Saturday, September 10, 2011

Two-Handed Swords: A Challenging Landscape

Our readers have spoken, and so we humbly present our next visual analysis in our progression to patch 4.3 and Transmogrification:  Two-Handed Swords. The chart you see below maps every Epic, Rare and Uncommon model currently attainable in-game (click for larger image).  And if you've had the Corrupted Ashbringer locked away in your vault for safekeeping, it's time to dust it off.  Scroll down to the base of this article to see where your unattainable prize ranks in our visual positioning.

Differentiation Analysis:  Two-Handed Swords
For the rest of our analysis, our visual positioning exercise and links to the actual models, read on after the jump. 
We've arranged the models here a tad differently than our previous charts for differentiation, following some reader feedback and placing each model horizontally by the expansion in which the original model for the skin was released.  A perfect example here is Zin'rokh, Destroyer of Worlds, which players can reacquire via Archaeology.  Though the item you'll need to acquire for transmogrification is from Cataclysm, the origin of the model is actually from Vanilla.  So watch for that subtle variance going forward on our differentiation charts, as it helps give a better flavor for just how much new content has been developed with each expansion.

We're still ranking them 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 visually differentiate themselves from the rest of the existing player base.

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.

What would the differentiation chart have us believe?
  • "Those responsible have been sacked."  Twelve (12) truly unique models introduced in Vanilla, increased to thirteen (13) during the Burning Crusade, reduced to eight (8) in Wrath of the Lich King and current max-level players in Cataclysm are really only offered three (3). Two of the five "truly unique" models depicted here are actually for players under level 30.  Then there's the general emptiness throughout the chart compared with our previous weapon reviews.  There's just not a lot here to talk about.  Rather than fuel any conspiracy theories, we're just going to assume those on the Blizzard Art Team responsible for Two-Handed Swords have been sacked.
  • The party will be in the "new" Vanilla.  With the Burning Crusade content now considered part of Vanilla in many circles, we're going to lump it together here as well as part of our conclusion that the best shopping will be in the "new" Vanilla content.  Surely based on what we see here, there will be more choices and variety available.  But the question remains, how will those "truly unique" models actually hold up when we compare them, qualitatively? 
  • Cataclysm needs to catch up.  As we saw with our One-Handed Swords analysis, here we find another significant downward trend in overall numbers on the high end through patch 4.2 in Cataclysm.  Perhaps a surge of unique models will arrive with patch 4.3.  Bit of a bummer to see, really, and not very encouraging.
So is this enough to determine what you should be using for a Two-Handed Sword to stand out among your peers? The short answer is 'no', which brings us to our qualitative, aesthetic analysis.
Visual Positioning:  Two-Handed Swords
If you're familiar with the way we segment this matrix, feel free to jump to our conclusions beneath the next header.  

If you're new to Disenchanting Azeroth, here's 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 Two-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 conclusions can we draw here?
  • Players are forced into an aesthetic.  Unfortunately with two-handed swords, the problem is visually glaring us in the face.  The majority of what's available for transmogrification is going to have a static, rectilinear base.  There are a number of models with fluid elements and transitions, but a number of them are so similar they're simply cannibalizing each others' appeal. The argument to this from a developer's standpoint could be that with two-handed swords what matters most is size.  Not to sound cliche, but from the reveal we see here size isn't the only thing that matters.  As professionals, we see this sort of visual landscape all the time where the majority of what is available is lumped into a few major areas of the matrix, with lots of white space that nobody is claiming.  So if you've had a gut feeling that Two-Handed Swords have more or less always looked similar, with very few standouts, this should feel like a little validation.
  • It's going to take hard work.  With very few opportunities to stand out actually available among Two-Handed Swords, a measure of effort to obtain each visually desirable model will likely be what separates players from the masses.  For example, one of our editor's picks below is the Twinblade of the Phoenix, a random drop from Kael'thas in Tempest Keep.  This item is not likely to be widespread because not only is Kael not soloable by the majority of players seeking the weapon, but small teams of raiders inexperienced with the fight are also going to have difficulty defeating him due to the fight mechanics.  The more effort and expertise required to acquire the model, the less competition you will have when honing your personal aesthetic in 4.3.
Lastly, as we do with each of our reviews, let's take Blizzard's stand-alone models, those that we've identified as "truly unique", and for the sake of argument project their location on this visual positioning chart.  Doing so enables us to cross-reference the two evaluations and determine just how unique Blizzard's stand-alone models truly are.
Visual Positioning:  "Truly Unique" Models
Red ellipses identify a Two-Handed Sword that is sitting amidst a sea of sameness, where the macro geometry of forms are extremely similar. 

