Ask people what matters most when you loot an item of gear in Azeroth, and you’ll probably get one of two answers. The majority of ‘serious’ players will inform you with a sage nod of the head and a quick glance at their Best in Slot list that stats are where it’s at (baby.) However, there are those of us who will laugh, shake their heads and inform you that looks always beat stats, especially if animation is involved. It’s been that way since Molten Core, after all. Warcraft’s aesthetic legacy, eleven years on, means that suddenly how stuff looks has become something of a big deal. Today, because we’re getting perilously close on Alpha to something that looks, smells and even tastes like Beta, it seems appropriate to consider the history of the Looks v Stats argument and how the company has now utterly embraced the idea of a purely aesthetic approach to gameplay. In fact, once Legion hits, you’ll be utterly spoilt for choice as to what you can wear and how you look. It isn’t just transmog that matters either: Warcraft’s aesthetic legacy now extends far beyond the remit of the colour co-ordinated player.
Transmog’s Dressing Room Revolution
The thing about Transmog, as I have discovered in the last few years, is that you don’t really need to be any good at it at all. There’s those of us (and I do include myself in this group of players) that have made Transmog into an extension of their online personas: outfits reflect not simply class and spec, but outlooks and approaches too. Then there are those for whom looking like they’re wearing everything to clash has become as much of an art form as those who won’t use more than three colours in their palette. There is no right way to do this, after all, there are no trends to catch or fashion shows to set the mood for a season. The only constant in gear is the Tier set, and that’s normally only ever worn by those raiders who have a point to prove with never mogging to begin with.
What Transmog made Activision Blizzard aware of was the desire for players to have a bigger say in not only how their characters looked, but how they acted when they did so. I have a friend who has perfected the art of the Roleplay ‘walk’ whilst looking fabulous in his gear, a woman who has a different transmog ensemble for every occasion, including sitting outside banks and whilst waiting for World Bosses to spawn. It becomes the ultimate means of expressing a preference without the need to either inflate the ego or demean a fellow player, as can so often be the case with those who pick ‘prestige’ items won in either PvP or via Challenge Mode/Mythic Dungeons. Except, over time, it isn’t just the armour and weapons that matter. When Artifacts become standard in Legion, you’ll have the option to earn any number of different skins for your item, but there will be restrictions. Even though you can still mog, there’ll be no way to make a staff look like a dagger or vice versa. Ironically, Artifacts have the potential to make Transmog less attractive over time, and it is clear the developers are hoping you’ll want to stick with the artwork provided and not substitute your own.
Toys, Books and Games for All
There’s been another quiet revolution in Azeroth over the last few years, one that is being both augmented and expanded for Legion: the transformation item. Zone into any LFR and I can guarantee you’ll hear ‘I, Gamon, will save us’ at least once, followed closely by ‘The doctor is in.’ Those two Pandarian trinkets still get a phenomenal amount of use, and there’s a wide range of new ‘costumes’ being introduced over time. It’s the easy and quick fix for those of you who just can’t be bothered to co-ordinate anything, and Legion will let you dress like a Vykrul or a Sprite amongst many other new varieties of ‘disguise.’As yet, these items don’t come with a price tag (remember there are purchasable Transmog helms) but it seems reasonable that, at some point, that might change. Because you only have to look at games like CS: GO to understand that skins are big business, and Warcraft’s aesthetic legacy may yet be packaged with a price tag.
There are a number of items that are available using Seasonal Tokens however, all of them from Hallow’s End. I’ve not felt either the desire or need to collect these as yet, but that could change if Blizzard decided to expand their remit. However I do own a phenomenal number of the transformation items: I can remember the first time an Orb of Deception dropped for me and allowed my Dwarf to become a Troll. Those particular glamours that allow players to retain their current form but give them a particular colour or tint are also insanely popular: you need to only look at Shadow Priests to get the allure of that approach. However, these items come with a price, or at best a limited-time use. That’s the downside, and while this game puts a premium on you eliminating other players in PvP, I’d not expect that to change.
Artifacts Point the Way Forward
We mentioned them back up there, but Blizzard’s choice to grant every player the same weapon for the whole of the Legion expansion is somewhat out of place in the development of Warcraft’s aesthetic legacy. Surely it shouldn’t be about a very specific set of art that everybody has to choose from? Isn’t this revolution supposed to allow complete freedom of expression? What needs to be considered at this juncture is how important Tier remains to a group of players, those for whom Challenge mode outfits really are prestige. Vanity mounts only available from bosses when current is also big business, as anyone with a Moose will attest. There remains considerable kudos in the idea of owning something that is only current for a limited period, and making artwork for such an item reflect the effort taken to obtain it.
Artifacts redefine the relationship the ordinary player has with aesthetics, that stats are as good as you make them, and looks only come from your effort to obtain the skin you desire. That’s pretty much the entire modus operandi around the PvP redesign: Prestige levels will reward a vast number of aesthetic options, only accessible when you’ve done a phenomenal amount of work to achieve them. Suddenly players will be faced with decisions that don’t simply involve where to get the best items to stick in your Artifact: certain skins will only drop in Instances, others will come from rare bosses, and you will, if you desire, be able to precisely indicate to other players how much time and effort you have placed into your weapon. Or you can just transmog it to a stick and not care. That’s your choice, people.
This transformation has been a long time coming, and has the potential to utterly modify the financial landscapes of servers where before people didn’t really care for fancy clothes and co-ordinated outfits. However hard you try, some people will still just not want to play. Even the reintroduction of librams and quivers to certain classes (I’ll let you guess who gets what) won’t be enough to excite those of you for whom all this mucking about with looks is largely academic and mostly pointless. It’s okay, you can ignore the rest of us getting unreasonably excited over here, we won’t mind one bit. For us, this evolution has been a long time coming, and with the Wardrobe feature already occupying our minds? Yes, some of us are already collecting items in anticipation of the change to a more visual form of gameplay. I grant you it won’t make us better raiders, or indeed improve our interpersonal skills, but that won’t be the end of the World. We’ll at least look great regardless.
Warcraft’s aesthetic legacy however is going to be very significant as time goes on. Slowly but surely Blizzard is updating skins across the entire Azerothian landscape. One assumes that at some point this could also extend to the old world too, that maybe trees, buildings and the very ground itself will evolve into a more high definition version of the original source code. However, such endeavours have the potential to alienate players, as the lessons from Cataclysm with altering the flow of old world history still demonstrate even now. With the potentially millions of new players that could be enticed into the World of Warcraft via the movie? One has to wonder what will change after Legion’s release. It’s apparent that this MMO’s not going anywhere, so what will that mean long term for how this game looks, quite apart from the way it plays?
I for one hope that we keep being given the chance to make our own choices in terms of what we wear and wield: I’ll admit I’m not a great fan of any of the Artifacts I’ve seen in terms of looks. In fact, I’ve been quietly gathering replacement looks for the items I’ll be wielding come release. Activision Blizzard haven’t done a bad job, don’t get me wrong, I’ve just never been a fan of showy. In fact Transmog gives me the chance to be what I am, without fuss. For that alone, I’m very grateful at the current aesthetic choices this game provides.Related: Alpha, Beta, Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Transmog, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday