Sunday, August 28, 2011

Shields: Maximizing Personalization in 4.3

With patch 4.3 and the introduction of Transmogrification coming to the Azeroth, it begs the question: If the majority is fair game, how can you avoid looking like everyone else?  More on this below and a real eye opener to the potential future of shield design for the next expansion.

This question about personalization resonated with me because as a professional, my job is to crack such codes. WoW has always fascinated me in this regard for certain reasons, and I've finally decided to step into the ring and see if I can offer a fresh take on the topic.

Differentiation Analysis 2.0:  Shields

The chart depicted here (click for larger view) illustrates all of the Epic, Rare and Uncommon shield models currently attainable in-game.  For a list of items to link to WoWhead, scroll down to the bottom of the article.  Since this is a form study, excess model samples have been removed so we can focus on the differences from model to model, rather than color to color and model to model. Once you identify a model you'd like to review further, just skip on over to WoWhead and see what other color schemes might be available.

For the purposes of this visual analysis, I've arranged the shields horizontally by the expansion in which the model was originally released and vertically by wireframe uniqueness. So the Blackskull Shield from vanilla WoW, for example, which shares its model with another 27 shields in-game is bottom of the barrel in terms of uniqueness, and as such I've placed it in the pile of parity in the lowest band of the chart. Conversely, the Skull of Ruin from Wrath of the Lich King is truly unique, reserving its model unto itself, and as such I've showcased it in the highest band of the chart.  More on this analysis and our conclusions after the jump.

So is this enough to determine what you should be using for a shield to stand out among your peers? The short answer is 'no'.

Data mining and determining how many items are truly unique is easy enough. But to really put these models to the test, you have to cross reference them with a qualitative, aesthetic analysis. Which brings us to our next exercise.

First, an introduction to one of the methodologies you will see used here often at Disenchanting Azeroth. What you see below is what we refer to as a visual positioning exercise. We use this tool as a means to provide a visual landscape to the subject matter we're trying to break down. We do our evaluations in 3D first, then represent them on the chart in top view. So for this case, we're again positioning every Rare and Epic Shield currently available in-game (click for larger image).

The vertical axis here is a continuum of Introverted forms (singular, quiet) to Extroverted forms (multiple intersecting, loud). Things are visually peaceful the further South you go, and conversely they get flamboyant if you head North.

The horizontal axis here is a continuum of Static forms (rectilinear, sharp transitions) to Fluid forms (organic, smooth transitions). Things appear stoic and angular to the West, and as you head East they start to feel more rounded and shapely.

The goal here isn't to determine the exact placement of each individual item, rather to identify deltas between them as a means to flush out some conclusions. In this case, we're trying to determine what the landscape for Shields will be in 4.3 and provide players with some insight into the choices they'll be making.  So if we cross-reference this visual positioning with our earlier analysis, we can start to predict just how unique an item truly is.  To keep this post short, let's simply cross reference the top row of "truly unique" shields from the first exercise and plot their locations on the visual positioning map and see what we can learn.

At left (click for larger view) we've identified the "truly unique" shield models with Red and Green.

In this case, we've used Red circles to identify a shield that is sitting amidst a sea of sameness.  A great example here being the Elementium Stormshield.  Yeah, exactly - where is it???  Visually lost at about (50, 25).

We've elected to highlight the shields that lie on the fringes of these clusters of sameness with Green.  So from a macro level, this chart helps us put a bit more weight behind the recommendations we can submit to the player base below.

So what can we draw from this?  Yikes, is my initial reaction.  A number of those "truly unique" shields aren't exactly "truly unique" because so many of them sit surrounded by peers with a similar look and feel.  The aggressive, horned looks found in the more extroverted territory really suffer from this, as well as those with more of a circular shape in the introverted space.  As a result, I'm going to stray from this sea of sameness for our recommendations below.  In fact, I'm going to suggest two shield models that fell just below our "truly unique" category instead.

As a side note to the conversation, I'm also surprised how empty the right half of the chart is.  It's too early to tell based solely on an analysis of shield design, but this tells me the Blizzard art department may have an art style that's very fluid and organic up their sleeve for the next expansion.  Doing so would certainly enable them to trend away from the sea of parity above in terms of shield design, and generate an entirely new look and feel to shields that hasn't been seen yet. Emerald Dream?  Shields made from intricate tree carvings or petrified mushrooms?

So if your goal is to truly stand out among your peers with transmogrification in 4.3, then these are our top 10 recommended shields for doing so, based on this analysis.  The items to follow are in no particular order.

