Sooooo... Sion. We first toyed with the notion of updating him years ago – now that it’s here, we figured we’d talk about what was wrong with old Sion, and how we created the juggernaut that’s currently crushing skulls on PBE.
Old Sion had countless problems: he was a mage with an ax, he’d end up with two redundant abilities regardless of how he built, his model had aged horribly, and he had some pretty... interesting voiceover. Worst of all, none of these “qualities” actually worked together, so while modern champion designs try to create a cohesive identity through their gameplay, story and art, Sion was all over the place. After deliberating as a full group, we - the Champion Update team - decided to undertake our grandest project yet, updating Sion’s art, narrative and gameplay. We basically buried old Sion, ordered the orbital strike, then picked through the rubble to find the diamonds we could carry through in his update.
But where did we start with making new Sion? First, we needed to identify the key pillars that we’d use to mechanically, artistically and narratively define him. This is a process we go through with all new and updated champs; here’s what we came up with:
Essentially, we wanted Sion to be an unrelenting war machine, a ragged Noxian titan who’d be sewn back together after battle and pointed in the rough direction of the enemy army when they next rolled up. This sense would have to seep into every aspect of Sion’s identity to make him a cohesive champion. Here’s what that meant to some of the key guys behind Sion’s update.
Gameplay design by Riot Scruffy
More than anything, old Sion was just confused with no clear sense of identity. Some of his abilities worked with attack damage, some with ability power, and he sort of functioned as a tank. Thing is, no matter how you built him, you’d end up actively forgoing the effective use of a number of your abilities and stats. On top of that, there were almost no interesting interactions in his kit: Sion had a fixed play pattern with zero skillshots, and abilities that gave players really few opportunities to express their skills or mastery. Basically, when we got together to start working on Sion, we knew we’d pretty much start from scratch with his design because almost none of it – aside from his W and passive health gain - was compelling or consistent.
So, we knew he’d be a hulking and unstoppable undead warrior, but what does that mean from a design perspective? First off, he’d be slow but tough, a walking cadaver that could take a bunch of punishment before going down. This gave us a basic design concept: new Sion would be tanky and slow with powerful but telegraphed attacks and abilities. This meant that enemies would be able to work around the areas that Sion was about to attack, but also meant that Sion could use that same knowledge to make cerebral plays. Decimating Smash, for instance, has a huge and very visible wind up that shows Sion’s enemies exactly where he’s about to swing his ax. This alone gives Sion immense zone control, but he can also swing his ax early, meaning his enemy has to work around the window of assault that he’s created and anticipate exactly when Sion’s going to attack. Soul Furnace, the only of Sion’s active abilities to survive the update, has a similar psychological element: activating the shield tells your opponent you’re ready to fight, but they still don’t know when or even if you’re planning on detonating it. How you use the ability, and how you use the threat of the ability’s damage, is something that you and your opponent get to play around. What’s more, with his huge area of effect abilities, Sion absolutely thrives in the heart of a fight, where he can hurt multiple targets and zone enemy assassins away from his team’s squishies.
Next we wanted to emphasize Sion as an unstoppable juggernaut. We used the idea as a gameplay hook in his passive, giving him the chance to turn berserk and take down enemies as he dies, just as he does in his updated lore. We used the same theme to define his ultimate, Unstoppable Charge, which has huge range and turns the otherwise lumbering zombie man into a terrifying man missile. But again, there are trade-offs: Sion’s hard to steer and has to stick to a largely straight line, so it’s down to Sion players to pick clever locations and figure out optimal timing to ensure that when he does arrive, he charges into an unsuspecting and trapped enemy team. Seeing Sion ult into the enemy after teleporting in behind them during our internal tests was a terrifying sight, and we can’t wait to see how you guys make the most of his Unstoppable Onslaught.
Narrative design by Riot Entropy
Whenever we update a champion we begin by taking everything we know about them and paring down all that information until we identify the essential elements, the immutable traits that are so core to the champion that changing them might very well turn them into an entirely different character. It might have been easy to write off old Sion entirely and start from scratch, but at the end of the day the core concept of “hulking undead warrior” has always been a solid foundation. The problem was a lot of the elements we hung on that skeleton weren’t complimentary to that core identity. We took Sion down the humorous route, made him bright and colorful, and gave him Arnold Schwarzenegger inspired voice-over, all of which ultimately undermined what was cool about the core concept. This time around we decided to play the concept straight and holistically construct a truly fearsome warrior through identity, art and gameplay.
At this point we knew we were making Sion a giant undead killing-machine, but we still needed to explore what makes Sion unique. Ax-wielding Noxian badass was a space Darius was already doing a good job filling, and with Urgot firmly in the reanimated horror arena there was a need to give Sion some space to thrive. Rather than look at these similarities as redundancies, we used them as inspiration. We started asking big questions: If Noxus can raise the dead, why wouldn’t they have thousands of undead in their ranks? Why did they reanimate Urgot through entirely different means than Sion? Who was Sion in life? Why did Noxus want to bring him back to life? How would Darius feel about Sion, about undeath? How old is Sion, really? How did Sion’s resurrection affect him?
