Thursday, September 8, 2011

One-Handed Swords: Avoiding the Red Ocean

Our next visual analysis in our progression to patch 4.3 and Transmogrification is on One-Handed Swords. The chart you see below maps every Epic, Rare and Uncommon model currently attainable in-game (click for larger image).
For the purposes of this visual analysis, we've arranged the models horizontally by expansion and vertically by how often the model is recycled for entirely different weapons.  The goal of our entire analysis is to determine just how much visual parity there is among weaponry in the World of Warcraft, and where the niches lie that players can leverage as a means to stand out among their peers.

Since this is a review of design language and form, the recycled models with varying differences in color and texture have been removed.  The grayscale map key at the end of the article will enable you to link the images you see here with an actual root model on WoWhead. From there you can determine which skin of the model you prefer and where you will need to go hunting in order to attain it.  For the rest of our analysis, our visual positioning exercise and links to the actual models, read on after the jump.

What would this chart have us believe?
  • There is plenty of opportunity to be unique.  Especially if we pull a Sword from the Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King content.  There are twenty one (21) "truly unique" models from the Burning Crusade and sixteen (16) from Wrath of the Lich King.  But if there is anything we can draw from our previous articles, just because the Blizzard art team has determined an item will not share its model doesn't necessarily make it visually unique.  
  • Swords from Vanilla are not dead.  There are a number of Swords in the top two rows that have avoided being re-skinned over time.  Sure, the majority in the same column have been copied over time, but there could still be some gems here to consider.  
  • Cataclysm is not keeping pace.  Twenty one "truly unique" models from the Burning Crusade, sixteen from Wrath and twelve (12) from Cataclysm.  Notice a downward trend?  It's possible four new sword models are introduced in 4.3 and the Deathwing raid, but if you look closer at the twelve we've identified, two of them are reboots from ZA and ZG and one is so close in model to existing samurai swords that though technically it's fair to say its model is unique, realistically it's not.  That would dock the Cataclysm effort from twelve down to nine (9).  Nine unique models, some of which technically also have a heroic equivalent, compared with twenty-two (22) without heroic equivalents from the Burning Crusade if we give credit for the ZA model for Heartless where it is due.  Where's the love, Blizzard art team? 
So is this enough to determine what you should be using for a One-Handed Sword to stand out among your peers? The short answer is 'no'.  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 evaluation.
First, a brief introduction to the methodology you see used here.  We refer to this as a visual positioning matrix (click for larger image). We use this tool as a means to provide a visual landscape to the subject matter we're trying to break down.  For this case, we're again positioning every Epic, Rare and Uncommon One-Handed Sword currently attainable in-game.

The vertical axis here is a continuum of Introverted forms (singular geometry, quiet) to Extroverted forms (intersecting geometry, loud). Things are visually quiet 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 smooth and organic.  

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.

What insight can we draw from this?
  • There are too many overlaps.  The majority of the swords fall into a massive cluster where only subtle variances in form differentiate one model from the next.  We've said it before that while an art team would claim this as visual consistency, and we can identify with that from a design perspective, it is not a stable base for personalization.
  • It's not going to be easy to stand out.  With only a few Swords falling on the fringes of this massive cluster of parity, it's going to make throwback models like the Sun Eater extremely popular because no matter where you look, the Sun Eater model will maintain its unique visual identity.  However the concern we have with an item being forced into popularity this way is you'll start seeing them more regularly due to the lack of stand-out alternatives.
For the sake of argument, let's take Blizzard's stand-alone models, those that we've identified as "truly unique", and project their location on this chart.  Doing so enables us to cross-reference the two evaluations and determine just how unique Blizzard's stand-alone models truly are.
Red ellipses identify a One-Handed Sword that is sitting amidst a sea of sameness, where the macro geometry of forms are extremely similar.  The ocean here is red, and a great example pulled from it is the Torment of the Banished (45/50). The name likely doesn't ring a bell because neither does its "truly unique" model.  The skull detail is a nice touch, and might appeal to a smaller audience, but aside from that it looks very much like the majority of weapons around it.  

Green ellipses identify a One-Handed Sword that is far enough from the fringes of parity that it can maintain a unique visual identity.  Wear one of these, and you're more likely to stand out among your peers.  There aren't many, but a good example here is Fang of the Leviathan (70, 50) a drop off Leotheras the Blind. Fluid enough to keep it away from the crusty edges of its peers, but not so organic that it won't slice through something.

In summary on this last exercise, as we've seen in our previous articles there are some outliers that could become viable targets for personalization, but the majority of what Blizzard deems stand-alone is hardly what we would classify as stand-alone from a personalization standpoint.  Too many of these "truly unique" models have another weapon right behind it, diluting its identity.  Case in point below, the Willbreaker (top, shared with 0) and the Merciless Gladiator's Quickblade (bottom, shared with 2).

We hope you've enjoyed our review of One-Handed Swords.  If your goal is to truly stand out among your peers with transmogrification in 4.3, we encourage you to draw from these charts.  For those that would like a kickstarter, we've included our editor's picks below, based on our analysis.  And for those looking for a map key to the first chart illustrated in this article and links to all items reviewed here, scroll down for them below our editor's picks.  Thanks again for reading, and stay tuned for more content here at Disenchanting Azeroth.

