League of Legends champion appraisal: Irelia

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Picking the right champion in League of Legends is the most important decision you'll make in a game--and knowing your enemy is just as important. That's why PC Gamer is starting its Champion Appraisal column to tell you everything you need to know about League of Legends latest champions. Irelia, the Will of the Blades, was released just last Thursday, but is she worth laying down cold hard cash for? First revealed in our November 2010 issue, Irelia is a melee-focused hero with a few interesting twists. But the twists may be more complication than she needed.

Ready to fly.

Irelia is supposed to fill a melee nuke/assassin role on the field of battle (similar to another blade-wielding female ninja champion, Akali). However, her abilities are disparate enough that it's difficult to build her in such a way that she performs that role well.

  • Bladesurge – A short (and I mean short) lunge forward that damages her target. If she kills her target, the cooldown is reset. Its damage rises with Attack Damage.
  • Hiten Style – A useful passive ability that allows her auto-attacks to heal her. The ability can also be activated to give her auto-attacks extra "true damage" for a bit, meaning that the boost benefits from having higher attack speed.
  • Equilibrium Strike – Damages and slows the target, unless Irelia's health percentage is lower than her target's, in which case it stuns instead. It's damage rises with Ability Power.
  • Transcendent Blades – Her ultimate summons four blades, which she can skill shot (cast in a specific direction designated by her cursor) at-will dealing magic damage and healing herself for damage done. It will benefit from either Ability Power or Attack Power, whichever is higher.

If it isn't obvious already, Irelia has a problem with build options. Unless you buy items both Attack Damage and Ability Power, only one or two of your abilities is going to be powerful (and if you buy both, all of the abilities will be sub-par). The best champions in League of Legends have abilities that synergize well with each other. Especially if they're focus is killing other champions, instead of supporting allies or killing NPCs. Irelia's abilities simply don't synergize well.

She has another weakness as well--her inability to initiate on an enemy champion effectively. Initiating on an enemy champion is a key component in large group fights: once the blades start swinging and the spells are flying, an assassin needs to be able to get on their target, and start slashing immediately. As I mentioned earlier, Irelia's Bladesurge's range is shorter than any ranged character's auto-attacks, meaning that when I played Irelia, I was really only able to initiate against other melee heroes with even less initiating options. Equilibrium Strike could've helped me initiate, but, due to the relative health requirement, it won't stun my target until later in the fight.

Irelia fairs better when played defensively (a less intuitive strategy for an assassin character, but not unheard of with other assassins like Shaco and Akali). Her passive ability— Ionian Fervor —reduces the duration of enemy crowd control (CC; stuns, snares, etc.) done to her. This ability stacks with Mercury's Treads—boots that will reduce the effects of CC even further. Also, her health regeneration from Hiten Style makes staying in a lane for a long time, or even jungling, more viable. Unfortunately, you'll need the CC reductions for running away from combat instead of into it, thanks to her low health pool. No amount of health regeneration can really help that.

There is some silver lining with Irelia, however. Her ultimate, while not as damaging as many other champion's, is very fun to use, has a large range and, with some skill, can be deadly in team battles. And if skins are your kind of thing, Riot's made some neat skins available for her right off the bat in the cash shop, including one that dresses her up as a turn of the century aviator.

However, one cool ability and some neat skins don't make up for a hero that is ultimately isn't fun for me to play. If you're really anxious to try a new melee assassin--and don't mind giving up the versatility and concerted abilities of other melee assassin champions like Akali and Xin Zhao--then Irelia might be worth picking up for you. But before you do, wait for her to be selected as one of the weekly rotating free-to-play champions so you can test her out. And for those of you that don't pick her up: if you meet Irelia on the field of battle—don't worry, you'll be fine.