The Care and Feeding of Warriors: The visual set for warriors, part 2

Matthew Rossi
M. Rossi|09.24.11

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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: The visual set for warriors, part 2
Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Care and Feeding of Warriors, the column dedicated to arms, fury and protection warriors. Despite repeated blows to the head from dragons, demons, Old Gods and whatever that thing over there was, Matthew Rossi will be your host.

At present it looks unlikely that other classes are getting dragon-aspect-themed tier 13 sets. This means that as of right now, with mage, warlock, druid, shaman, rogue and paladin sets also revealed, the warrior set is indisputably the best-looking set so far. We look awesome.

Warrior tier sets in general tend to always look, at the very least, good and serviceable. One of the innovations moving from Naxxramas' tier 3 to The Burning Crusade's tier sets is that it took the idea of the warrior design aesthetic and branched it out to cover both role warriors could play in raids. When we talked about the visual set for warriors in classic WoW two weeks ago, one of the most glaring notes was that tanking sets got the unified look of a tier while DPS sets were cobbled together from various non-set pieces and had no unifying theme to characterize them. There was essentially one tier set per raid, and it was either tanking or tank-capable. Both Zul'Gurub and Ahn'Qiraj presented warriors with "sets" that were composed of both DPS and tank pieces.

Armor sets in The Burning Crusade

The Burning Crusade changed this. By developing the token system seen in previous tiers (especially AQ40) and really fleshing it out, it became possible to design sets for both tanks and DPS warriors. This simple change ended the clown suit DPS warrior phenomenon, but it added an interesting wrinkle of its own. In The Burning Crusade, off-set pieces would be designed to match tier sets. Not just accessories like belts, boots and bracers, but complete alternative looks matching the tier sets would be created.

To give you an example, I've put together the following set of gear that dropped in the Tempest Keep/Serpentshrine Cavern tier of raid dungeons during The Burning Crusade. It consists of the Fel-Steel Warhelm, the Pauldrons of the Wardancer, the Greaves of the Bloodwarder, the Krakken-Heart Breastplate (all DPS pieces) and the Royal Gauntlets of Silvermoon (tanking gloves), and it's almost immediately apparent that these pieces are basically green versions of warrior tier 5.

The belt and boots were designed to match the Destroyer tier 5 set, which shares the same models with these pieces. Unlike the BWL/AQ approach to DPS gear, which made it look wholly unique from the tanking tier sets, these off-set pieces are designed to be at once visually distinctive and yet similar to the tier set. In addition to having these faux sets of offset gear, dedicated PVP gear with resilience on it made its debut in The Burning Crusade as well, and such gear also shared models with the tier sets.

This wasn't universally the rule, however. Karazhan, Gruul's Lair and Magtheridon's Lair had off-set plate pieces that, instead of using the same models as tier 4 (which also dropped in these three raids), shared models with Dungeon Set 3 from BC dungeons and heroics. The Bold Armor (a tanking set) and Doomplate Battlegear (DPS-oriented) shared models with drops like the Mantle of Abrahmis, the Panzar'Thar Breastplate, and the Thundering Greathelm.

Look-alikes and distinction vs. uniform

I don't mean to imply that this was universal; there were unique models and skins for plate gear for both tanks and DPS in the Hyjal/BT tier of heroics and on Badge of Justice vendors. In addition, the inclusion of Zul'Aman not only added several entirely unique pieces of armor (some that returned in Cataclysm via the Rise of the Zandalari dungeons) with their own shared design aesthetic, but it also made it possible for players to bootstrap their way into later tiers of raiding. I still remember when Glory of the Defender first dropped for me in Hyjal, or when I had to decide between my tier 5 tanking shoulders or the Pauldrons of Abyssal Fury.

