Ruined King: A League of Legends Story had the cards stacked against it. As a standalone RPG set firmly in the world of League of Legends, it has to appeal to both hardcore League fans and players who have never touched the game. That’s no easy feat, and it would be easy for Ruined King to oversteer too hard in one direction or another. But developer Airship Syndicate keeps a firm hand on the wheel throughout, guiding the player through a fantasy RPG bursting with character.
In Ruined King, I take control of a squad of champions from League lore who borrow some of their tools from the original MOBA design. Illaoi, a Kraken Priestess, ramps up power over time as she summons more spectral tentacles, which she can then use to heal her friends or crush her enemies. Braum, a friendly fellow with a massive shield and bigger biceps, serves as my team’s tank. Meanwhile, offensive characters like Miss Fortune — a pirate captain with a pair of pistols — focus on dishing out damage from the back line.
Building a party and experimenting with different combos are pillars of longform, turn-based RPGs, and Ruined King doesn’t disappoint. Combat quickly falls into a comfortable yet cerebral rhythm of back and forth. I can snap off an instant ability, like a taunt, a shield, or a standard attack, or I can choose a more powerful “lane ability.”
Once I’ve chosen my lane ability, I can choose between three options: a Speed, Balance, or Power attack. The labels are pretty self-explanatory, but what’s interesting is how they affect the character’s position on the “initiative” grid. A power attack might hit hard and feel good, but it could also leave my character in a dead zone of poison mist. Some enemies are vulnerable to certain attacks; a Speed attack might disarm a bomb, for example. All of this makes combat a delicate dance.
I spend a good chunk of my time in Ruined King in combat, but much more time in the overworld. Ruined King is set in two regions: the pirate city of Bilgewater, and the mysterious spectral Shadow Isles. I talk to inhabitants, collect lore documents, solve puzzles, and explore lushly detailed environments. It’s typical RPG fare, where exploring the overworld is half the pleasure, and I pore over every inch of both worlds in search of secrets. Airship Syndicate creates the illusion of a cutthroat, thriving port incredibly well. These islands hardly show up in League of Legends proper, but Ruined King succeeds in making them feel like actual places with their own histories.
While the overworld is vibrant and inviting, Ruined King plays it too safely on the narrative side. Each League champion is introduced with a quick biography, so League newbies can get caught up, while veterans don’t have to watch cutscenes about revelations they already know. But while a couple of the characters have solid stories, many of them do little more than offer color commentary on proceedings.
Sure, it’s fun to watch the gang banter and get to know one another, but if you’re looking for the character choices and deep, philosophical conversation trees that you might get from a Divinity: Original Sin 2 or Baldur’s Gate 3, Ruined King never dives that deep. Some cast members get a satisfying story, and others remain in stasis for huge chunks of the game.
This isn’t helped by the fact that the overworld dialogue largely remains the same no matter which party member I inhabit. Braum can toss a little poro beast down a small corridor once in a while, or Illaoi can read her people’s language on items, but anytime I talk to a quest giver I’ll get the same polite — and limited — dialogue trees. By contrast, the written lore stored around the world tends to be a little more adventurous. I found documents ranging from desperate missives from doomed adventurers to sapphic poetry.
Ruined King is also filled with side quest content — including a fishing minigame — but on lower difficulties much of it is redundant. If you’re playing on Normal or Story difficulty, you can simply ignore a lot of the Lane mechanics in non-boss combat, and overworld systems like crafting and cooking quickly become unnecessary as well. On Normal, I’m constantly picking up dust and leathers I don’t care about as I raid temples and ruins.
Then there are some little, cloying issues, like having to watch the same short cutscenes play out every time I use a character’s ultimate, or having to constantly tell the game I don’t want to go through a map tutorial. (I know how to use a map!) I also found myself sighing every time I sat down because I had lost a couple of battles’ worth of progress despite manually saving, or I had to manually increase the speed of combat every time.
But these issues don’t detract from a fantastic RPG adventure that’s full of beautiful creatures and enjoyable pulp. Sure, there are some ancillary systems that come off as filler, and the narrative isn’t the most impressive piece of writing, but that’s OK. Ruined King is a fun romp through gorgeous environments with a team of likable misfits. Airship Syndicate doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it didn’t need to — Ruined King still manages to serve as a great on-ramp to both League of Legends lore and RPGs in general.
Ruined King: A League of Legends Story was released on Nov. 16. The game was reviewed through Epic Games Store using a download code 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.