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New League of Legends mode Swarm is a leveled-up Odyssey

While new League of Legends mode Swarm isn’t anything we haven’t seen before in videogames, it’s the successor that Odyssey really needed.

An anime woman with long orange hair in a ponytail with small, futuristic cat ears stands holding a huge sword and shield on a beach

While, at its core, League of Legends is very much a competitive PvP experience, Riot has dropped a few PvE modes in its lifetime that absolutely slap. I remember the good ol’ days of Star Guardian’s Invasion mode, and I still rock the Odyssey Sona skin over the iconic DJ one because of just how fond my memories are. So when Riot invited me to check out its highly anticipated PvE mode ahead of launch, I was far too excited. In a room bathed in purple backlighting from a shining Anima Squad-inspired archway, I stepped into the chaotic world of League of Legends Swarm, and it’s the most fun I’ve had playing League in a long time.

You see, my relationship with League of Legends is a little complex at the moment – complicated on Facebook, as it were. While I logged on to cop Prestige True Damage Senna (currently on rotation in the Mythic store), I haven’t actually played the MOBA in quite some time. Things started to feel repetitive, I was struggling to climb the ranked ladder despite S-level scores across the board – it’s safe to say I’ve hit a bit of a rut with League.

The thing that’s consistently brought me back, however, is the annual summer event. I loved Soul Fighter’s aesthetics and the Tournament of Souls mini-game, as well as Spirit Blossom’s bizarre dating sim. They’ve always felt like separate entities, though; dropping into Summoner’s Rift is still the main focus, with events feeling secondary to the plot even though they are the plot. During our exclusive visit to Riot HQ in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, creative director Ben Skutt told me that the team is looking to move away from “‘around game experiences’” and create something that will “allow people to enter the world together” like Invasion or Odyssey. It’s safe to say that Swarm achieves that, and more.

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Swarm is set in the Anima Squad universe, thrusting you into the heart of the battle between the team and their arch-enemies, the Primordians. You’ll be able to choose from nine different champions – Aurora, Briar, Illaoi, Jinx, Leona, Riven, Seraphine, Xayah, and Yasuo – whose abilities have been slightly altered to maximize their Primordian-slaying potential. In the style of bullet hell survival games like Vampire Survivors, you’re tasked with defeating wave after wave of deadly enemies, with various different power-ups dropping as you tear your way through the hordes.

Your power-ups dictate how the match will play out. I picked up the perfectly named ‘UwU Blaster,’ which rains bullet hell on nearby enemies, but my group as a whole developed an affinity for the trains, which drop randomly and take out swathes of enemies in a straight line. The highest we got was three trains, and it was pure unadulterated chaos. Couple that with some spectral cars that allow you to crush opponents, and we were having a very, very good time.

Leona from League of Legends in her Anima Squad skin fricing a spectral car through hordes of enemies in a futuristic city environment

But Swarm has four different maps, each with its own respective bosses and minions. While we only saw two of these (my squad was able to defeat map one boss Rek’Sai with our combined League of Legends skills), there were immediate switches in mechanics straight off the bat, meaning things felt fresh from the onset (the trains were still OP, though).

The first map we played, for example, had a huge healing station in the center, which you charge up by standing on it. It saved our lives far too many times to count, but it’s on a timer that isn’t displayed anywhere, meaning we were sometimes grouping around it while it wasn’t active. Given the area around it is relatively open and perfect for charging Primordians or, alternatively, very large beach balls (yes, really), this became pretty frustrating.

But I just casually dropped ‘very large beach balls’ into a sentence and moved on from it; allow me to explain. Amid myriad enemies that can charge, explode, and inflict all manner of damage, there are beach balls. Big ones. These vicious inflatables take up almost the entirety of your screen, and as a result are incredibly difficult to dodge. On the build I played, getting hit by one of them was a death sentence – even with Leona’s shields and tankiness.

When asked about this, design lead August ‘August’ Browning notes that the build we played on was a week out of date, and that the team is “aggressively tuning the game.” Rest assured, “the beach balls are now easier to read, more fair, and will deal less damage.” He does highlight, however, that “mechanics like this are actually very important for things like degenerate player strategies, for when players stand in a corner and don’t move. We do need mechanics like that to make you move.” Trust me when I say, when I saw a beach ball, I yelled far too many expletives and ran, so that system seems to be working.

A League of Legends character in a city map being chased by a huge beach ball

The second map, however, has a distinct lack of beach balls. Instead, this time around we have the help of Battle Bunny Miss Fortune, who helps you clear the waves with her Bullet Time ultimate. Grouping up around her worked wonders, but, as August alluded to, various different events will spawn around the map, forcing you to move. We headed over to a mini-boss and were swiftly obliterated without the help of our love-strutting companion; a stark reminder of our virtual mortality.

We slunk back into the fray, tails between our legs, for another run at things, but that didn’t go very well either. As time was called and our Swarm experience came to an end because yours truly decided to disconnect mid-game (thank you to the two Riot techs who fixed my PC at least a dozen times), we clung to that one win and convinced ourselves we were actually pretty good at League of Legends – how long that confidence lasted is a story for another time.

Battle Bunny Miss Fortune from League of Legends firing out her Bullet Time ultimate standing in a city street with abandoned cars as enemies close in

While Swarm isn’t exactly groundbreaking for videogames as a whole – we’ve seen a slew of Vampire Survivors-likes following its astounding success – it’s a very different look for League. We haven’t seen anything remotely like it since Odyssey back in 2018 and, for me, it’s a step in the right direction.

As I said before, it feels like there’s been a disconnect between the summer events and actual gameplay for a long time. While I love the thematics, I’ve never quite understood how they folded into core gameplay when they all felt like distinct, single-player, story-driven experiences. For a while, summer events have felt repetitive, and the cool stories they focus on lost their sparkle – it was background noise to the wider ‘rank up get good’ plotline.

Swarm is the Odyssey successor we’ve been waiting for, but it’s bigger in terms of scale and ambition. There are more maps, more characters to choose from, and a whole lot more enemies – for some, it’s what Odyssey should have been; for others, it’s the natural evolution of League of Legends’ PvE modes.

But above all, it’s fun; it strips away the hyper-competitiveness League is so synonymous with. While I knew my teammates before this trip, I’ve never sat down and actually played a videogame with them before. I’m sure we’ll remind each other of that time we realized we could stack four trains for maximum squishing, or when we got brutally massacred by a vicious beach ball for years to come. That comradery has been missing from League of Legends’ past few summer events, and I’m so, so glad it’s back.