See you soon!


The items to follow are in no particular order.

1. The Sun Eater, potential drop from Pathaleon the Calculator in The Mechanar (Heroic). As previously pointed out, this could very well become the most popular transmogrified One-Handed Sword for reasons already mentioned.  It's worth grabbing to be one of the first to parade it around, but have another option ready to go once the surge hits.

2. Ginn-Su Sword, potential random BoE drop from Uldaman.  Though it is a model shared with a few other weapons, it is potentially difficult to obtain and has truly carved out a niche for itself in our visual landscape above.  The added bonus is it sheaths on the back, whereas the majority of the other "samurai" swords sheath at the hip.

3. King's Defender, potential drop from the Chess Event in Karazhan.  The only thing that would make this model more appealing is if the Blizzard art team ran it by a blacksmith who could sharpen and shine it up like a new penny.  That being said, this is one big, bad mojo that has maintained its visual identity over time.  A potential must-have.  

4. Maladath, Runed Blade of the Black Flight, potential drop from Broodlord Lashlayers in Blackwing Lair.  A popular item that is likely to experience a resurgence with transmogrification, what really separates this sword from peers such as the Burnished Quel'Serrar or any of the items from the Battered Hilt drop, is the sculpted dragon hilt.

5. Life and Death, potential drop from Gothik the Harvester in Naxxramas.  This truly is a rare gem from a visual standpoint among One-Handed Swords, and potentially among all attainable weapons in-game.  We'll see as we progress into further articles covering weapons in the World of Warcraft.  Its fluid, yet linear elements fashion it into a model that could likely go beyond Azeroth and into another gaming realm, entirely.  Our money is on that the artist who fashioned it was either so tired of doing the same thing over and over and wanted to try something new, or else they were a pinch hitter from another department.  Regardless, this item doesn't follow the rules that have been applied to its peers. 

6. Ancient Qiraji Ripper, potential drop from Fankriss the Unyielding in the Temple of Ahn'Qiraj.  Clearly carving out its own niche in our landscape above, and able to maintain its unique identity over the years, players will likely be split on this model.  There will be two camps, where the first will love it and the second will hate it.  Odds are, though, the majority will not be aware of its origin.  Unfortunately, due to the recycled content in ZG and a resurfacing of this angular style, some players may assume this item is current.  Regardless, it stands alone from a visual standpoint and is worth consideration. 

7. Hailstorm, potential drop after defeating Malygos in the Eye of Eternity.  External resources simply can't capture the spirit of this item in a way that the in-game engine can with all the fluid, translucent elements surrounding the angular transitions.  Sure to be an eye-catcher among other One-Handers, it's time to pay Malygos another visit.

8. Muramasa, potential drop from Entropius in The Sunwell.  This is another sword with a shared model that we've elected to recommend.  The PvP equivalents are relatively easy to obtain with honor points.  That being said, the model is exquisite in its detail and fluid transitions, compared with its peers.  It doesn't hurt that the color scheme offers a unique shift from the PvP equivalents.  Pay this one some respect with the gear you match to it, and you could find players ogling at you during raids.

9. Revilgaz's Cutlass, a quest reward from Turning the Brashtide, introduced in Cataclysm.  With so many introverted swords all looking similar, and only rapiers and pierces to serve the "pirate" aesthetic since Vanilla, this weapon was a welcomed addition with Cataclysm as the Blizzard art team finally dove in and modeled up the hilt to provide players with a fashionable, new alternative to the rapiers.  There is nothing else like it in-game, so hopefully you didn't complete the quest and sell your reward.  If you have yet to complete the quest, see you in Stranglethorn!

10. Tempest of Chaos, potential drop from Archimonde in the Caverns of Time, Battle for Mount Hyjal.  There are likely very few items in the entire landscape of weaponry in the World of Warcraft that capture a post-apocalyptic feel the way this does.  It's already proven incredibly unique in our visual assessment here, and time will tell as we crunch through the remainder of our analysis how well it holds up.  The antithesis of the elegance of Muramasa, this sword also deserves some respect with the gear you select.  So if you're going post-apocalyptic, do it up right and tell Archimonde we said hello!

11. Spellfire Longsword, potential drop from Mennu the Betrayer in the Slave Pens.  Last, but not least, transmogrification finally makes it possible to clear current raid content with a lightsaber in-hand.  There are technically three (3) swords attainable in-game that will generate this effect, but only the Spellfire Longsword will give you the Jedi blue saber.  The other two, Teebu's Blazing Longsword and the Blade of Wizardry both generate red, more commonly regarded as the Sith saber (see dual wield animation below).  That being said, the red sabers are random BoE drops, making them exceptionally rare compared with the Spellfire Longsword.  For players, this will likely come down to preference and attainability.  The BoEs simply may not be available.  For us, it comes down to the fact that the model is far separated from anything else in-game, therefore making it worthy of our editor's picks. 

