Time, Glory, Brutality: How the Legends of Runeterra team brought Shurima to life

Renekton, Nasus and Azir are ready to Ascend. Source: Riot Games


Legends of Runeterra players new and old will be able to take their game to new heights when the Empires of the Ascended expansion formally goes live on Wednesday afternoon. 

In the works since late last year, Mark Sassenrath, the Design Lead for the 110 card set, approached bringing the world of Shurima to life in a digital card game by focusing on nailing three specific themes that players could latch onto: Time and Inevitability; Glory of the Ascended; and the Grandeur and Brutality of the Desert.


How the design team approached each helped create a brand new region that went beyond slapping a bunch of cards together and calling it a day.


Buried Sun Disc's card art. Source: Riot Games


"The main tenace we build the set and region around, in particular, was a time and inevitability aesthetic," said Sassenrath in a recent conversation. 


The primary mechanic that tied all three themes together is a Landmark card called the Buried Sun Disc that, when fully restored, Ascends player's champions to heights never before seen in the game's history. Starting at 25 and counting down to zero through various mechanics and abilities, the power of the Buried Sun Disc became a central figure in bringing the region and theme together for both the design team and players.


"Pretty early on we were excited to do something with the Sun Disc," said Sassenrath. "The Targon set introduced Landmarks as a card type and, in Shurima lore, the Sun Disc is such an iconic landmark."


Despite going through dozens of iterations, the design team finally feels that the Sun Disc mechanic is both balanced and impactful enough to warrant the emphasis it deserves, according to Sassenrath:

"The actual interaction loop definitely took a while in terms of landing on how the Sun Disc was going to work... Each line of text on the Sun Disc changed a lot but the core thread of 'You're going to use a Sun Disc and it's going to get your Ascended champions to level 3' was basically something we were shooting for from the beginning."


The Nasus package


In the 11 months since the Legends of Runeterra card game has been playable to the general public one thing has been certain: champion cards can level up once and only once.


For Empires of the Ascended, the mold was shattered with three champions able to take things to another level. When Renekton, Nasus, and Azir take on their highest form, players are supposed to feel extremely powerful, like their strength has ascended as well.


As for why now was the time to introduce a second level up: thematically, it made sense to the development team.


Mel Lei, the Narrative Lead for the expansion, said that the three champions that can ascend to a higher form also can metaphorically (and physically) do so as well in the League of Legends MOBA title as well so it made sense to build around that in the digital card space.


The design team felt it was important to make these ascended champions very strong but not so much so that it limits deck design space for players. If level 3 champions are by far the most powerful in the game, players aren't incentivized to make decks around their level 2 versions where restoring the Sun Disc isn't the main goal. 


As for what the Legends of Runeterra design team will do in the future now that players have seen the potential for champions to go above and beyond what they previously thought possible? We'll see.


"I think the future design space of Level 3 champions or other sorts of models for leveling I think is definitely on the table," said Sassenrath. "I think for Shurima we're hoping it is a major theme but if a future set wants to introduce some new variant then I could totally see that happening."


Starting on March 3, players will be able to ascend their gameplay to greater heights when the Empires of the Ascended expansion goes live across the world.

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