It can be difficult to convince your DotA-virgin friends to jump into League of Legends or Heroes of Newerth with you for a match or two. The gameplay is still foreign to a lot of gamers, and can feel overwhelming at first; and they've heard stories of the viscous, hyper-competitive community. That's why Riot Games developed the Co-op vs. AI mode for League of Legends, which just launched yesterday—it was hailed as the perfect way to play with friends, without all the stress and pressure of PvP play. But what will our two resident LoL-addicts think when they face down the most challenging bots the genre has ever seen? (And more importantly, who will get the higher kill tally?)
There's more to this new mode than just a few complex algorithms—instead of adding specific bots to teams (like we do in Custom matches), the AI team selects their own champions with spells and runes and all that jazz in order to create a solid squad of 5 complimentary characters. The bots even had an arguably better lineup than we did: one tank, one healer/support, one jungler and two carries.
The first thing I noticed was that their Warwick wasn't jungling. I'm not sure if their AI doesn't include jungling (their Producer, Travis George told me that the same champ's AI will behave differently in different matches, so its possible that the Warwick bot will jungle sometimes), but it added a small dent in the believability, as 99% of Warwick players wouldn't be caught dead laning when the jungle is open.
But what's more surprising is just how not-dead the AI remained during the laning phase—the AI is aggressive at high health, but knows when to cut its losses and run, with near-perfect timing. Garen and I (as Evelynn) were facing off against Warwick and Shen, and they each escaped with just a sliver of health probably 3 times each. It was frustrating that we couldn't pin them down, but when I thought about it, it's really quite impressive: most new players don't show that same level of restraint when pursuing their prey.
As difficult as the AI was to kill, the match was pretty one-sided from the start. By the 10-minute mark, team kills were 7-3 in our favor, and I'd discovered that the AI held to the "out of sight, out of mind" school of thought when it came to my assassin character stealthing. Good for me, bad for them. The players started getting ganks on the AI in all three lanes, but the AI got a few ganks of their own as their mid-carry (Ashe) caught us with her ult from pretty respectable distances and jumped into the top/bottom lanes to take us down. The AI even had quite a few solid pushes on our towers, and have an uncanny ability to chase their enemies to the exact point that they would begin to be attacked by our turret and no further (unless their target's health was low enough that they could tower dive, in which case they did).
Overall, I was impressed, but there were a few weak spots in the AI, which keeps it from being a perfect training tool for online play. First, I never saw the AI get their own jungle buffs, and they rarely disrupted us from running into their jungle and stealing their buffs. Players that use only this mode as their guide for PvP play will get a very rude awakening when they try to mimick this playstyle in PvP. More specifically, they'll get a 5-man gank squad eagerly tearing them apart.
Later in the game, I also noticed that the AI began to run away from my stealthed Eve, even though they didn't have any items to see stealthed champs, and I hadn't seen them warding the lanes. I would guess that the AI doesn't have fog of war or stealth vision limitations, and that the devs just coded in a lot of restraints on the AI to stop them from totally abusing that power. It manifested itself as nothing more than a slight annoyance, however, and could've been completely legitimate.
By the 23 minute mark, the kill tally was 21-11 in our favor, and we ended up winning in 33 minutes with 40 kills to their 16 (I personally went 10-3-10. Beat that, Lucas!). To be fair, I seemed to be playing with very competent players—who, it should be noted, were all incredibly nice and helpful. I don't expect to win every co-op match—the AI showed some truly shining moments of brilliance with coordinated attacks that had their tank taunting, support healing and mages nuking from afar—but it is definitely a more light-hearted experience. There was no stress, no trash talk (except some mock trash talk taunting the AI Ashe at the end) and no pressure to perform perfectly.
And to top it all off, I got a pretty heft hunk of XP/IP for winning. There's a -25% penalty to the reward in Co-op vs. AI mode (same as the custom games, to prevent gamers from abusing the system to grind XP/IP), but it's a small price to pay if you're looking for a more relaxed environment to try out a new champion or build order.
