Welcome to the League of Legends design blog, a new channel for developers to muse on designs from the past and present! We’re introducing the blog to talk to you guys and help you understand our philosophies as well as seeing why we do what we do. You won’t see official announcements about things on the way, but you will get to know more about designing a game like League of Legends – straight from the team!
We’ll be evolving over time with the topics we cover (and the name, and the look, and so on…), but we wanted to start the conversation early because… why not!?
I’ll introduce each new author as they come along. Up today we’ve got Associate Champion Designer ZenonTheStoic on the Xerath rework along with some background on why we rework champions in the first place. Enjoy!
When we rework a champion, players often tell us that the champion was perfectly viable, or possibly only needed some number tweaks. That’s cool, and often small number tweaks would make the champion much stronger, but power level or pick rates are not the reason we do reworks! In reality, champions often need reworks because they have underlying problems that would make the game a lot less fun for everyone if those champions were picked every game.
When we decide to do a rework, the reason is usually a combination of two factors:
Let’s break this down:
Every champion in League of Legends should represent an ideal power archetype (or fantasy). Dr. Mundo represents the unkillable ubertank, LeBlanc the deceiving trickster mage, and so on. Sometimes, older champions don’t do a great job of delivering on their intended goals. For instance, if Sejuani’s power archetype was to be a boar-riding warrior with a giant mace, it probably didn’t help that before her rework neither the boar nor the mace were ever used meaningfully in her abilities. Oops.
In relation to game health, there are a number of ways in which a champion’s kit can be ‘unhealthy,’ and, just like the unique snowflakes they are, our champions all have their own unique problems. We’ll take a closer look at Xerath’s set of problems in the next section.
Let’s start with the game health issues Xerath’s old kit had. To be perfectly clear: we did not rework Xerath because he was unpopular. His kit was in a state where we couldn’t have allowed him to become popular. This is what we mean when we speak of game health: the more such a kit is played, the less fun the game becomes overall.
We identified three patterns in Xerath’s gameplay that made him a good candidate for a rework.
First off, Xerath’s decision making was very simple and non-interesting. Instead of having to ask things like “what are my teammates doing?” or “how am I positioning myself,” Xerath’s decision tree really came down to: “is my ult available to cast?” To make things worse, there was very little that Xerath could do while his ultimate was down.
Secondly, Xerath occupied a very awkward niche: a tank buster who could output significant damage from off screen. When a champion lacks the tools to dodge damage, they should be allowed to buy defensive items or keep their distance from the source of damage. None of these were viable options against Xerath thanks to his high spell penetration.
Finally, the pattern of “use my ultimate to quickly take down an enemy” is a very common pattern in our mage design. When too many champions who are primarily defined through this pattern become popular, it’s often just an arms race to see who puts out the highest number and thus gets to be the flavor of the month.
What about the satisfying execution of a power archetype?
Xerath’s archetype is that of a skillful long range mage who picks off high value targets at great range. Locus of Power dilutes this concept. The spell penetration makes it so Xerath’s great ability to pick a target is less relevant—you could try to fish for the super difficult back line kill or… you could just dump your damage into their frontline, whose magic resist means very little to you. Additionally, the root on Locus of Power and the oppressively long cooldown (before rank 4/5) make it so that often this was the only play available to you.
So, to recap: unhealthy core play pattern and less than perfect realization of a cool power archetype. Sounds like a clear case for a rework.
Tradeoffs are generally a good thing to have, but a sniper who has to stand completely still to access longer-than-normal range - and rarely gets the option to do so - doesn’t feel like a sniper for most of the game. Locus of Power had to go. We did like the idea of a tradeoff in mobility, so we baked it into the skills that have particularly long range: Arcanopulse slows your movement speed as you charge up its range, and Rite of the Arcane has you stand completely still for the duration of the spell. Specifically for his ultimate, it lets Xerath pick his big “moment of power” as he roots himself in exchange for the longest non-global range in the game.
Similarly for the old passive and the spell penetration inherent in Locus of Power: these types of power actually diluted the sniper concept. Giving free armor means Xerath has to care a little less about enemies closing the distance to him, and spell penetration means that target selection was not as rewarding as it could be. We felt that a sniper who actually has to maintain his distance while searching for a valuable back line target would work much better. There is now a necessary element of skill expression on Xerath’s kit that makes successful players feel like badass snipers.
One of our favorite concepts here at Riot is to create interactive gameplay (counterplay being an aspect of that). It’s the notion that with every action you take, you give your enemy equal options to react. Generally, a targeted stun on its own is low on counterplay: you literally stop your enemy from acting. A good example would be Morgana’s Dark Binding: the slow missile is dodgeable, it stops when it hits minions (so you can use your little friends as human shields) and, even when it does hit you, you can still attack and cast.
We already covered a lot of the counterplay in Xerath’s new kit: he pays for his range in mobility, most of his new skills can be dodged and as such rely on ally setups or teamfights, and he no longer gets free spell penetration, meaning that you can feel good about the magic resist you buy against him.
But there are two subtleties to the kit worth calling out.
Xerath’s new kit is very mana hungry, but Xerath can work around this constraint by making full use of his new passive, Mana Surge, which allows him to regain mana by landing an auto-attack. This means he needs to go within auto-attack range, which we’ve reduced to 525. Additionally, we dangle the carrot of double mana restore on auto-attacking an enemy champion in front of Xerath. We hope that this will incentivize making risky plays, because that leads to fun.
Additionally, while Xerath gains the longest non-global range in the game, we thought that the counter-play for the enemy (jump on Xerath and ruin his day) should be as clear as possible. Therefore, we reveal Xerath through fog of war for the enemy when he begins firing Arcane Barrages during Rite of the Arcane. Additionally, how players respond to Xerath’s ult is unique, as you can’t flash out of range - you need to specifically focus on either dodging or getting to a safe area in the fog of war.
We hope that this kit update will make Xerath more fun to play, both as and against. Combined with amazing new particles, art, and sound effects, we believe we have created a much more engaging version of the Magus Ascendant.