Thanks for reading today's post.  And a special thanks to Flux over at Power Word Gold for hosting my initial evaluation of the BoE portion of this set.  More to come, and we'd love to hear your feedback in the meantime.


1.  Royal Crest of Lordaeron, potential drop after defeating Mal'Ganis in the Caverns of Time, the Culling of Stratholme (Heroic).  Fantastic looking shield.  The swords really make this one pop and punch it into the extroverted realm, and though it has a number of linear qualities it blends them with fluid transitions.  Throw the crest of Lordaeron in there and you've got a shield that not only pops from a form standpoint, but also from an iconography perspective as well.  Nothing else like it in-game.

2.  Red Dragonscale Protector, potential drop after defeating Vaelastrasz the Corrupt in Blackwing Lair. Incredibly aggressive, angular form.  Add in the fact that it's modeled after a dragonkin, and this one packs some visual punch.  Clearly sets itself aside from its peers.

3. Bulwark of Azzinoth, potential drop after defeating Illidan Stormrage in Black Temple.  With so many shields trending towards flamboyantly extroverted forms, the rectilinear base of this bulwark remains incredibly quiet.  From a differentiation standpoint, I would love to see this shield without the spikes, because it would be so different that it would actually appear bold among all of the other designs attainable.  That being said, there's nothing wrong with bold + massive spikes, in fact it probably makes such an otherwise introverted form more appealing to the player base.  Again, nothing else like it in-game.

4. Aldori Legacy Defender, potential drop after defeating Gruul the Dragonkiller in Blades Edge Mountains.  Throw this one in a melting pot and it would have potentially been the most fluid-looking shield available.  Still has some abrupt transitions from surface to surface, but overall it retains one of the most unique looks in-game.


5. Bulwark of Alganon, potential drop after defeating Alganon the Observer in Ulduar.  One of the very few shields with the intersecting forms of a cross at its base.  Much more fluid, though, and the organic detailing of the face really make this one stand out.  In terms of form, only one other shield shares this model, which is why I'm recommending to go with this model off Alganon.  Harder to get, more of a status symbol than its peer.  But nonetheless, far separated from other shields available.

6. Shield of Impenetrable Darkness, potential drop after defeating Nightbane in Karazahn.  A common shield seen during TBC for beginner raiders clearing Karazahn, this shield is probably going to be forgotten in 4.3.  Don't let it.  It has one of the most unique looks in-game, and stands virtually alone in our analysis above.  Classic, fluid lines and ornate details give this shield the look of that from an artisan shield forger.

7. Lost Pavise of the Blue Flight, potential drop after defeating Sindragosa in Icecrown Citadel.  I generally wanted to avoid pulling from the sea of sameness mentioned above, but with so many shields with "truly unique" models in the game sitting in that space, and so many of them from current and recent content, I felt we should pull at least one.  And here is our recommendation with the Lost Pavise below.  If you're going to go extroverted, then do it up and push it to the absolute extreme.  This one is so asymmetrical and so extroverted, it's probably the most extreme example you can attain.

8. Wall of Terror, potential drop after defeating Kel'Thuzad in Naxxramas.  This shield sits right next to another from more recent content, but this one has a few things going for it that make it stand out.  And the reality is really only two shields fall into this area of our analysis, so there isn't a lot of competition to stand out.  First off, the stable four corners of this guy are prominently showcased.  No rounded edges, they let those corners ring true.  Next you've got the spikes on the sides, but they are strategically placed, it's not overdone.  And lastly the one that puts it over the top is the white, flaming visage.

9. Bejeweled Ship's Wheel, a Stranglethorn quest reward introduced in Cataclysm.  This is the first of two recent substitutions to our editor's picks, since we recently included Uncommon (green) Shields as part of our analysis.  When we first assembled our review, we weren't 100% sure if Uncommons would be included with transmogrification.  But with that in the clear, this item becomes extremely unique because similar to the item below it, it's entirely dependent on whether or not you have completed the quest line and/or if you have destroyed or sold the item.  There are two other potential quest lines for similar models, but again, these quests are the only way to obtain the item(s).  An immediate insert to our editor's picks until we can resolve the visual positioning to include the Uncommons as well.

10. King's Bulwark, a quest reward from Nagrand.  We hope you haven't deleted/sold yours because it's currently the only way to obtain this shield in-game.  A recent substitute to our editor's picks in this article, since we added Uncommon shields and updated our charts.  This shield is hands-down likely to be one of the rarest shields in-game because most have either forgotten about it or have sold off their quest reward over time.  Time will tell.  We will be updating our visual positioning charts with these Uncommon models shortly, but for now we had to get this into our top ten ASAP.