Josh's final word: This is exactly what the game and the genre needs. This update isn't for the LoL pros; it's for the everyman that's just looking to have fun playing with friends. I absolutely love it, and will be using this mode anytime I play with my less competitive-minded friends.
I second Josh—Co-op vs AI is the perfect laid-back LoL experience. This isn't my first bot-rodeo, either: I'll readily admit that there were times when I'd create custom games, me and 4 bots vs a team of robotic simpletons, just to test out the week's free heroes. Having been intimately familiar with how easy it was to outwit the old AI, I had grown accustomed to mocking my friends if they died during a casual comp-stomp (yep, that includes gutsy tower-dives). It seems Riot decided to give me a taste of my own medicine.
My first Co-op match was one the most bizarre rounds of LoL I've ever experienced. I decided I would use the opportunity to brush up on my Jungle Udyr path; as the match began, I ran into position to begin my normal routine. Two pairs of friends had queued up as well, some of whom claimed to be fighting bots for the first time. They both wanted to stick together in the top and bottom lanes, and I was already in the jungling groove—so for what must've been the first time in LoL history, our mid lane was completely empty.
As Josh mentioned, the AI hero lineup is quite varied—I was used to fighting Ashe, Soraka, and Annie, but Trundle and Cho'gath were welcome additions to the computer-controlled roster. Their Trundle wasn't too keen on jungling either, which seems like a slight oversight on Riot's part; then again, this was only the Intermediate AI, so who knows what they'll be able to cook up in the future. Their lack of a jungler gave me free rein—after a certain point in the match, I was snagging red and blue buffs nonstop.
But, as can be common in LoL, the road to the late game was paved with humiliation. After wrapping up my side of the jungle, armed with red and blue, it was time to get my gank on. “Well,” I thought, “their mid-lane Annie is pushing our totally-undefended lane—that'll make an easy first blood.” I hid in the brush as I usually do, waiting for her to inch closer so I could make quick work of the little brat.
With Phoenix Stance activated, I charged ferociously into the lane—then Udyr exploded. Within the space of two seconds, Annie Bot Tibbers-stunned me, then whipped out a quick Disintegrate/Incinerate combo, three-shotting me in the process. I was in shock, humbled by the fact that I was now among the nubs I had always ridiculed. A piece of my soul shattered as I watched the buffs that had once been mine swirl around Annie Bot on my greyed-out screen. It was then that I realized the AI had most definitely leveled up.
In fact, the bots were constantly surprising me over the course of the match. Soraka Bot, who once served as the appetizer to an all-you-can-kill Bot buffet, was now pulling out all kinds of clutch heals, saving herself and her teammates at the last second. While roaming around the map, I nonchalantly stepped into a patch of brush—only to be greeted by Cho'Gath Bot, who, it seems, had been watching and waiting for me the entire time (pure nightmare fuel). They even traveled in packs, forming three-champion death squads that would hunt their target. Before the Co-op update, you would never see Bots display this kind of clever behavior; now it's no longer enough to just pop Ignite and auto-attack if you want kills.
Granted, it wasn't too hard to stabilize after a few deaths (which I'll conveniently choose to not elaborate on). The wide-open jungle and occasional gank were enough to propel me to the items I needed, at which point the match felt a bit more like the old AI. I'll admit, I let my teammates die a couple times just so the match would be drawn out a bit longer—horrible, I know. I ended up with a record of 14-4-8 (I would ask Josh if he can smell what the Rock is cooking, but those four deaths make me a failure of the highest caliber), and I found the match thoroughly enjoyable. Best of all, the victory counted towards my First Win of the Day bonus, which had never applied to custom games.
Lucas' final word: There's nothing worse than logging in for a quick game, getting three losses in a row, and going to bed without a win to your name. Co-op vs AI enables the kind of casual, 30-minutes-to-kill good time that isn't always possible in a stressful real match. I totally agree with Josh: this is an excellent primer for new players, and a pleasant breather for regular Summoners.