Green ellipses identify a Two-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.

It's unfortunately elbow-to-elbow in this landscape.  But what an opportunity for the Blizzard Art Team to explore some new territory going forward.  There is plenty of room to create highly relevant, highly differentiated models if they push for more organic and fluid designs.  That being said, for now wielders of Two-Handed Swords are going to have to navigate a challenging landscape.  

We hope you've enjoyed our review of Two-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. We've included our editor's picks based on our analysis below to serve as kickstarters for those looking to get a leg up on their peers.  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.

Bye for now!


The items to follow are in no particular order.

1. Twinblade of the Phoenix, potential drop from Kael'thas in Tempest Keep.  If we were to overlay both One-Handed and Two-Handed Swords, the Twinblade would likely have its own little niche carved out among all swords in-game.  This is the sort of weapon that will define your personal aesthetic, something that you can build an entire outfit around.  One of the most subtle and elegant weapons we've reviewed yet, it maintains a balance of quiet, linear elements and fluid, organic details.  The twin blades are a key difference maker, but likely will not be spotted until up close.
2. Sword of Justice, a potential random drop from the Tribunal Chest after the event in Halls of Stone.  If dual wielding is possible, here is your chance to go four blades wide.  The fact that this weapon is not adorned with spikes, horns and other extroverted elements is actually a good thing and is what sets it apart from its peers.  Its simplicity is what will enable it to boldly stand out.

3. Zin'rokh, Destroyer of Worlds, acquirable via Archaeology.  We found the exercise of researching and comparing both Zin'rokh and another sword initially removed from the game, Jin'rokh, The Great Apocalypse - a model seemingly still attainable via the Vengeful Gladiator's Greatsword, to be quite a hassle in terms of figuring out what was still obtainable and what wasn't.  Is it Zin?  Or is it Jin?  Was it ZA?  Or was it ZG?  Does it point up?  Or does it point down?  We walked away still questioning if we had it right, and looking back on it we're still scratching our heads wondering why Blizzard couldn't have made it more straight-forward.  That being said, the clear winner in terms of our editor's picks was Zin'rokh which is clearly still attainable via Archaeology.  If we were to position it among One-Handed Swords, it unfortunately would fall into the red mass of parity due to its design being so similar to a number of items currently available.  This is where size of the Two-Handed model and a bit of allure to the weapon, itself, will set it apart and give players the opportunity to really get the most out of owning this weapon.

4. Cataclysm's Edge, potential drop from Archimonde in the Caverns of Time, the Battle for Mount Hyjal.  A popular item back in the Burning Crusade not only for its model, but for its high contrast in colors as well, this design could easily have been resurrected as a Cataclysm drop and it would have blended quite well.  Fortunately it remains protected deep within the Caverns of Time.  Frustration levels with drop rates are likely to grow in discussion as this will once again become one of the most sought-after Two-Handed Swords available.

5. The Untamed Blade, potential drop from Razergore the Untamed in Blackwing Lair .  This weapon is a classic, one that even prior to the announcement of Transmogrification players were still anxious to pick it up just to have it.  A fine balance of extroverted details while maintaining a balance between fluid and linear elements.  If the volume dial had been turned down in any aspect of its design, it would have likely been lost in the sea of sameness.  But as of now, it maintains its unique niche just on the fringes of potential parity.

6. Reckoning, potential drop from Fjola Lightbane in the Trial of the Crusader.  With so few unique options available in the Two-Handed Sword landscape, we're opting for Reckoning as one of our editor's picks because there's simply nothing quite like it at its size.  You run into similar forms in the One-Handed Sword and Dagger territory, but with the size of a Two-Hander you can maintain your distance.  An elegant blend of intersecting elements and fluid transitions, we don't expect it to be the most popular, but if your goal is to stand out and not chase the same Two-Handers everyone else is targeting, head for this item as an alternative.

7. Apolyon, the Soul-Render, potential drop after defeating Kil'jaeden in Sunwell Plateau.  Not a "truly unique" model by our evaluation, the Soul-Render does, however carve out a nice little niche in terms of its design.  Wrought from the same family as Muramasa, we expect this sword to be a popular target for Transmogrification for a number of the same reasons as its smaller, One-Handed cousin.  An easy pick for our team.