Map Key

102. Shard of Torment
101. Zulian Ward
100. Blockade's Lost Shield
99. Shield of the Blood God
98. Shield of Maraudon
97. Akmin-Kurai, Dominion's Shield
96. Ward of the Red Widow
95. Elementium Stormshield
94. Shield of Control
93. Zulian Swirling Shield
92. Don Gonzales' Shiny Shield
91. Light's Shield
90. Bejeweled Ship's Wheel
89.Elementium Earthguard
88. Chromie's Mirror
87. Anti-Trogg Shield
86. Extinct Turtle Shell
85. Ruthless Gladiator's Barrier
84. Bioluminescent Buckler
83. Truthbreaker Shield
82. Lost Pavise of the Blue Flight
81. Neverending Winter
80. Voice of Reason
79. Pulsing Spellshield
78. Bulwark of Smouldering Steel
77. Hero's Surrender
76. Wall of Terror
75. The Skull of Ruin
74. Barricade of Eternity
73. Royal Crest of Lordaeron
72. Icecrown Glacial Wall
71. Bastion of Resolve
70. Protector of Frigid Souls
69. Bastion of Purity
68. Shieldwall of the Breaker
67. Ice Layered Barrier
66. Bulwark of the Royal Guard
65. Titansteel Shield Wall
64. Aegis of the Coliseum
63. Crygil's Discarded Plate Panel
62. Ivory Shield
61. Wrathful Gladiator's Barrier
60. Northern Barrier
59. Kaskala Buckler
58. Deadly Gladiator's Shield Wall
57. Blade-Binding Bulwark
56. Saronite Defender
55. Saronite Bulwark
54. Leeka's Shield
53. Deadly Gladiator's Barrier
52.Beneficient Bulwark
51. Outland Shield
50. Aldori Legacy Defender
49. Kaz'rogal's Hardened Heart
48. Shield of Impenetrable Darkness
47. Reforged Quel'dorei Crest
46. Dawnforged Defender
45. Antonidas' Aegis of Rapt Concentration
44. King's Bulwark
43. Bulwark of Azzinoth
42. Brutal Gladiator's Barrier
41. Crystal Pulse Shield
40. Dragonheart Flameshield
39. Sword Breaker's Bulwark
38. Aegis of Angelic Fortune
37. Bastion of Light
36. Aegis of the Vindicator
35. Illidari Runeshield
34. Bayeaux Shield
33. Draenei Honor Guard Shield
32. Gladiator's Shield Wall
31. Blessed Qiraji Bulwark
30. Red Dragonscale Protector
29. Force Reactive Disk
28. Gizlock's Hypertech Buckler
27. Elementium Reinforced Bulwark
26. Wormscale Blocker
25. Skullflame Shield
24. Grand Marshal's Aegis
23. Jagged Obsidian Shield
22. High Warlord's Shield Wall
21. Drillborer Disk
20. Draconian Deflector
19. Shield of the Wayward Footman
18. Observer's Shield
17. Astral Guard
16. Aegis of Stormwind
15. Savage Boar's Guard
14. Crest of Retribution
13. Rhombeard Protector
12. Shield of Thorsen
11. The Immovable Object
10. Troll Protector
9. Avalanchion's Stony Hide
8. Resplendent Guardian
7. Wall of the Dead
6. Mountainside Buckler
5. Chromite Shield
4. Redbeard Crest
3. Crest of Supremacy
2. The Green Tower
1. Malistar's Defender


  1. Great stuff as always Keelhaul. Can't wait to see what you tackle next!

  2. First off, I love your analysis. Second, I noticed an omission, The Fel Barrier I was really wanting to see how that stacked up in uniqueness, but I guess it was so unique, it escaped the list! lol

  3. Whoah, thanks Seracid! We had it in our original Differentiation chart (v1.0), and it's in our Visual Positioning, but looks like it got lost when we converted the Diff chart to (v2.0). We'll adjust it! We had included the Skullflame Shield, which is the same model. But that's it, only two shields share the model. -Keel

  4. Hi great list thanks. I noticed that the numbering isn't correct though e.g. 5,6,7 aren't numbered correctly.

  5. Hmm, I'll take a look. We updated the Shields article with a newer set of visuals that put the Shields into a 3D perspective. It looks like when we did so, we lost the Skullflame Shield per comments above, so perhaps we also mixed up the list of links - of which I just noticed none of them are direct to WoWhead.

    Looks like this post needs some housekeeping, we'll get on it. Thanks Susiemac! -Keel