What we landed on in the end was a great warrior of Noxus’s past, the first Hand of Noxus who met his end dealing a crippling blow to his nation’s greatest enemy. We made Sion a man who was granted immortality for his deeds, but decided that gift should be a curse rather than a blessing. We found something noble and tragic in the transformation robbing him of what made him great: his identity. Sion is the echo of his former self driven by an instinctual need to feast on life, but we didn’t want him to just be a bloodthirsty monster. We still wanted Sion to be a character capable of supporting a compelling story in the present as well as the past, so we instilled a small glimmer of hope in his condition. In reliving the bloodshed of his former life, Sion begins to remember who he is and realize what he’s become, if only for a short time. Can he hang onto himself long enough to break free of the cycle remembrance and loss he’s bound to? Time will tell.
All of this backstory would ring a bit hollow if the champ you played in game didn’t really reflect the uniqueness of Sion’s condition, so we tried something experimental with Sion’s voice over. When Sion fights with champions or dives into the enemy team he begins to feel more alive and his voiceover set changes to reflect that he’s more the warrior he used to be: exhilarated, brutal and at home in war. As Sion spends time away from the fray, he begins to slip back into the haze of his undeath where his thoughts are clouded and his need is singular.
Art design by HUGEnFAST
By 2014’s standards, old Sion looked like crap. There, I said it. He was one of the League’s oldest, and like most other launch champs, had not aged well at all. But that’s not exactly a revelation. In fact, we’d been avoiding eye contact with Sion’s old model for a while, but – knowing the narrative and gameplay guys were equally peeved by him - had to wait for the right time to really pull him apart and figure out what needed to be tossed, and what could be kept. Once we all finally got together, we realized that a decent number of old Sion’s visual hooks – specifically his ax, size, and undead nature - were worth keeping. Thing is, they were poorly executed on, which gave up as a pretty simple goal: to really execute better this time around, and tie new Sion visually to his Noxian home.
So taking his key pillars into account, how did we set about updating Sion? Well, first off we wanted to identify and emphasize the role of magic in the big guy’s resurrection. His obvious source of power might be his ax, but when Swain resurrected him, he also imbued him with a form of magic. So while Sion’s now something of a hollow corpse, his body’s been filled with the red energy most notable on his stomach – the same energy that forms Soul Furnace’s shield. Next we wanted to address Sion’s ax and armor, specifically in relation to Darius, the man who’s taken on Sion’s role of general in contemporary Noxus.
There are some pretty clear similarities, including the general shapes and colors (Noxus is... very black and red), but we also wanted to hint at some of the military changes that had occurred since Sion’s initial death. Essentially, Sion’s more brutal, whereas Darius is a little more refined. Sion’s armor is bolder and stronger, and he uses his ax more as a club than a slicing weapon. Hundreds of years have refined Noxian warfare, so while Darius is still definitely brutal, he’s more precise – someone who’ll cut your jugular and let you bleed to death. This carries through in his appearance: Darius’s ax is a relatively refined weapon, and his armor hasn’t got the same sheer bulk or weight as Sion’s.
Next we wanted to showcase Sion’s undead characteristics. We started looking at his skin hue, and ultimately decided to use an ashen, pale tone that would contrast well with the rich reds and blacks of his armor. Speaking of armor, you might notice a relative lack of it compared to other Noxians. That’s deliberate: we found that as we added armor pieces, he lost the undead feel we wanted. Also, look close and you’ll see that the armor he has is actually bolted on. Sion’s not the kind of guy who changes from his outdoor cardigan to his indoor cardigan after a fight – he’s a living war machine who, when he’s not fighting, is locked away so he can’t rampage his way through his own people. Another change you’ll notice is his hair, or lack of!
After trying a few different styles out, we discovered that any hair detracted from the undead feel of the guy. At the same time, we really liked this top-knot look, so we started tinkering around with other non-hair things we could add in to give Sion something unique and break up an otherwise fairly smooth silhouette. The dagger idea was perfect – unique and brutal – and we quickly incorporated it into his resurrection ritual. Speaking of brutality, check out Sion’s jaw: It’s Jarvan I’s crown!
This relatively small touch was just one of the ways we ended up tying Sion’s story to his model, and really emphasized how utterly brutal this guy is – he literally screams at his enemies using the crown of the Demacian king he killed.
Hopefully this article’s given you some good insight into how we went about recreating Sion! We spent many months on his update, and worked to deliver a cohesive and unique champion to League of Legends. Join the whole team here for Q&A!