Last Tuesday, Riot released the first official details of the long-awaited Yorick rework, making him the fifth champion to have a large gameplay overhaul since last year’s World Championship. Reception of these reworks is always mixed and heavily debated throughout the community. Existing champion mains lament the changing of their beloved characters, those unfamiliar with the champion attempt to learn how to counter a sudden outburst of appearances, while still a third group admires the change of pace. All of this prompt the question: how effectively has Riot hit the mark on champion reworks this season?
Each of these updates has unique components. All of them address gameplay issues (balancing kits, and making them easier to tune in the future, and synergizing abilities with the champion’s lore), and some dig deeper into the character of the champion (creating a new identity, and matching visual appearance to that identity). This piece will look at each of these updates through the lens of three questions:
- How much better does the new champion fare in-game than its previous iteration?
- How well does the updated champion stay true to its lore, or how well does it match its revamped lore?
- How much better does the champion feel to play for the person playing it?
As with all criticism, this report card is a matter of opinion, and rest assured, some players will hold drastically different views. It’s also important to note that this review does not include class updates like the Marksman or Mage Reworks.
If a dramatic increase in the level of pro play is any indicator of satisfaction, then it would seem Poppy was very well received. Her new kit allowed her a great deal of control in any situation, allowing her to delay the enemy team’s attempt to engage, and then seconds later re-engage when the time is right. The timing of her release was key to her success, given the popularity of high-mobility champions. So having an anti-dash bubble was priceless for any team composition, from pro-play down to Bronze V. This new kit also made her viable as a top laner, a jungler, and even netted her some appearances as a support. I’d say her gameplay component deserves an A.
Poppy’s lore and identity were never too confusing, but her reworked abilities helped Poppy remain the little battle Yordle that she always was, while her drastically improved splash art and model helped to make her character seem less imposing and insistent on her status of being “no hero”, making it all the more surprising when she devastates people on the Rift. The only qualm with her kit/lore synergy might be that her buckler passive seems to be without reason. This isn’t to say that it’s a bad mechanic, but rather that it isn’t inspired by her lore. Poppy doesn’t make flashy plays, in line with the nature of tanks. But what she lacks in flair, she makes up for with a low-learning curve, being able to be picked up and understood quickly. This allows players to spend less time learning mechanics, and more time learning how to implement larger game strategies planned around the simpler kit.
User Experience: B
Overall grade: A-
Shen’s gameplay always revolved around his tanky nature, but his rework saw him lean even more heavily on exactly that. Stripping his kit down to one damage-dealing ability helped solidify what his role should be on a team, which is a damage sponge. While I’ll leave it to an individual to decide whether they like that or not, this doesn’t seem to do his gameplay many favors. Shen used to be a champion that could be built as a straight tank, like he is now, or as an AP fighter, using his old Vorpal Blade to deal damage and be rewarded for his fighting with healing to stay in battle longer. Without that, he functions more like a normal tank, using primarily damage mitigation to stick around while he uses his signature Stand United and taunt to turn the tides of fights, while others do the actual fighting. This seems to limit his versatility, and I’m not sure that’s good. How much did he even need a rework in the first place?
Unlike Poppy’s, Shen’s identity always confused me. He’s a ninja who doesn’t tactically assassinate people like his counterparts Akali, Kennen, and Zed. This, however, contrasts with the fact that his rework now adds a priority of positioning, using now two moving pieces. This is pretty out of the ordinary for a tank such as Shen, given that most tanks worry only about positioning themselves in the middle of everyone. It also makes one wonder why a champion who had most of their damage removed uses a weird ghost sword as a primary weapon anyway.
Players seem unsure what to do with the new Shen, and he now seems more team-reliant than ever. After all, who wants to risk pressing R on your ADC only for them to run away from the fight? This has led to him falling around the middle of the pack for pick rate, and the lower third in win rate.
