In League of Legends, when it comes to reworks, more often than not Riot is busy reworking and fixing the problems of old. However, they have an unprecedented amount of work to do. Imagine having a massive chunk of the cast who you have to rework and fix because of outdated designs but keeping the same character. In this regard, reworks have the difficult job of preserving a character’s identity and modernizing them for the new League of Legends. For this short retrospective, I’m going to be going over Riot’s reworks and how they’ve evolved in size, scope and more.
The Early Days: Karma, Tryndamere and more
Riot is no stranger to reworks and often it is a case where the character isn’t entirely meshing. The early days of League had small scale changes made to characters that didn’t truly “change” much about the character but tried to shift power. Tryndamere, Kayle and Ryze were all characters that often got a small, fresh coat of paint to the model and perhaps a changed ability or two. For the most part, these were extremely tiny. They didn’t truly change much about the character or how they played. They just tried to make them fresh and new for the game.
Karma would be the first character to become a fully reworked character and it shows. As Riot was fresh in the game of reworking characters to a large scale, Karma was their test run. She retains very little of her original kit save for certain parts: Mantra, the shield and a tether. Yet these skills played nothing like the original Karma and to this day many people consider her a weaker character because of it.
This doesn’t even talk about how Karma got an entirely new voice-over and how her visual look changed to a more conventionally attractive look with revealed legs, short cropped hair and an overall more “beautiful” look as opposed to regal, refined, tight-dressed Karma. That said, Karma taught the rework team a valuable lesson about preserving a character’s thematic as well as their core gameplay.
The Freljord Patch: Sejuani, Trundle and “Lore Reworks”
The next major rework that the team would tackle would come in the form of the Freljord. Sejuani and Trundle were given fresh, new models and given new life in their kits. Not much changed about either, they just retained a lot of their core power while making them a little more clean in the gameplay department. In terms of raw rework and kit, there wasn’t much controversy and both were well received. What wasn’t so well received was the change to the lore.
While Sejuani retained a lot of the aspects of old, the more problematic reworks came in the form of written backstories. Gragas, Udyr, Trundle and more were all changed to be part of the evolving Freljord conflict, much to the dismay of others. Why was Udyr or Gragas suddenly relocated to the Freljord? Why did Trundle become a completely new character? What was the purpose of fracturing stories that worked into fresh, “new” character?
Again, this was an important lesson about preserving thematics and story. While the kit was preserved and the overall gameplay was turned to a more fresh, clean ideal? The core character was changed and it caused great strife among players. It seemed after this, Riot was always doomed to falter on one or two fronts. How could they succeed when every rework brought about another problem in some form?
The Golden Age: Sion, Poppy, Taric and the Forgotten
Skepticism was abound when Sion was announced for reworking. One of League’s oldest, most polarizing champions and Riot is revitalizing him? This had danger written all over it. How could Riot perverse an AP mage or the AD carry aspect of the character? How can you keep a character alive when all you have is a handful of references and a weak VO? As it turns out, by being Riot Games.
Sion was by-and-large Riot’s most well received update to this day. They turned an unassuming green zombie into a titanic juggernaut of death. Everything in the character meshed together to create a compelling and fantastic character. Sion retained aspects of his old kit while learning new tricks. His story became that of a grim monster with serious, terrifying aspects. I remember reading articles where people said they were actually scared of Sion and how the loud clang of metal signaled his arrival. Sion was the start of the golden age of reworks that would come in the future:
Gangplank, a modernization to a rather binary character that doubled as a compelling evolution from silly pirate to scourge of the sea.
Poppy, a confusing assassin with no sensible path turning into a heroic tank with mechanics not seen in League up to that time.
Taric, the soft-spoken gem knight turning into a celestial protector with aspects of his old kit in new light.
Yorick, the disheveled gravedigger who turned into the sole-remaining monk of a long forgotten order.
Finally was Warwick, the newest rework, that kept aspects of the werewolf and turned him into a horrifying, blood-crazed chimera from the streets of Zaun.
Even if not every rework was viable, balanced or meta? Every rework seemed well received and giving fresh life to old characters. Riot seems to have gotten the perfect formula going.
With Galio up next along with Evelynn and Urgot waiting in the wings, large-scale reworks seem like a process Riot has turned into an exciting tool. People are more thrilled about the revitalizing of new champions even more than they are about new releases. People love to see their old mains brought up to fresh standards. Nobody knows how long this cycle can go on though; Eventually Riot will just be reworking releases that are newer and newer to the point where even recent releases are subject to new standards.
No matter what, Riot has turned their reworks into an art form. Despite a rough early start, Riot seems to have found the perfect way to give old faces a new chance in the limelight.