the franchise. After all, League of Legends is the poster child for one of the most omnipresent, yet inscrutable, video game genres: the multiplayer online battle arena, or MOBA.
League of Legends began as a Warcraft 3 mod that soon became its own offshoot of the real-time strategy genre, quickly overshadowing the likes of StarCraft II (much to my own personal annoyance). There are many MOBAs, but the top dogs are League of Legends and Dota 2. International esports teams earn millions of dollars competing in tournaments featuring these games.
With Wild Rift, Riot Games wants to expose the beloved PC game to an even larger audience on mobile. You can currently download Wild Rift for free on Android and iOS devices, and a console port is coming at a later time. After downloading the game, you sign in with your Riot Games account, Facebook account, or Apple/Google account.
As a free-to-play game, Wild Rift lets you use accrued in-game currency or straight-up real money to purchase various cosmetics and emotes. However, as is the case with League on PC, you must grind or spend cash to purchase playable champions. Each champion costs 5,500 Blue Motes (which you earn in-game) or 725 Wild Cores. You can spend $5 for 475 Wild Cores or up to $100 for 11,000 Wild Cores. Conversely, Dota 2’s heroes are always available for free, which feels much fairer.
Welcome to the Jungling
League of Legends has a reputation for being the slightly-more-accessible, hardcore MOBA, which is perhaps why it smoothly translates to mobile. The genre is still chock full of bonkers concepts and mechanics that need explaining, though. Prepare to learn what “ganking” means, as well as the finer points of proper “jungling.” Fortunately, Wild Rift’s excellent tutorials walk you through the basics.
Two teams of five compete to destroy the opposing team’s base on the other side of the map. To get through, they battle across various lanes full of hostile turrets, respawning minions, neutral monsters, and other players. To succeed, you must synergize with your teammates, purchase the right upgrades, use your champion’s unique powers at the right time, and seize any opening. Launch a huge missile or unleash a whirling sword strike. Grab a foe with your extendable arm and follow up with a big punch. The tensest moments come from baiting overzealous enemies into a trap, making the most of your final sliver of life before dying, or being rewarded for scoring the last hit. Individual victories slowly shift the overall tide of battle.
Wild Rift still packs all of that entertaining strategic depth, which is impressive. However, some changes had to be made to account for the change in platform. Again, this is a different game, mobile players and PC players don’t compete against each other. Wild Rift features a smaller map tuned for faster matches that you can finish during a bus ride. Average Wild Rift matches last 15 minutes, as opposed to 45 on PC.
Wild Rift also takes a game built for the precision of a mouse and keyboard and swaps in a touch-based control scheme. The result is perfectly playable. The game offers a lot of hotkey-esque shortcuts for locking onto targets, automatically moving or attacking, and pinging allies. You don’t need to constantly tap the screen to perform every single action. Unfortunately, dragging a virtual joystick and targeting reticles on a touch screen didn’t feel good when mobile games first blew up ten years ago, and still doesn’t feel good now. As a more approachable MOBA this is still better than, say, Heroes of the Storm and its dumbed-down mechanics.
I’m not a competitive player, so I can’t speak to the game’s current balance. Plus, it’s still technically in beta as it rolls out across the world, so expect many future adjustments. Champions have their same moves, so your PC knowledge should transfer over as you customize your loadout. That said, some moves receive slight tweaks to fit the new control scheme.
At launch, Wild Rift has just over 60 champions. That’s plenty for any other game, but Wild Rift’s roster falls short of the PC version’s more than 150 characters. I played as sturdy warrior Garen, livewire gunner Jinx, and cumbersome robot Blitzcrank. But your favorite character might be missing, at least for the moment.
As the genre descends from mods, I’ve always felt that MOBAs tend to have generic, fantasy hodgepodge art styles. Fortunately, with so much money to spend, Wild Rift elevates its generic art style with tremendous production value. Portraits shift as you tilt your phone. Characters zip, soar, and attack in gorgeous animated movies that just make you want to dive in and test out their colorful and dramatic abilities. Seeing those abilities constantly popping off during a match, all while turrets blast and minions get mowed down, is equally entertaining.
Key to League’s popularity is its ability to run smoothly on even weak hardware. So it’s also no surprise that Wild Rift’s technical performance holds up perfectly on mobile. I played on an iPhone 12 mini, and had no problem following the action from the top-down perspective and spotting key points of interest. According to the in-game frame counter, performance never dipped below 30 frames per second.
The game suffered a few dropped connections, perhaps due to the launch-window player congestion. This didn’t bother me while playing low stakes matches against the AI or goofy custom matches, but you don’t want to lose a ranked battle against other people because of a shoddy connection. On the upside, Riot Games has big plans for using 5G to deliver esports-tier low latency on mobile. The in-game millisecond counter shows you how much lag to expect.
A League of Its Own
League of Legends has been Riot Games’ bread-and-butter title for so long that it’s cool to see the team make other games, whether it’s competitive shooter Valorant, a single-player League of Legends RPG, and now League of Legends: Wild Rift on mobile. If you know you hate MOBAs, this new one won’t change your mind. But if you missed the boat and are curious about this genre, this Editors’ Choice pick iPhone game makes it easier than ever to finally see what all the fuss is about.