User Experience: B-
Overall grade: C
Taric’s rework has generated very mixed reviews. But much like Poppy, Taric has seen a new presence in LCS since his update, and for good reason. Most of his kit isn’t really that different now – he still has a heal, an armor steroid, a stun, and a slight thing for gems. But his invulnerability ult, and the chance to replicate all of these effects on an ally through Bastion turned him into an instant game-changer. His new abilities can gain great impact when coupled with good communication. What more could you want? His point-and-click stun was nice for dealing with assassins, but it seems a small price to pay. He offers his team longevity, crowd control, and stat buffs. Serve as cold as Mount Targon, with a side of his “outrageous” quote, and you’ve got a winning combination.
How fun is it to play Taric? He’s lost his role as “The Gem Knight”, but if you enjoy playing spoiler, then he’s probably a still blast. Taric’s new kit can make any fight turn a complete 180 degrees, blowing large enemy cooldowns with Cosmic Radiance, and setting up AoE stuns with his allies that can infuriate anyone. Plus, he no longer has two different armor modifiers (a buff for allies and debuff for enemies, like his old kit). It tended to feel underwhelming when you pressed a button, and it modified some combat stats, but nothing much visible happened, so it was good to see those be replaced with abilities that had some interaction. He’s very in line with his updated lore, I think people have more fun with Taric now as the “protector”. Plus he’s just as fabulous.
User Experience: A-
Overall grade: B+
The latest version of what seems to be Ryze’s perpetual rework saw probably the smallest scope of these reworks, keeping his signature point-and-click root and his patented “build mana and cast your spell combo” strategy. This iteration did provide the opportunity to cast slightly different combos to gain different bonus effects from Spell Flux. However, these bonus effects are simply augmented versions of his abilities’ normal effects. Ultimately, what could have provided a unique kit for each different combo, similar to Viktor’s upgraded abilities, ended up seeming stale. His new ult, Realm Warp, provides a new opportunity to really impact the game. This once again increases the importance of communication, but creates some interesting scenarios. Ultimately, Ryze’s new kit doesn’t inhibit his ability to be a playmaker, but did it give us many new things beyond a teleport?
Ryze’s identity remains much intact from all of his previous forms. He’s still an artillery mage, who rotates his spells quickly in a certain order to achieve a certain result. His passive still encourages the player to build heavy amounts of mana, with some ability power mixed in. He’s still a threat in gifted hands, and still just okay for beginners. Realm Warp is the main new component. Most can agree that this new ability is game-changing, but how well does it mesh with his identity? According to his lore, the realm through which he teleports is the same in which he locked the runes which corrupted his friend. But its synergy with the rest of his abilities seems unconsidered, simply giving him a new place on the map to continue casting his spell combo. I’m not even really sure the experience of a Ryze main has changed much.
User Experience: C
Overall grade: B-
I know the details of Yorick have only just been released, so we don’t know how he’ll actually fare in-game, but we can still talk about his new kit and his identity. Yorick’s new kit seems a lot less about having his ghouls… er, mist walkers do his bidding, and more about positioning teamfights around his graves for high damage and then sending the Maiden of the Mist to split push for him. Yorick’s current cult following will miss the ability to generate different effects from different ghouls, but it’s a lot more clear what to do with him. He even offers some strong zoning pressure with his various minions and his Wall of Corpses. If nothing else, his gameplay is cleaner and easier to balance.
The tradeoff here seems to be his identity. Though his gameplay will probably outweigh his new character in terms of creating a fun experience, Yorick’s fans loved him for being the forgotten champion, both in lore and in reality. But Yorick is no longer ugly and forgotten, but rather a buff, bearded, undead spirit who looks to be taken from World of Warcraft. Even his shovel no longer looks completely tattered. Between this and his new kit, I think he seems less like a “Shepherd of Souls” and more a “Commander of Souls.” Regardless, I think players will enjoy commanding his legions, even if they don’t “remember Yorick Mori” of days past… unless we get a traditional skin.
User Experience: A-
Overall grade: B
Safe to say, Riot had its fair share of hits and misses this year, but I’d say overall they were moderately successful. After all, changing the pace of the game is crucial in keeping the game fresh and fun, so let’s hope we continue to see the game change in a positive way.