Dear fellow League of Legends enthusiasts,
Riven mains have been chronically unsatisfied with the champion over time. Over the years, Riven evolved from a mostly glass cannon melee carry (comparable to Yasuo or Tryndamere in a way) to a scaling drain bruiser. I believe this is the reason why the champion is a lot less fun and satisfying than before. In this post, I would like to go back in time, to when Riven didn't have these issues and complaints, and then take a look at what happened over time, that led us to the current situation. This is going to be a lengthy post, so I will do my best to format it in a convenient manner. English is not my native language, so I apologize in advance for any mistakes, though I will do my best. I'll post a condensed recap at the end, but I strongly invite you to read the post in its entirety.
The starting point
We will begin our journey in season 4. I started playing League of Legends in season 4, so I wouldn't want to talk too much about an era I didn't experience myself. Initially, Riven's first years were rough. Her mechanics weren't figured out by most people, and itemization was probably not optimized too much either. Because of this, people found her clunky and frustrating. At that time, Riven was balanced around that: people not playing her to her fullest potential.
Things dramatically changed at the end of season 3. The season 3 world championship was to take place in NA, and the players already travelled there. When not in scrims, they would grind soloQueue for a bit of extra practice. An account under the name of BarcodeKiller proceeded to utterly destroy NA soloQueue with Riven, which caught everyone offguard, because a lot of people assumed she wasn't a very good champion. The idendity of this account turned out to be Faker, and he then whipped out Riven during the championship, in the mid lane, with good success. Faker had figured out her fast combo mechanic, and that allowed Riven to land some nasty damage in a very short amount of time. A lot of people took notice of it and Riven's popularity took off.
Mechanics became more wide spread, and itemization became more optimized. Because of the strong increase in the mechanical skill of the average Riven player, Riot decided to nerf her hard. Less AD early game, less Q damage, shorter shield, less health regen. Out of all of these, the Q nerf was the most substantial: from 30-130 +70% bonus AD, to 10-90 +40-60% total AD. Riven was now balanced around the skilled Riven players. A lot of mechanics that are standard today were fresh back then. An average Riven player with decent mechanics would have smashed games hard back in season two or three.
So that's our starting point, a freshly nerfed Riven, balanced around the players that were good at her. After nerfs, she was still good. In fact, she was quite overpowered before those nerfs, assuming you were good at her. Back then, Riven's item build would most likely look like this: Brutalizer, Ionian boots, Ravenous hydra, Last Whisper. The rest of the items would be situational: Guardian Angel (it gave armor and MR back then), mercurial scimitar (gave more AD), sometimes finishing ghostblade and getting an infinity edge, bloodthirster… For the most part, Riven was a glass cannon melee carry. You could somewhat compare her to Tryndamere in that regard, I suppose. Less hyperscaling, but more crowd control and AoE damage.
Riven's core gave Riven everything she wanted. A quick CDR cap (ionian gave 15%, and we could start the game with 15% CDR at level 1), a good amount of AD, sustain, and some armor shred to boost damage against squishies as well as tanks.
Of course, she had tools for survivability: a shield with a high AD scaling, the only one of its kind at that time, and then loads of life steal you would get. Griveous wounds weren't as prevalent back in the day, and so that life steal would reliably keep you healthy during fights. However, Riven's survivability was gated: to remain healthy, she needs to be able to hit you, which means being at melee range, and the shield could not be cast if under hard CC.
Another variation of Riven's build appeared during april 2015, when ionian boots were not purchased, and the CDR came from Black Cleaver. Back then, Cleaver gave the exact same stats as today, for the same price, except that the armor shred was 5% per stack, maxing at 30%. This version of cleaver did not build from Brutalizer, meaning you could get both a brutalizer and cleaver for the CDR cap and plenty of armor shred. This made Riven slightly beefier, and provided a bit more utility for the team: Cleaver's shred benefits your teammates. In addition, this enabled Riven to purchase defensive boots, which was a huge deal. These extra 400 HP didn't mean much however with few resistances in the build, and would only get very valuable once Guardian Angel was completed. Riven would remain quite squishy.
Patch 5.22 – Class updates: electric boogaloo
On November 11, 2015, patch 5.22 was released, the patch for preseason 6. This is one of the largest patches ever shipped to the game in one go, with a ton of changes to items, masteries (forgot about those didn't you), and champions. This is the patch that gave Corki his package, that took Graves out of the bot lane, made Jinx' rocket launcher slow, gave Kog'Maw 5.0 attacks per second, reworked Quinn, and plenty of other things. This patch was a disaster for Riven, as we will see just below.
In this patch, Brutalizer was removed and "split" into two items, Caulfield's Warhammer and Serrated Dirk. Last Whisper was reworked into something completely different. It became a component to two new final items: Lord Dominik's Regards and Mortal Reminder. These items were generally way less gold efficient and only penetrated bonus armor. Finally, Ionian boots had their CDR reduced. In short, Riven's most common core build was removed entirely.