Map Key

146. Reforged Heartless
145. Misery's End
144. Corpseweed Sickle

142. Firethorn Mindslicer
141. Blade of the Burning Sun
140. Dirk's Command
139. Bloodlord's Protector
138. Mandible of Beth'tilac
137. Revilgaz's Cutlass
136. Volcanospike
135. Soul Blade
134. Fang of Twilight
133. Broadsword of the Crown
132. Pyrium Spellward
131. Ruthless Gladiator's Quickblade
130. Dawnblaze Blade
129. Zulian Slasher
128. Sun Strike
127. Ruthless Gladiator's Slicer
126. Unbreakable Guardian
125. Darkthorn Piercer
124. Vicious Gladiator's Quickblade
123. Bloodthirsty Gladiator's Quickblade
122. Maldo's Sword Cane
121. Bazzalan's Blade
120. Scimitar of the Sirocco
119. Darkspear Ritual Blade
118. Aynasha's Spare Sword
117. Angerfang Sword
116. Hatestrike
115. Hailstorm
114. Silent Crusader
113. Bloodsurge, Kel'Thuzad's Blade of Agony
112. Life and Death
111. Ghoulslicer
110. The Turning Tide
109. Forsaken Bonecarver
108. Widow's Fury
107. Grieving Spellblade
106. Ardent Guard
105. Rimefang's Claw
104. Blade of the Keening Banshee
103. Soulbreaker
102. Avool's Sword of Jin
101. Torment of the Banished
100. Fusion Blade
99. Quel'Delar, Cunning of the Shadows
98. Burnished Quel'Serrar
97. Broken Promise
96. Hateful Gladiator's Quickblade
95. Bloodvenom Blade
94. Crusader's Glory
93. Frost Needle
92. Singed Vis'kag the Bloodletter
91. Slayer of the Lifeless
90. Liar's Tongue
89. Grasscutter
88. Gnomeregan Bonechopper
87. Remorse
86. Malice
85. Glinting Azuresong Mageblade
84. Saronite Spellblade
83. Cursed Lich Blade
82. Blade of the Empty Void
81. Corroded Saronite Edge
80. Bloodblade
79. Savage Cobalt Slicer
78. Dragonscale-Encrusted Longblade
77. Fang of the Leviathan
76. Felsteel Longblade
75. King's Defender
74. The Sun Eater
73. Warp-Storm Warblade
72. Blazeguard
71. Summoner's Blade
70. Fireguard
69. Blazefury
68. Whistling Sword
67. Blade of Savagery
66. Blood Groove Blade
65. Blade of Infamy
64. Blade of Argus
63. The Unbreakable Will
62. The Willbreaker
61. Spellfire Longsword
60. Tempest of Chaos
59. Crystalblade of the Draenei
58. Talon of Azshara
57. Greatsword of Horrid Dreams
56. The Sunbreaker
55. Light Earthforged Blade
54. Blade of Retribution
53. Crystalline Kopesh
52. Vengeful Gladiator's Quickblade
51. Muramasa
50. Quickening Blade of the Prince
49. Hope Ender
48. Illidari-Bane Broadsword
47. Vindicator's Brand
46. Blinkstrike
45. Bone Collector Sword
44. Edge of the Cosmos
43. Bloodmaw Magus-Blade
42. Gift of the Ethereal
41. Crystalforged Sword
40. Archmage's Guile
39. Blade of the Archmage
38. The Butcher
37. Ancient Qiraji Ripper
36. Sharpened Silithid Femur
35. Dark Iron Reaver
34. Feral Blade
33. Fiendish Machete
32. Maladath, Runed Blade of the Black Flight
31. Bloodrazor
30. Chromatically Tempered Sword
29. Sang'thraze the Deflector
28. Teebu's Blazing Longsword
27. Bluegill Kukri
26. Inventor's Focal Sword
25. Dragon's Call
24. Blackwater Cutlass
23. Blade of Eternal Justice
22. Cho'Rush's Blade
21. Ebon Hilt of Marduk
21a. Dal'Rend's Sacred Charge
20. Daryl's Shortsword
19. Krol Blade
18. Grand Marshal's Longsword
17. Blackguard
16. Ginn-Su Sword
15. Annealed Blade
14. High Warlord's Blade
13. Blade of Necromancy
12. Outlaw Sabre
11. Assassination Blade
10. Buzz Saw
9. Ogre Pocket Knife
8. Dazzling Longsword
7. Azuresong Mageblade
6. Thief's Blade
5. Legionnaire's Sword
4. Cursed Felblade
3. Blazing Rapier
2. Sageblade
1. Brutality Blade


  1. Great stuff as always Keel. I love looking at these images so much!

  2. I love these posts. Seriously, you are such a help!

  3. This is so... strangely fascinating

  4. Hey again, I think a two-hander has snuck into your list: 143. Great Sword of the Sin'dorei.

  5. Firesoul appears to be missing

  6. The Argent Avenger (removed from game) is another blue 1-handed lightsaber. Interestingly, the Spellfire Longsword is a MH weapon, which (based on current mog rules) means it doesn't work on a lot of the tank swords out there now. The Argent Avenger, as a 1-H sword, works around that restriction.

    There is also a 2H model, the Very Light Sabre, available to gnome warriors in their starting area.