8. Lionheart Executioner, technically still craftable by Blacksmiths who obtained the pattern prior to Cataclysm.  There are actually three stages to this weapon that provide a great example of how we conduct our visual positioning analysis (see below).  A number of players will argue that this weapon is no longer attainable due to Blizzard removing the recipe.  But for those players that do have the pattern, it's worth taking a look at the process to acquire the necessary materials.  The only model that stands to be similar to it are the other versions of it, and really you can go with any of the three and be effective.
We've been asked by a few of our readers how we go about evaluating each of the models as part of our visual positioning exercise.  The progression of the Lionheart weapon is a great way to illustrate how we go about this.  The three stages of the weapon are represented here vertically top to bottom, from stage 3 to stage 1, with the Lionheart Executioner on top.  It's easy to see how the form becomes more extroverted by stage 3 with all of the angular elements protruding from the blade.  So stage one is clearly less extroverted as a result.  Stage one, however, is more fluid in its form than stage two and three because its long, curving blade is not interrupted by intersecting triangles breaking up the path the eye travels upon.  This is more of a micro sample of what we encounter, but nonetheless it's a good example of how developers can also tune an item to push it one way or another in our landscape.  One could actually argue, based on this representation here, that stage one is the way to go for Transmogrification, and we wouldn't have any issue with that.  Really all three are good candidates.

9. Dreadlord's Blade, a potential drop from the Culling of Stratholme.  Referred to by some as the viking ship of weapons, this Two-Handed Sword is starting down the same path the Tempest of Chaos charted, towards more of a post-apocalyptic aesthetic.  It's unlikely that this weapon is on most players' shopping lists a this time, so add it to yours and give yourself some flexibility for 4.3 because it's carved out its own identity and is guaranteed to be an eye catcher.

10. Sin'dorei Warblade, a quest reward from The Traitor's DestructionAnother weapon likely to be overlooked by most players, this Warblade is one of the few Two-Handed Swords that truly has its own place in the landscape.  A number of players are also likely to have sold this quest reward long ago, making it potentially even more rare.  A fine blend of fluid, organic elements maintained within a long, linear base.  This is another weapon you could build a truly unique identity around.

And for those of you with the Corrupted Ashbringer, here is where your prize lands in our visual positioning analysis (click for larger image).  Nothing to worry about, for the most part the Blizzard Art Team has kept their distance.  You will undoubtedly be the envy of many, especially considering the constrained landscape of options your peers will need to navigate.  And again, if anyone gives you any flack about its unique value, send them our way.
Visual Positioning:  Corrupted Ashbringer

Map Key
53. Abaddon
48. Despair
14. Destiny


  1. I have to point out, you have Zin'rokh, Destroyer of Worlds in the wrong category. It is a cata weapon, it is available from cata content, and its "visual" counterpart, looks different its a different model, it points down when held for staters. I just feel it should be under cataclysm, as the old one is no longer available.

    I love what you're doing though this is amazing, can't imagine how long each of these must take.

  2. only just noticed the one you linked as the visual counterpart for Zin is the pvp reward from TBC, and not the original Zin from Zul'gurub which was roughly same model as current Zin but downward facing.

  3. Thanks for the comments! We've looked into this, and from what we can ascertain, our positioning and links are correct. As we pointed out in the first page of the article, we've placed Zin'rokh's model in the Vanilla category because though the current model that is still attainable is a Cataclysm item, the origin of the model is from 1.1. As we mentioned, we've switched up the way we're categorizing the models so it sheds more accurate light on how many new models have been introduced with each expansion, per some reader feedback we received. But we anticipated the very point you made, and we actually addressed it in the article - perhaps you haven't read it yet.

    And to your point regarding the visual counterpart for Zin'rokh, we may be confusing readers unintentionally. We'll change it up so it reads a bit more clear. We're actually comparing Zin'rokh to Jin'rokh (introduced in Zul Aman and points downward), weapons that in many circles are considered counterparts not only for the similarity in name, but also the fact that both were drops from troll empire raids of which the originals are no longer available in-game. So our goal was to point out that both Zin'rokh and the skin using the Jin'rokh model that is still in-game (Vengeful Gladiator's Greatsword) are very similar in form language, but we only wanted to recommend one of them since they are fairly close.

