League of Legends' musty old tome of flimsy justifications for arbitrary arena fisticuffs is gone. Forever. In its place, Riot is rolling out a whole new world of lore and, you know, legends. What does that mean for the game, though? The first big story event in the wake of the shake-up is pretty telling.
Riot has kicked off an event that takes place in LoL's Shurima desert region. There's thick clumps of plot buried beneath the sands (so much so that story gets its own tab on the event's website), much of which focuses on a new champion, ancient Egyptian-ish bird emperor Azir and a new game mode called Ascension.
The lore as it stands is... dense and a bit generic. But also followable. There's betrayal, sacrifice, and cool stained glass cut-scenes—the three things no story is complete without. Here's Azir's bit:
"A thousand years ago, the glorious empire of Shurima shone like a second sun across the desert. Its emperor, Azir, was young but ambitious – and thus easily manipulated. Azir's magus, Xerath, whispered in his ear that the ancient rite of Ascension would give the young emperor the power he craved. But Xerath stole Ascension's power for himself, obliterating Azir and reducing the gleaming capital city to ruins in the process. Nasus and Renekton, brothers and legendary Ascended heroes, stopped Xerath – but the cost was high: at Renekton's urging, Nasus entombed his beloved brother with the mad magus, to keep Xerath doubly contained in the buried ruins of Shurima for all eternity. Or so he believed. For now two adventurers seek the legendary Tomb of the Emperors..."
And here's the (rather disastrous) aftermath of all that, in which Xerath inevitably returns:
The important thing here is how much Riot is trying to tie this big in-game event to an ongoing storyline. The new mode, Ascension, centers around capturing ancient Shurima relics. But Xerath, that millenniums-old fuddy duddy, is hanging out in the middle of the level, like he goddamn owns the place or something. What an asshole. As with most property disputes, the only logical answer is murder.
Bringing down Xerath grants one player Ascended status, putting enough oomph behind their punches to more or less take on an entire team. Also, it makes them giant! Downside is, health and regeneration effects are halved, and the other team can always see them. Once an Ascended player bites the dust, Xerath comes back, and the cycle begins anew.
So that's neat. There's an in-game event going on until September 21st, and you can get Shurima icons and other rewards by participating. It's not, like, the most story-focused new lore rollout ever, but this is pretty interesting in the larger context of League of Legends. Seems like Riot is dipping its pinky toe into lore/gameplay links right now. If this ends up being the full extent of what they do, then yeah, that'll be quite a letdown.
But if they expand and get a little more experimental with it, there are certainly big possibilities here. And of course, Riot is likely hoping to expand its already massive reach outside regular oldLeague of Legends—and perhaps even games entirely—so there's a lot of opportunity.
The most interesting thing in this whole lore reboot, for better or worse, might be how the game and story diverge rather than constantly coming together, possibly holding each other back. As Riot said when they announced the reboot:
"We don't want to limit story because of gameplay, just like we wouldn't limit gameplay because of story—we want both of them (and all the other elements of League) to have the freedom to be as great as they possibly can be."
That could be disastrous and confusing, or it could just mean we end up in a comic-book-style situation with multiple iterations of the same characters and stories. Who knows? And anyway, none of this will really matter if the story's not, you know, good. Here's hoping Riot can take its canon beyond relatively generic mythology-inspired fantasy. The idea of adding character to a multiplayer game—one that's also highly focused on being a sport, no less—is, if nothing else, ambitious, so I'm definitely behind Riot's intentions. Now let's see where they go.