All of these item changes, aimed at ADC champions, hurt Riven badly, and her win rate tanked quite hard. In addition, runes were changed, which reduced the amount of AD available at level 1. Death's Dance was added into the game, but it was much, much weaker than it is today. This patch completely changed Riven's power spikes, and she was countered by armor a lot harder. Last whisper and its upgrade were so shitty for their cost that you felt really bad when you put them into your inventory. In general, Riven became less snowbally and needed more time to come online. Not long before, Riven's ultimate cooldown was nerfed, and Wind Slash's missile speed was reduced. The combination of all of these changes was a huge hit.
Later on in season 6, the Championship Riven skin was re-released, and the patch just before its release saw a completely unnecessary "skin buff" : Wind Slash damage was increased. While looking big, this would not change much in practice because Wind Slash would overkill low health target anyways. However, I believe that this buff maintained Riven's ability to execute low health targets despite her not purchasing as much damage or armor penetration, which inflated her power budget and prevented her from getting healthier changes.
One could say that Riven's downfall started here. Korean player The Shy practically quit playing Riven at the end of season 5, allegedly from this. She just became a much worse champion. She was slower, her spikes were slower to come online, and weaker. As Death's Dance was buffed, it started getting more and more popular over time, turning Riven from a squishy glass cannon to a more durable bruiser.
Patch 6.22 – Class updates: electric boogaloo 2
On November 10, 2016, Riot shipped their next and last class update to the game, this one was targeted at assassins. Riven used to share items with ADC, so she got hurt by the marksman update. Riven also shared a lot of items with assassins, so she might get hurt by this one, and it's exactly what happened. This update brought us things such as : scaling lethality instead of flat armor penetration, reworking stealth, kind of reworking Akali to make her even more insane top lane, making Fizz ult hitbox grow in size with range, reworking Katarina, changing Kha'Zix evolutions, reworking Rengar in a way that made all Rengar mains quit, reworking LeBlanc to revert her later, reworking Talon, and giving Zed a completely unnecessary gimmick that made him very broken against Jhin.
This patch hurt Riven by changing flat armor penetration to Lethality. You see, season 6 saw Riven turn into more of a bruiser than a glass cannon. However, it was figured out towards the last months of the season that armor penetration runes were very good on Riven. Riven players started using armor penetration runes to revive that high damage playstyle they had lost. While you were weaker before level 6, you were definitely blowing people up again after level 6 or first recall.
The introduction of lethality completely crippled this option, forcing Riven even more into opting out of flat armor penetration, and relying on slow shredding with sustain to do damage. In addition, Fervor of Battle now gave AD instead of on-hit damage. This was a significant Riven buff, and it did emphasize the bruiser playstyle even more. The lower damage from less penetration was somewhat compensated by having a higher amount of AD, and Riven has huge AD scalings.
Patch 7.10 – The "not so fast" combo
On patch 7.10, a significant was brought to Riven. Riot Exgeniar was tasked to turn Riven's "fast combo" mechanic into an actual mechanic. You see, it was an unintended interaction that Riot didn't initially mean to give Riven. However, given how crucial it became to making her viable as shown by Faker, and how much skill expression it gave the champion, Riot wanted to turn it into an actual mechanic. To do so, Riot Exgeniar had to modernize the code for Riven's Q, because it was old and messy, and he wanted to make it consistent.
According to Riot Exgeniar, Riven's Q lock time when cancelled could vary based on RNG and ping. With his changes, he wanted to make the fast Q not ping reliant anymore, and consistent for everyone who executed properly. However, while working on his changes, he took a decision that significantly affected Riven's balance. Before the changes, Riven's Q locktime could go as low as 0.25 seconds, with good ping and good execution. Low ping players were able to get this consistently, questioning the RNG element brought up by Exgeniar.
In order to not give every player a the fastest Q possible, Exgeniar changed Riven's Q lock time. When cancelled, it would now be 0.4 seconds. That's an extra 0.15 seconds per Q, or 0.45 seconds over the three casts. That might not seem that big, but nowadays you would need to run hail of blades just to get back to that old speed of fast Q.
Strangely enough, Riven's win rate increased after those changes. Exgeniar was convinced that it was because of his changes, which made the mechanic more consistent for most players. Riven mains were convinced it was because of the ever increasing prevalence of Death's Dance inside of bruiser builds. Whoever was right, Riven's swift damage output with proper execution wasn't as fast as it used to be, without a doubt. And that felt bad.
Patch 7.22 – Goodbye stat runes
On November 8, 2017, the patch for preseason 8 was released. This patch saw the introduction of "Runes Reforged", a new system that entirely replaced the former combination of Runes and Masteries. Runes in the form of raw stat bonuses stopped to exist. Every champion in the game received base damage and base stats adjustments, to account for their most commonly used runes. Riven was given a little bit of AD and armor. No magic resist, which makes sense, because Riven used Cooldown Reduction runes most often. However, she wasn't given any kind of compensation for her cooldowns.
