Thank you, WoW art staff

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Over the weekend I spent some time — as I often do at the end of expansions — just flying around, doing some farming, picking up a couple minor achievements here and there, and swooping down now and then to investigate something interesting. My favorite way to do this is at the end of a long day, with a glass of good wine and a carefully-selected playlist of my favorite tunes. I find it incredibly stress-relieving.

Every time I spend an evening like this, I realize that the graphic beauty of this game is a major reason I have stuck with it as long as I have. It is a stunning visual experience, in my opinion, one unmatched by any other MMO out there. I am awe-struck not only by the conceptual rendering of each zone, but also by the genius of imagination that designs them and carries that design through to the tiniest detail.

This is not to say I love every zone in the WoW world. I do not. Appreciation of art is, of course, highly personal, and art that speaks to me is that which lifts my soul and makes my heart soar. So I am not a big fan of the dark and dismal places in Azeroth, I prefer the zones with vast sweeping vistas — colorful life-filled jungles, gentle rolling plains, farmland, clean-swept deserts, high cold mountain ranges, blue beaches as far as the eye can see. Still, I can admire the artistry of even the zones I find depressing and dank.

Of all the areas in WoW, I return most often to Pandaria, where I find something in every zone to make me catch my breath for the sheer beauty. The area around Zouchin in Kun-Lai Summit is not only breathtaking, but for some reason it makes me think of early spring — I can almost feel the still-crisp air combined with the green of new grass and the feeling that the ground is thawing, the kind of weather I loved as a kid enduring the frozen winters of Minnesota.

The seemingly-endless beaches in southern Krasarang wilds are nothing short of balm for the soul. Whenever I go there, I can smell the sea salt and feel the warmth of the sand. Especially when real life deals blizzards, I love to log in, go to Krasarang, strip down to my virtual underwear, and stand with my elf toes in the surf, maybe fishing, maybe not. The artistry of gentle foam washing over sand is just spectacular. Similarly, when real life summer becomes oppressive for the heat and humidity, I can take a quick trip to the cold, barren, snow-swept heights of the high mountains of Kun-Lai Summit and feel almost shivery. The art is that good.

Not to reopen any emotional debate, but a large part of my appreciation for the game’s artistic genius comes from the mechanic of flying. For me, there is no other way to grasp the grandeur of artistic vistas than to swoop and soar and see them from many perspectives. Sometimes I like to appreciate them from a lofty view, hovering g as long as I want in a given area, and sometimes I like to jump off my mount and dig my toes I to the sand. But I adore having a choice for how to best view and experience anything. It is, in my opinion, one of the last spectacular aspects of the game.

The one part of art I find lacking in the game is the rendering of gear, especially tier armor. Again, I realize this is entirely subjective, but honestly I find every tier set for every class to be tedious, over-drawn, uninspirational, and universally ugly. Even for hunters, I cannot tell one tier set apart from another, except for those sets distinguished by some particularly odious design such as a dead animal for a helmet or condominium-sized shoulders. Blizz may have genius artists, but they pretty much stink as fashion designers.

I have been hard on Blizz lately, but my frustration with the game stems from a management failure to professionally carry out a cohesive and organized design project. They seem incapable of meshing mechanics and class design, they remain dismissive of their customers, unable to integrate the project parts into a single goal, and overall they seem to be just mailing it in for WoW, as if they are only serving time until they can move on the hot new franchises.

But, except for crappy armor, I am still delighted with the work of the artists. They are not exactly unsung heroes of this game, but they certainly seem to be under-appreciated.

Anyway, thanks, WOW art staff, you are still doing a heck of a job.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

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