Riot Games have taken a lot of wrong turns when dealing with League’s rich and diverse lore – but their new novel Ruination finally feels like a commitment to getting things right.
As long as League of Legends has been around, Riot Games has never been able to get its knowledge quite right.
The world of Runeterra – which is home to League of Legends, Legends of Runeterra, and Wild Rift – is one of the most incredibly diverse and literary interesting worlds I’ve ever seen in fiction. It contains a combination of innovative cultures, magical systems, religions and political intrigue much more suited to a fictional fantasy universe than video game knowledge.
And it has been consistently mishandled and ignored by Riot since League’s release.
Lore had trickled down to players through short stories, movies, and skinlines. But there has never really been a cohesive collection and history of the events of the League timeline. Attempts to breathe life into the characters in the game have been scattered and clouded by League’s multiple “alternate universes” that are added to the world with each new skin line released.
The original story of Runeterra, and the myriad empires, rulers, and conflicts within it, has essentially been lost.
Until 2021 and the release of the Emmy-winning Netflix series Arcane. Arcane tells the story of the modern age of Runeterra and of the conflict in one of the most important cities. But Arcane is the recent history of Runeterra, a city that grew out of years of suffering in the great Rune Wars.
What came before Arcane? Well, that would be the Ruin – the subject of League of Legends’ first official novel.
What is the ruin?
The ruin is a defining event in the history of Runeterra. It started the Rune Wars, which in turn were responsible for the revival of civilization in Runeterra and the birth of Noxus, Demacia, Bilgewater and Piltover. It was the incendiary event for so much of what we now understand League of Legends lore.
But despite its importance in lore, it didn’t receive its first in-game event until 2021 to introduce two new champions to the game: Viego and Gwen. This in-game event for League was one of the biggest… and least successful in the game.
Youtuber Necrit explains the problems with the Ruination event much better than I could – but in short, it tried to do too much with too little and ended up ignoring a lot of pre-existing characterization set up in Riot’s previous attempts at lore building.
And so when it was announced that League’s first novel (something I’ve been waiting for years) would be about the Ruination event, I was skeptical. Not only had the recent event left a bad taste in my mouth, but I was also frustrated that the novel would focus on a character that had only been released the year before.
While I still think there are other events that could have been better served by novels, I’m genuinely impressed with what Riot has been able to do with Ruination. The characterization is solid, the world-building is excellent (though a little limited), and it sets up multiple potential future storylines that Riot looks forward to for future books.
A well-built world
Ruining sets the rich tapestry of League lore in glorious technicolor.
Brace yourself – we’re getting into the spoiler area from now on. And remember, this is all written from my own perspective as a reader. Something that didn’t work for me may very well work for you, and vice versa.
With that disclaimer out of the way: Ruining is genre fiction through and through. It’s politically high fantasy that doesn’t break the character to wink at the reader in a way I’ve come to expect from a lot of custom media, and author Anthony Reynolds does an excellent job of building an authentic and immersive world in a very limited span of time. Ruination’s two main settings are Helia and Camavor, and they both feel like real, tangible cities.
There are times when some aspects of the story are not particularly well explained (why are we talking about runic magic if I have no idea what a rune is in the context of this world?), but overall it lays the groundwork for building on the world of Runeterra.
An impressive number of champions
Even though the Ruination is ultimately his job, Viego is surrounded by a cast of characters who are easily as interesting and important as he is.
There are also some excellent cameos from League of Legends champions who delivered just the right amount of fan service without taking me out of the story. The world feels compelling and the political interests of the case are made clear from the start.
Despite getting the most unnecessary and irrelevant love interest I’ve ever seen (someday we’ll be able to have a strong female character without having to give her someone to fiddle with), Kalista is an excellent protagonist for this novel, and as one of the characters who don’t often get a lot of love in League of Legends, it was refreshing to see her featured so well here.
Viego is the perfect reflection for her – he is arrogant where she is proud, he is childish where she is wise above her age, he is weak where she is strong. He’s also utterly and utterly insufferable, but in a way that’s obvious by design.
However, it is neither Kalista, nor Viego, nor any of the other armies of Camavoran soldiers that make this novel what it is. The best character of Ruination is the one with whom the story begins: director of Helia, Erlok Grael.
I won’t spoil Erlok’s story for those who don’t know it yet, but believe me when I say that if you need one reason to read Ruinatie, it has to be Erlok Grael. He’s a scheming, wily, sniffling coward of an antagonist who is one of the most hateful characters I’ve come across. He wreaks destruction for the sake of his wounded pride, and he is the perfect villain of Ruination.
But should I read it?
Ruining is not without its weaknesses. The plot has a habit of being a bit rushed. Kalista’s romantic subplot feels like it has no reason to be there. There are certain parts of the world that are left completely unexplained in the hope that readers will already have knowledge of League’s knowledge.
But it’s a solid start for any future plans Riot might have in their lore novels. It lays the foundation on which a literary world can be built very easily – and aside from any future plans for Riot, it’s just a very good novel.
I would highly recommend if you are a fan of fantasy, whether you already have knowledge of League of Legends or not. And if you know League I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a different experience than Arcane, but no less fun for a diehard League player.