The new runes reforged system was much different from what we have now. Conqueror, Hail of Blades, didn't exist. Kleptomancy worked differently, and Unsealed Spellbook was actually good. Stat bonuses in the runes did not exist yet, and the stats you would earn depended entirely on the different trees you were going for. Even when conqueror was released later, Riven was stuck with a bonus of Attack Speed for some reason.
The biggest hit coming out of all of this was the removal of stat runes. Riven was no longer able to start with 15% cooldown reduction, which was a massive hit to her laning. In addition, Lethality runes were gone. At this point, the bruiser build with Death's Dance was agreed by the majority to be superior to the lethality setup. Running lethality runes was still possible, if you wanted to feel those high damage moments, and if you were still building something like Black Cleaver + Youmuu's Ghostblade. It was worse, but the possibility remained, until that patch came out. Now, there was no choice but to get Black Cleaver and Death's Dance every game.
Riven was granted a little bit of extra damage on her Q two patches later, for compensation, but this didn't solve much. Later down the line, Riven was given some buffs to her kit: a bit more health regen, to make her into a normal regen champion instead of being trash in that regard. Lower ultimate cooldown, though not as low as it used to be before patch 5.21.
Other things happened more recently, such as nerfing Riven's E shield significantly while overbuffing her Q to compensate. Riven's ability numbers were left untouched for the longest time, and were only ever changed by very minor amounts to give placebo buffs or to account for systemic changes. Sudden changes like these were knee-jerk reaction to the problem of bad Rivens performing too well.
S4 – S5 Riven mostly built glass cannon, with lifesteal and CDR as the only sort of "defense". Guardian angel and boots were the only sources of resistance.
Recent Riven builds very bruiser-oriented, with every item giving both AD combined with health or resistances.
Riven's fast execution was nerfed with slower wind slash speed and slower "fast" combo
Riven's changes in power spikes made her significantly worse early game and nerfed her snowballing hard
Reduced availability of level 1 CDR nerfed Riven's ability to lane
Buffs to other champions made match-ups harder (Garen, Renekton, Nasus, Malphite to name a few)
Systemic changes in the game required damage to be increased, which in turn required damage mitigation to be buffed: bone plating, courage of the colossus and aftershock, exhaust lasting longer
Riven now has very limited options in terms of itemization because there is no choice but going for the Death's Dance build
In general, the level of mechanical prowess to provide a good contribution to the team has decreased. The prevalence of highly durable builds give more time to react, makes you harder to kill, and generally means you will be landing more knockups and stuns during a fight. It is sad to say, but it's a lot easier to be a good Riven than it used to be. The main difficulty now lies in match-up knowledge instead of mechanical prowess and quick execution.
The truth is, Riven isn't bad because of all of this. Right now, she's not in the best spot, but a few meta shifts can make her bearable to play again. But Riven has just become too difficult to kill nowadays:
- BC: 400 HP
- DD: 30 armor and MR, sustain, 30% of damage taken is delayed
- GA: 40 armor
- Conqueror: 15% omnivamp at full stacks (not reduced for AoE)
- Boots: 20 armor or 25 MR
- Legend tenacity: 30% tenacity
All of these things add up to make Riven the tankiest she's ever been since release. There isn't any room for buffs or changes that would shift Riven back to her more popular, fun and exciting "high speed, high damage" style currently. I believe that the state of Conqueror and Death's Dance are a problem for the whole game, and not Riven exclusively. I have hopes that the changes to items in preseason will, for once, be in Riven's favor.
Rework armor penetration itemization (unlikely)
Shift power inside of Riven's kit to give her built-in armor shred (just like Darius Gangplank Garen Jarvan Jayce Kayle Nasus Renekton Rengar Sion Trundle Vi Wukong and Yasuo)
Adjust Riven's cooldowns to account for the lower availability of early CDR while keeping her cooldowns the same late game (scale her cooldowns on level? passive CDR on a certain ability like Ryze had in the past?)
Reduce cancelled Q lock time to 0.25s from 0.4s
Fix Riven's basic attack buffer issues with W, R1 and R2
Increase Riven dash length (new releases made her mobility worse than before) ?
Increase E shield duration? Make the duration refresh upon dealing / taking damage ?
Consider reverting E cooldown to what it used to be ?
Revert partly or entirely wind slash speed ?
All of the things mentioned above are flat out buffs, so of course I wouldn't want all of these happening at once, especially if there is no room to buff Riven at all. What do you think of all of this? Do you have other solutions to be proposed? Let me know in the comments.
Have a nice day.
- Essence Reaver is probably the Ryze of items. This item has been reworked a ton of times and had its stats and niche changed multiple times since it was introduced.
- The insane amount of penetration on PBE leaves tanks without much a niche anymore, especially due to the presence of fighters.
- MR items are really bad
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