Summoners, your prayers have been answered: a new map is coming to League of Legends. But wait... there's more! The brand-spankin'-new Crystal Scar map, due out soon, will introduce a unique game mode called Dominion. This frantic, white-knuckle melee pits champions against each other in a race to seize and control five capture points around a map--a mode that's so unlike Summoner's Rift that playing it feels like a whole new game. Check out what we know and what we saw on Dominion so you're prepared for battle when it's released.
Similar to World of Warcraft's Arathi Basin battleground or Team Fortress 2's cp_dustbowl, Crystal Scar is a very compact map, with a circular ring connecting five control points in the shape of a star. Gameplay is fast and furious thanks to a number of tweaks to get you in the action right out of the gate: there's a global buff that increases your mana regen rate, respawn and recall timers are drastically reduced, and buff-granting Relics (like a speed boost and health pick-ups) are scattered around the map. Our favorite change? Each champion starts the game at level 3, with a surplus of gold to buy better items right away. There's also a plethora of new items, added with the intention of balancing out champions who would otherwise feel underpowered in Dominion's frenetic pace.
Matches almost always finish in 25 minutes or less, and kill/death ratios take a backseat to racing around the map capturing enemy points. The more points you control, the faster you damage your enemy's base, so if you can manage to hold all five points, two things happen: you can acknowledge that you are pro, and your games will be over in a flash.
Dying in Dominion isn't the catastrophic, snowball-starting tragedy that it is in Summoner's Rift; Dominion feels closer to FPS King of the Hill modes with its quick respawns and frequent skirmishes. In the games we played, there was a much heavier focus on small-scale battles, instead of the full team fights in Summoner's Rift battles, which made for some incredibly intense moments when the teams' points were neck and neck. And, you can always come back even if you're losing hard: never give up, never surrender.
Towers are also completely different on the Crystal Scar. Instead of being able to permanently destroy towers, each point has an orb that will attack the enemy of whoever controls it, but only if a defending champion is standing on the tower at the time. Any champion can disable the orb by neutralizing the point, but any damage taken during the 4-10 second process (it goes faster with more champions or minions attacking it) will disrupt it; luckily, capture progress never "resets" if no one's interacting with a control point. There's always the tension of desperately trying to capture a point as an incoming champion murder squad inches closer and closer--do you try to convert the point to your side and defend, run away in fear, or turn and fight? From start to finish, each Dominion match felt like it was filled with back-to-back battles, and with the hectic back-and-forth nature of the map, it's never over til it's over.
Josh and I were instantly hooked on the game's fast pace, and the bevy of new content opens up a whole new wonderful world of possibilities for champions we didn't really care for on Summoner's Rift and there are tons of new strategies for teams to uncover and experiment with each game. We're spending two days down at Riot's offices right now, playing the map as many times as they let us, between gathering all the tips, tricks, and secrets from the developers about how to win on this revolutionary new map. We'll have a full guide and tons of background and insider info on Dominion and the Crystal Scar map in the upcoming November 2011 issue of PC Gamer US, which should be reaching subscribers within a few weeks. Until then, enjoy the trailer and screenshots and get ready for the next big thing in League of Legends.
UPDATE: In all the excitement, we forgot to mention that Dominion will be added to LoL completely free of charge. All the runes and champions you've purchased will be available to you, and they'll be no extra cost associated with the new mode or map.