    With that said, we can see how the point could be confusing, so we'll modify the way we position our point. Thanks for the kind words! -Keel

  4. I think you forgot about this weapon

  5. Do you plan to break down other than weapon ? I was happy seeing a poll for the next and sad not seeing shoulder in the list :(

  6. ftv, fantastic catch, we found it as a hidden layer and will update the charts accordingly. Thanks! -Keel

  7. Also, you forgot about Runeblade of Baron Rivendare

  8. Hiya Claudiu, actually the Runeblade shares the same model as Nightblade, which we've included here. Thanks for keeping us on our toes though! - Keel

  9. I was very tired when I made my initial comments the counterpart to Zin I pictured in my head when I said the original model pointed down was in fact Jin'rohk (which is now unavailable).

  10. There's an error in the Vanilla Truly Unique weapons section. Weapon #23 is listed as Truly Unique when it actually has 3 models (2 blue BoEs from Vanilla - Doombringer and Demonslayer - and a green BoE random from TBC). It should be listed under Somewhat Unique instead.

    Repost: wrong weapon number in the first post - fixed.

  11. Hey Simca! Agreed, but for transmogrification purposes, as far as we understand it the jury is still out on whether or not items with "Chance on Hit" or "On Equip" qualify as items with "stats". We're anxiously awaiting Blizzard's ruling on this. If they are included, which we suspect they will be, then we'll bump the value of a few items down across all of our charts. Thanks for reading! -Keel

  12. Oh... right. I didn't even think about that.

    Thanks for the response.

  13. Was just poking through gear I have on alts and found this -- a two-handed lightsaber.
    Not many people are going to have it, either, because you have to be -- or have been, and race- or faction-changed after doing the quest -- a gnome warrior.

    I'm unsure if the quest is available to people who change TO gnome, though.

  14. Heya Dreams! That's somewhat of a miss on our end, thanks for pointing it out! We knew it shared a model with the Spellfire Longsword, and were initially reluctant to downrank the Spellfire because of the Gnome factor. A few weeks ago, though, we decided that technically the sword should be downranked in our chart - we just haven't gotten around to it just yet. What we DIDN'T notice, though, is what you pointed out - that it's actually a Two-Hander. There are a few weapons on WoWhead's databases that don't actually show in the list they should be in. This is a perfect example, as at the time we did our 2H review, it wasn't in WoWhead's list. We'll make the adjustment in the charts and drop it in!

    What would be stellar is to know can it be retroactively acquired by players, or is it stuck in the Gnome starting zone in some sort of phasing introduced in Cataclysm? Thanks for reading! -Keel

  15. Unfortunately, I have no idea. I've only gone through the gnome starting zone once with a warrior, and it was after Cataclysm. The questgiver doesn't phase out, that much I noticed, but I don't know if pre-Cataclysm gnome and not-originally-gnome warriors can pick up the quest.

    I might be able to check on the PTR, though -- PTR characters get free random customizations (race change, faction change, etc), so it could be doable to create a warrior (either a premade or a level 1) of a random race, change it to gnome and go check.

  16. Well, I got the PTR to cough up a faction change on a lvl85 premade warrior. Changed it to gnome, went to the questgiver -- can't pick up the quest. So that's a no for faction-changed (and I'm guessing race-changed as well) not-originally-gnomes, probably because they would've already completed their old race's equivalent of the quest.

    Still don't know if pre-Cataclysm gnomes can go and pick up the quest, since I can't test that, unfortunately.

  17. just a note, they confirmed that the corrupted ashbringer would not be a valid mogging item

  18. One other sword that I didn't see was the paladin level 50 quest reward Lightforged blade. No longer available to players, and with a silvery glow, it is a true paladin's sword (simple, clean lines, albeit similar to many of the other 2 handers)

  19. Thanks guys! This article was published prior to the release of a lot of data on transmogrification that has reshaped the way we're looking at it and writing for it now. Corrupted Ashbringer is indeed no longer eligible (unfortunate, really). Regarding our charts here, at the time of publishing we were not including items that were no longer in-game.

    There is a lot of desire from our readers to have us return to these charts and update them, but at this time we're short on resources and our polls still have readers opting for us to keep pushing through other subjects. Hopefully we get to return to these soon so we can update them.

    It's starting to make us wonder if this content is no longer suitable for a blog format, since players keep returning to these outdated charts. We may need to expand our format here, as well as our resources.