‘Ruined King: A League Of Legends Story’ review: an intricate love letter to the ‘League Of Legends’ universe

Explore Runeterra without four angry teammates shouting at you

Ruined King: A League Of Legends Story is a game I’ve been waiting a long, long time for. Not so much in name, perhaps – it was only announced back in 2019 –  but in spirit, I’ve been waiting for around ten years. You see, Riot Games has spent the last decade knitting away at a sprawling universe for League Of Legends, full of captivating characters and sprawling branches of lore, but there’s one problem: League of Legend’s MOBA battleground isn’t exactly the best place to show that off.

Ruined King – an isometric party-based RPG – lends Riot the perfect angle to showcase the world it’s created. Instead of simply reading about the fantasy world of Runeterra, players can actually get stuck in and explore it.

Anyone who hasn’t played League Of Legends may find the concept of jumping blindly into the game – which is built within an established universe they know nothing about – quite daunting, to say the least. To avert this, Riot has taken the same approach as it did in Arcane, its smash-hit Netflix show. Instead of dumping on tons background lore and telling a story based on the player’s presumed knowledge, Ruined King takes a healthy slice of the universe and parcels a neatly self-contained story within.

That being said, the setting of Ruined King isn’t exactly a “healthy” slice of Runeterra. The grimy port of Bilgewater, filled with violent piracy and dangerous street gangs, makes Mos Eisley look like a friendly suburban sprawl for B-list villainy. Likewise, the subtly-named Shadow Isles didn’t get its name from anything pleasant. But hey – at least Ruined King‘s gorgeous environmental artwork mean they’re both a pleasure to look at.

Ruined King: A League of Legends Story
Ruined King: A League of Legends Story. Credit: Airship Syndicate, Riot Forge.

The disreputable nature of Bilgewater is best reflected in the “good” characters that form your party. Of the three who come from the seedy port, their actions speak for themselves early on. You’ll first play as Miss Fortune, a would-be pirate queen who wants to unite Bilgewater’s rivalling gangs as one, and point-blank executes a rival captain minutes into the game to get her way. There’s also the half-dead serial killer Pyke, whose nickname – The Bloodharbor Ripper – give away his side-job away a little. If his name doesn’t, the fact he’s introduced in the act of slaughtering another victim will do the trick.

Again…these are the good guys.

They might not have the cleanest hands, but the six party members available in the game are a lot of fun to follow. All of them reveal their own intricate stories, and over the course of Ruined King, each character develops nicely alongside the game’s overarching plot.

Speaking of which – the city of Bilgewater is plagued by an event called the Harrowing. This involves ghostly fog, tormented spirits and eldritch horrors blowing in from the sea to slaughter unprepared denizens. When the city is threatened by another of these attacks, your party is pulled together from across the world to head to the root of the evil – The Shadow Isles.

Ruined King
Ruined King: A League Of Legends Story. Credit: Riot Forge

At the heart of the Harrowing, there’s a little bit more to unpack. With dashes of romance, intrigue and manipulation, there’s more a little more nuance than first meets the eye. These developments unravel as each character comes to term with their own place on this journey – Miss Fortune’s time spent getting chummy with a serial killer forces her to acknowledge her own quick approach to violence, while Braum’s loveable penchant for heroism and storytelling starts to wear down even Yasuo’s cold, edgy exterior.

These delightful interactions occur between party members when they set up camp, and they quickly became my favourite moments in the game. To be honest, Ruined King is almost worth it just to see tough-priestess Illaoi develop a crush on Braum, the nation’s Poro-befriending Best Boy.

Combined with fantastic voice acting across the performances, it’s hard to do anything but praise the character work, which offers the sort of development and expansion I’ve been waiting so long for, and it’s everything I’d hoped for. League Of Legends has so many characters worth exploring with more than just the occasional short story, and Ruined King does a fantastic job of highlighting this.

Ruined King: A League of Legends Story
Ruined King: A League of Legends Story. Credit: Airship Syndicate, Riot Forge.

For every bit of League-centric praise, it’s worth hammering home that Ruined King stands absolutely fine on its own two feet. You don’t need to know a single thing about League Of Legends to enjoy Ruined King‘s rich setting, or know who anybody is to appreciate their character. Ruined King has made a game completely accessible to new players, while still catering to an audience like myself who wants more out of League Of Legends‘ own roster.

While the characters turn Ruined King into something special, elsewhere the game doesn’t exactly try to push the party-based RPG genre into any new frontier. Combat is perfectly serviceable but it’s nothing amazing, though it does manage to mildly set itself apart with the “lanes” feature. This lets party members use a more powerful set of attacks, which can be used in three lanes depending on whether you want it to hit harder or faster. Again, there’s nothing too exciting here, but it’s enjoyable enough that you don’t end up spam-clicking to get through every instance of combat – which is high praise for many JRPG’s.

Ruined King: A League of Legends Story
Ruined King: A League of Legends Story. Credit: Airship Syndicate, Riot Forge.

On the other hand, there are some issues with this game that do cause it to feel a little clunky. The interface and user experience feels notably rough, with some features buried in menus within menus. Every time I bring up the map, I’m asked if I want to watch a tutorial for the menu. No thanks. Would you like to watch a tutorial for the inventory, perhaps? How about the abilities page? Well? Would you? There’s overly friendly tutorial popups on every single page, and learning to dismiss them very quickly becomes etched into my muscle memory. Within the map, I also had an issues with actually finding what I needed. Quest markers are tiny little icons that can be buried amidst other legends, and there were many times where I just stared at the map, hoping the very cosmos would reveal my path.

There are also issues with rocky balancing. There are some moments where the difficulty of encounters skyrocket, and some areas required several reloads to clear. Stocking up with potions helps to alleviate this, but they’re surprisingly expensive, and I often had to make do with the limited inventory I had.

Despite these problems, I was willing to let some of Ruined King‘s rougher edges slide. They didn’t really get in the way of my favourite parts of the game, and were really just background nuisances that I learned to live with.

Before Ruined King, I was worried that Riot Games wouldn’t know how to transition League of Legends into other genres, or if these new titles would inadvertently alienate newcomers by tossing a decade of lore at them. Due to the quality of Airship Syndicate‘s Ruined King, I’m not worried about that anymore – I’m just excited to see where’s next.

Ruined King: A League Of Legends Story is available on PC, PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, with a PS5 and Xbox Series X|S release due at a later date. This review was played on PC. 

The Verdict

Ruined King: A League Of Legends Story is a passionate love letter to the League Of Legends universe, but that shouldn’t put off anyone looking to explore Runeterra for the first time. Full of compelling characters and a stunning environment, Ruined King is well worth the dive for any RPG fan.

Pros

  • Each member of the party is well-written, and it’s a pleasure watching them interact
  • A captivating art style brings Bilgewater and The Shadow Isles to un-life
  • A great stepping stone for anyone who enjoyed watching Arcane and wants more

Cons

    • The combat’s nothing amazing
    • Clunky interfacing makes for some awkward menu navigation
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