It would neither be fair or accurate to say that The Burning Crusade did away with unique pieces of gear. But allowing for tier gear for both DPS and tanking warriors combined with using similar models in many cases, warriors gained the ability to assemble a unified look far more than ever before while sacrificing some of the distinctiveness you got in the bug suit era of classic WoW. One geared up in 5-man dungeons and heroics, then went to Kara, Gruul and Mags, where if tier didn't drop, you got pieces that looked similar to your Bold or Doomplate. Then one ran TK/SSC and geared up in pieces that looked a lot like what your tier 5 would. Thankfully, there were enough distinctive pieces in ZA, on Badge vendors, and in later tier raids to break up the monotony.

Gaining and losing identity

What really developed out of all this was a general sense of thematic warrior identity outside of role. A DPS warrior and a tanking warrior would generally only really be distinguished by their weapons or a quick inspection of their gear. Even a PvP warrior tended to look more or less like a PVE warrior, as the PVP sets were basically just recolors of the tier sets.
I've arranged tiers 4 through 6 above in order of my own personal preference, although please don't take that to mean that I didn't like any of them. I think The Burning Crusade's tier sets were some of the best-designed sets the class has ever seen. I admit I have no idea what any of them are based on (if they're based on anything), but Onslaught remains one of the most visually imposing sets ever designed, Warbringer looks as alien and menacing as you'd expect the first tier of raiding in The Burning Crusade to be, and Destroyer has a demonic mien that works well for it, with pauldrons suggesting winged blades. I have to admit, I actually like the Gladiator's Battlegear over its Warbringer cousins. The deep black and seething red work very well, in my opinion.

Onslaught works so well as a set that even the blue PVP recolor doesn't lose much at all. I actually even wore a look-alike helmet into Naxxramas-25 when Wrath raiding was just starting out because I couldn't bear to part with the look. (I got over it eventually, but it stung.)

But the visual design philosophy of The Burning Crusade took a turn for the absurd in Sunwell Plateau.

The Burning Crusade and the Sunwell experiment

Simply put, not only did Sunwell have no sets as such (instead dropping bracers, belts and boots that counted as part of tier 6 so players could keep their set bonuses longer while replacing tier pieces with otherwise superior Sunwell drops), but every single piece of plate that dropped or was obtainable via Sunmotes looked exactly like every other piece of plate for that slot. All plate helms, all plate shoulders, all plate gloves -- be they tank, DPS or even paladin healing -- were only distinguished by color. Even pieces crafted from recipes dropping in Sunwell Plateau had the same models as every other piece for their slot.

In The Burning Crusade, there were no death knights, so the two plate classes were paladins and warriors. While the off-set drops like the green Destroyer shown above meant that some overlaps between, say, ret paladins and arms warriors was inevitable, at least up until Black Temple it could be said that our tier gear was remarkably distinct and served to give the classes some identity. Sunwell meant that healing paladins would wear near identical helms, shoulders, boots ... The visual set of each class just dumped straight into one another.

The loss of class identity

Previously, both a paladin and a warrior tank might wear the same tanking gear in slots (although paladins used different mechanics to tank in those days), but the bleed was basically by role and was still fairly distinct based on mechanics. Tanks had some overlap, DPS had some overlap, and thank Gruumsh, warriors don't heal. But with Sunwell, everyone looked the same within an armor type, and while the gear itself was certainly not ugly (although I hated the helmet), it was the complete death of any sort of individual look to assemble a full set of SWP gear. Even the Season 4 PVP plate sets were nearly identical. Sunwell gear was excellently itemized but far too visually homogenized.

Wrath of the Lich King would develop both of these visual design elements in different ways. We'd get unique class sets for both DPS and tanking (and further differentiated by 10- and 25-man raid size) and a raid where the gear followed the Sunwell model to a degree but brought faction elements to play. Finally, with ICC-10/25, Wrath would debut probably the most interesting way to differentiate classes yet.

Next week, arms PvP. When we return to the visual set series, how Wrath collected all approaches.

At the center of the fury of battle stand the warriors: protection, arms and fury. Check out more strategies and tips especially for warriors, including Cataclysm 101 for DPS warriors, a guide to new reputation gear for warriors, and a look back at six years of warrior trends.
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