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How we see the World of Warcraft

Matthew Rossi

One of the things I'm leeriest of is the idea of a complete overhaul of World of Warcraft's aesthetic. I've talked about it in terms of character aesthetics, and in terms of the visual set that defines the warrior class and what it all boils down to for me is that when I log into the game, I want it to feel like it's the same game, the same world. This is not to say that the game hasn't seen plenty of upgrades to its visuals over the years, far from it. As Takralus pointed out recently in a forum thread asking if WoW will ever see a major graphical upgrade, the game has seen upgrades, at least one every time an expansion has come out in fact.

World of Warcraft is a game built out of all of these separate elements combined. It's got excellent sound design, both in music and in sound effects (although I can't watch a TV special on dinosaurs without recognizing a sound from World of Warcraft nowadays), which the graphics build on top of to create the world we experience. As such, I'm simultaneously interested in yet afraid of the long awaited character model redesign Takralus mentions. Yes, it's somewhat ridiculous that human wizards and warlocks, if male, have arms like coiled pythons, but by now I'm so accustomed to it I don't know if I could accept a more slender build for a spellcaster.

How we see the World of Warcraft
That being said, clearly the upgrades of the past have in fact made for a more compelling gameplay experience. Even something as simple as learning how to make pants models that didn't merely cling like skin-tight leggings made the game better, and I'm sure that a well done redesign of the dwarf model (just to use one example) would make it so I could stand to play one of the purely hatchet faced male dwarves without finding a nice, solid hat to hide his face.

Elements like local weather, shadows (which have gotten leaps and bounds more advanced in the years of the game's run), the surface of water, the suite of monk animations for each race and all the other elements that contribute to the game's overall aesthetic are all the result of a constant process of refinement and development. WoW isn't the same game it was when it launched in terms of gameplay, in terms of music, sound design, graphics and character models (even though the basic races models haven't been changed, we now have access to years worth of gear via transmog and several races designed after WoW launched) and entire new zones have been introduced. Think about how Outland changed the way we perceived zones with its stark color palette and alien vistas, about how Northrend created the Howling Fjord and Grizzly Hills for regions of natural beauty and then Icecrown Glacier for a starkly inhospitable frozen waste. Cataclysm gave us zones set on Azeroth that combined that alien feeling of Outland and that natural world of Northrend, as well as the massive domed space of Deepholm, the airy magnificence of Skywall, the floating chunks of fossilized fire that made up the Firelands.

How we see the World of Warcraft

All of this creates a world as an aggregate. World of Warcraft is a place that has been built progressively for us. This leads me to ask the question: are new character models really a necessary addition to that aggregate? Or will they do more harm than good? It's one thing to have options that allow you to redesign your character, that put your character's look into your hands like race change, but waking up one day and suddenly having a completely different look that you can't control often bothers people greatly. Something as small as an error that shrank orc shoulders or a deliberate change to the size of tauren weapons annoyed the hell out of people. For every mage player who's sick of having a neck that could bear an ox yoke, there's a player who would log in and gasp in shock at their now completely altered character.

Frankly, I don't just want new character models. I want a new character model process, where we're given a couple of body type options, and where the classic WoW models are retained as an option. Players who've enjoyed the repulsively terrible dwarf face for the past years shouldn't be forced to change it. The game is composed of thousands of tiny elements and they all contribute to this World of Warcraft we inhabit, so the character model should be approached with the utmost in restraint and caution. While I'm dreaming, put in some fun variants - orcs can be mag'har or fel, dwarves can be Dark Irons, Wildhammers with face tattoos, even earthen with stony structures, tauren players could be Grimtotems with the face paint or even taunka/yaungol. Draenei could play as broken or lost ones.

All of these new options would only be feasible if they preserved the old choices, allowed people to continue to look as they're accustomed to looking now. In the end, I think WoW's history shows that change is inevitable and even to be welcomed, but that it has to build on what came before it to work, and the same is absolutely true when it comes to character models and their redesign.

Mists of Pandaria is here! The level cap has been raised to 90, many players have returned to Azeroth, and pet battles are taking the world by storm. Keep an eye out for all of the latest news, and check out our comprehensive guide to Mists of Pandaria for everything you'll ever need to know.

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