League of Legends: Wild Rift feels too good to be true, especially for new or lapsed players.
League of Legends on PC is incredibly dense and competitive, known for inspiring players to climb the ranked ladder or even to watch the best players compete in esports tournaments.
Players choose from a roster of champions who fill different roles. Then, the two teams fight in a 5v5 matchup, with the ultimate goal being to destroy the enemy base, called the nexus. Much like football, different roles take different positions on the field. A jungler floats around, trying to pick up kills where they can on unsuspecting enemies, while mage characters usually try to control the mid lane, and so on.
Wild Rift is the same basic game, but redesigned for mobile devices. That’s the simple elevator pitch, but adapting a game this intricate to play well on phones isn’t easy. The first thing Wild Rift does right is bypassing one of the most intimidating parts of League on PC by letting you know what your champion does, where they go, and most importantly, why you’re going there via screen prompts and guided arrows.
I move my champion with my left thumb, which acts like a virtual arcade stick on the screen. My right thumb is used to launch abilities, like a giant laser beam that does tons of damage, or a hail of bullets from my pistols that slows enemies around me. The right thumb also controls my character’s standard attacks, and I can add modifiers to control how they’re used by tapping certain icons like “please prioritize this enemy” or “focus on minions.”
The meat and potatoes strategies feel roughly the same between the PC League of Legends and the mobile Wild Rift, but certain habits I’ve learned from the PC version are absent. A good example is movement; while playing on PC, I’m constantly clicking back and forth in my lane, like a player shifting weight from foot-to-foot during a really intense game of dodgeball. Wild Rift, on the other hand, is more like a smooth walk to and fro — I’m just shifting my thumb back and forth instead of click-click-clicking my mouse.
PC League asks me to constantly click on and manually select my targets, in fact, while Wild Rift focuses more on getting into position, activating my auto attack, and then choosing which targets to prioritize. On the PC, I’m very used to constantly moving the camera around the map and off my champion; on Wild Rift, I stick with my champion and rely on the game’s minimap to see what’s going on elsewhere.
A breakout camera will also pop up if I use certain abilities that exist outside of my vision range, which gives the game an enjoyable, live-sports-like feeling in the presentation.
A long road back to League
Wild Rift isn’t just a good fit for new fans, however. I’m a long-time League of Legends player on PC, dating back to the game’s earliest days. I remember when the lane designations were decided on by players, then formalized by Riot. I saw the evolution of runes, survived release Xin Zhao, and played literally thousands of games. I’ve seen some shit.
I’ve also logged on less and less over the years. I still like League of Legends, at least theoretically. I just don’t have the time to invest in 40 minute games, I’m intimidated by the new champions and their learning curve, or I feel a little slow and stiff physically for a game with such a high skill ceiling.
But Wild Rift captures about 90% of what I enjoy about the PC version. I’m not pulling off high-intensity jukes and scraping out kills with fancy keyboard combos … but I do get the satisfaction of landing a powerful laser beam on a bunch of enemies, frying them, or charging into the other team with a perfect rush and stun. The skill ceiling may be lower, and so the highs aren’t quite as high as the base game, but the positive side of that is that Wild Rift is much more accessible than League of Legends.
It’s also loaded with tutorials, which go over every aspect of the game, from how to choose your target and attack to how to deal with turret aggro and bigger objectives. These are concepts that PC players puzzled out on their own, but Wild Rift delivers it all on a platter. The onboarding tutorials are short, snappy, and completing them all allowed me to unlock a champion of my choice. Nice!
I can play a 20-minute match in bed, or while soaking in the bath. No one yells at me in chat. Wild Rift has taken out some of the more intense aspects of the PC version, replacing text communication with a powerful set of pre-made ping messages for nearly any context. The game also gently alerts us when big objectives are up, so we know when we can kill Baron Nashor and get his powerful buff, or contest the enemy team over the river dragon.
The PC version of League of Legends is like the Ship of Theseus, iterated upon for over a decade. Those years of adaptations, failures, retired features, and additions were a bit of a bumpy roller coaster ride if you went through them in real-time.
Wild Rift lets Riot pick up all of that assorted knowledge and run with it, while also teaching players what it all means, and then adds a few more allowances to keep things moving. For instance, the bases are simpler. One layer of defense, the inhibitors that would spawn super minions once destroyed, has been removed. Matches are shorter, and champions level up faster and get their ultimate abilities at level five instead of six. The end result is speedy and light; I can jump in and try a new champion out, enjoy a few big plays, and get close to the full League experience in about 20 minutes.
The onboarding process is a good thing for Riot, too, because League of Legends is the tip of the spear for many other, smaller projects. There’s K-Pop sensations K/DA, the cyberpunk PROJECT universe, a fighting game, a magical girl anime continuity, reams of fantasy fiction … the list goes on and on.
Before Wild Rift, I couldn’t recommend any of these side-projects to a friend, because so much of it required a baseline familiarity with League of Legends, and the PC version of the game is a nightmare carnival that can kill friendships dead due to the huge schisms in skill and expectations between existing and new players. Once someone has the basics down, Wild Rift is a much better gateway to League proper.
Although one big hurdle may be the heroes themselves. Unfortunately, my collection of champions and skins from PC’s League of Legends don’t carry over. I can rely on the game’s free rotation, which cycles in a selection of champions I don’t have to pay to use, and the game unlocks some of the best starter champions for me early on so I always have a choice available.
That separation between platforms is the biggest hurdle stopping me from giving Riot any more real money, however. It’s hard to justify a purchase that sticks to just one platform, even in an otherwise free-to-play game where the costumes and heroes are the most important purchase.
Wild Rift is welcoming, safe, and palatable, a great alternative for those intimidated by the PC version of League. More than that, it’s genuinely good, and it’s always nice to have a new mobile version of an old favorite on hand for bed, bath, and other places beyond the PC.
League of Legends: Wild Rift is in open beta on Android and iOS. The game was reviewed on Android using a beta account provided by Riot Games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.