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Bandle Tale is a bittersweet eulogy for Riot Forge

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Bandle Tale: A League of Legends Story's Riot Forge logo.

Tomas Franzese / Riot Forge

Bandle Tale: A League of Legends Story is a new game about getting out of your comfort zone and connecting with others. In many ways, that’s also the story of Riot Forge. The publishing label pushed its corporate parent Riot Games out of its AAA design instincts to expand the world of Runterra. There’s only so much narrative you can weave into something like League of Legends, and all of Riot Forge’s games offered unique perspectives that enriched this world. I found fulfillment in that strategy too, as someone who enjoys the world of Runeterra, but didn’t want to play League of Legends itself. It’s a treatment that few well-known franchises get outside comic book universes, Warhammer, and Star Wars.

Unfortunately, Bandle Tale is the last of its kind for now as Riot Forge has been shuttered as part of recent Riot Games layoffs. That’s a shame, not just for League of Legends, but the video game industry at large. If nothing else, Bandle Tale is worth checking out as a bold move from a major studio, which is something that’s becoming increasingly rare.

A solid sendoff

Developer Lazy Bear Games’ Bandle Tale takes place in Bandle City, home to many of the cute, furry Yordle creatures that League of Legends players are likely familiar with. This gives us our first look into their society, which is fractured when a portal network is destroyed during a party toward the start of the game. After that, it’s up to the player, who had isolated themselves for over 100 years, to reunite the portal network and find their lost friends. Like most Riot Forge titles, Bandle Tale is narrative-focused and has more of a humorous edge than the label’s other games.

When it comes to gameplay, it’s a crafting RPG. Building on the foundation laid by cozy games like Stardew Valley, pretty much every quest in Bandle Tale will require players to search for and gather various resources so they can build something important. Oftentimes, these resources will also be used so the player can serve food and throw parties to obtain the currency needed to progress or unlock skills on one of three skill trees.

A Yordle gardens in Bandle Tale: A League of Legends Story.
Riot Forge

There’s always something to do in Bandle Tale, so playing it never feels aimless. You’re always working toward some goal and often being rewarded with funny dialogue. This setup does mean that it’s heavy on fetch quests. Especially early on, you’ll be spending all of your time hopping from character to character, completing quests for them so you can get what you need to progress the story.

Thankfully, the layers of progression and charming dialogue keep Bandle Tale interesting, even if its quest design is basic. It’s unlike any other League of Legends title that you’ll play, and of all the Riot Forge games, it’s the one most likely to keep you engaged. Riot Games estimates it will take 40 to 60 hours of playtime to complete. The fact that you can spend so much time with Bandle Tale is a good thing, as it’s unlikely that we’ll see anything else quite like it and Riot Forge’s other games from Riot Games anytime soon.

A frustrating end

In January, layoffs hit League of Legends maker Riot Games, with the company saying, “significant investments we’ve made aren’t paying off the way we expected them to.” Riot laid off 530 developers, shutting down Riot Forge in the process.

“We’re sunsetting Riot Forge after the upcoming release of Bandle Tale,” it said at the time. “Forge has been our collaboration with external studios to develop smaller-scale games in our IP. While we’re proud of what we’ve created in this space, and we’re grateful for the Forge team and for our external partners who made these games happen, we don’t view this as core to our strategy moving forward. We aren’t closing the door entirely on single-player experiences or working with other developers if the right project comes along, but we would want it to look pretty different in the future.”

A variant key art for Bandle Tale: A League of Legends Story.
Riot Forge

Riot Forge was an initiative not like many others in the game industry. In an interview last year, Riot Forge creative director Rowan Parker told Digital Trends that the publishing label didn’t assign concepts or games to studios; instead, it sought out studios it liked and let them make almost any story it wanted within the League of Legends world. This resulted in a wide variety of different experiences, including the rhythm game Hextech Mayhem, the isometric action title The Mageseeker, and now a cozy crafting-focused game in Bandle Tale.

It’s the kind of bold experimentation and worldbuilding we don’t get from companies the size of Riot normally. Apparently, that’s because an initiative like this was too risky to last in a gaming industry where companies are now more focused on cutting costs and making big hits. While all of Riot Forge’s games were good, none seem to have been a massive breakout success. Riot Games would rather focus on the core games that it knows will get a lot of attention and make a lot of money.

In some ways, the creation and shutdown of Riot Forge serve as a bookend to a time of growth and more rampant experimentation and investment in the industry. According to a report from Polygon, getting new games funded is getting harder and harder in 2024. From a high level, I understand looking at Riot Forge’s games and seeing titles that likely bring in a small fraction of the attention of a new League of Legends content drop. Looking at what Riot Forge did purely through that business lens is a disservice to creatives, whether that’s the ones behind all the potential future Riot Forge games we’ll never get to see or the ones at Lazy Bear who now have to deal with the fact that Bandle Tale is the final Riot Forge title.

Party gameplay from Bandle Tale: A League of Legends Story.
Riot

Like the Riot Forge games before it, Bandle Tale is boldly different than any other League of Legends title. It embraces silliness, cozy elements, and various progression hooks to be the most captivating and content-rich Runeterra game outside of the MOBA itself. While I’m glad to see in that official statement that Riot Games doesn’t want to abandon single-player games entirely, I wouldn’t be surprised if they fell much more in line with AAA industry trends and production value than any of the Riot Forge games did.

That’s a situation where everyone loses. Developers aren’t able to craft in a popular universe, Riot’s portfolio is less diverse, and players are robbed of more stories exploring each and every corner of Runeterra. During my interview last year, Parker told me that Riot Forge wouldn’t greenlight a new game unless it was “convinced it’s a good game agnostic of the League of Legends IP.” It’s a shame that Riot Games, and the game industry at large, needs a better reason than that to support creative new ideas.

Bandle Tale: A League of Legends Story launches on February 21 for PC and Nintendo Switch.

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