Monday, October 17, 2011

Bows: The Definitive Review

Hey y'all, welcome back to Disenchanting Azeroth and our next weapon category review: Bows! Let's get right to it. The chart you see below (click for larger image) represents every Epic, Rare and Uncommon Bow model currently eligible for transmogrification - including those no longer attainable!

Yes this is the definitive review, where everything eligible is up for discussion. So if you've got it, flaunt it. If you don't, envy others but only for a moment because we've got the scoop on where you can head for other options that are still among the visually elite.

Differentiation Analysis:  Bows
One key change we have implemented here is the gray horizontal band across the top. For the purposes of determining what's currently attainable for transmogrification, Bows that fall in this row are actually no longer in the game. But they are technically still eligible for transmogrification.

In addition, we've highlighted one item in particular that shifts in value depending on your faction. The Blackwood Hunter's Bow in the "exclusive" row was introduced in Cataclysm as a means to share what once was the Horde-only model with the Alliance. So technically it's a Vanilla model introduced in 1.1, but we wanted to point out that the Alliance-only model was revealed as part of Cataclysm and is actually pretty unique for Alliance-side transmogrification.

And as always, our Visual Positioning Analysis, Editors' Picks and a Map Key identifying every model reviewed here can be found at the base of the article.

If you're familiar with the way we segment our Differentiation Analysis and the models in the chart, feel free to jump to the next header and our initial conclusions.

For those of you who are new to Disenchanting Azeroth and our methodologies here, we refer to the chart above as our Differentiation Analysis. This is a visual analysis of design language and form, so the different variations of color and model skin for each version of a particular model is not represented here. That being said, if you find something here you'd like to inquire about further, scroll down to our Map Key and links to WoWhead for details on where you can acquire the model or various recycled versions of it.

We arrange each individual model (not each skin) horizontally by the expansion in which it was introduced to the game, and vertically by the number of weapons the model is shared with other weapons in-game. The more it is recycled, the lower we rank it because it is technically less unique. The less it is recycled, the more unique it becomes and thus the higher we rank it. The models in the white row, second from the top, labeled "exclusive" retain exclusive rights to the model, as there is nothing else currently attainable in-game that can match it with transmogrification, not even a Heroic equivalent.

We also identify Heroic alternates in their own row, and if a recolored skin is available we've highlighted it by reversing its position and placing a white halo around it. As you'll note, not all Heroic versions have been recolored. In fact the majority of them are identical to their normal mode versions.

The goal of our evaluations 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 their peers with Transmogrification in 4.3.

Our Initial Conclusions
  • It's an interesting spread. If you consider what our previous charts have looked like, this is simply just an interesting layout as far as how many models were introduced and when, where the gaps lie, where heroics are absent, and where there's great diversity in Wrath and Cataclysm. It's just really interesting, that's the most we can say. It seems thin, but then again these are Bows and they're really visually present on only a single class. Gives us a new appreciation for the desire of a hunter though, to see what the new, up-and-coming bows are with each patch because this is all they have to pull from.
  • There are a few, really dynamite Bows that have been discontinued which is unfortunate. Among these the Ancient Amani Longbow has potential to re-emerge with fans who never sold or disenchanted it, and rumor has it the Vengeful model may make an appearance with the Darkmoon Faire in 4.3, but that remains to be seen.
  • No Heroic alternates in Wrath? Seems kinda funny considering how peppered our other charts have been with Heroic this and Heroic that. Yet here Heroic Bow alternates did a Kaiser Soze in Wrath. Wonder why. Interesting.

If you're familiar with the way we segment form language in the matrix below, feel free to jump to our Red/Green highlights.

For those of you who are new to Disenchanting Azeroth and our methodologies here, we refer to the chart below as our Visual Positioning Analysis (click for larger image). We use this matrix as a means to provide a visual landscape to what is currently attainable in-game for Transmogrification.

The vertical axis here is a continuum of INTROVERTED forms (singular geometry, quiet) to EXTROVERTED forms (multiple, intersecting geometry, loud). Basically weapons at the bottom of the matrix are visually much quieter than those at the top.

The horizontal axis here is a continuum of STATIC forms (rectilinear, sharp transitions) to FLUID forms (organic, smooth transitions). Basically, weapons to the left appear more stoic and angular and those on the right appear more organic and curved.

The goal here isn't to determine the exact placement of each individual weapon, rather it is to identify deltas between them as a means to draw some conclusions and inform our recommendations that follow.

If you participated in the "Which Bow is More Extroverted" poll we posted a week or so ago (see below), it was a pretty close race. Our readers selected A) Golden Bow of Quel'Thalas as the more extroverted, but only by 6 votes (103 vs 97).  Well folks, we hate to disappoint but we're going to go with the 97 readers who selected B) The Deathwing Raid Bow.

You can probably get a better feel for why we went this route in the visual positioning matrix above. The Golden Bow is indeed one of the most extroverted Bows in the game, particularly the way it has multiple, intersecting blades protruding away from the form.

But when you stack it up against the Deathwing bow (we've got to get a name for this bad boy, by the way), it reveals a more quiet stature due to its thin, elegant frame. Now here's the thing, it doesn't mean the Golden Bow is less bold. It by no means isn't, it just has a slightly less extroverted form. The Deathwing bow is simply an iron-clad, flaming, chained tank of a bow and that's visually difficult to compete with. In fact, we rank it as the single most extroverted bow that will have entered the game - ever. Sorry, Thori'dal.

It's worth noting that this review was particularly difficult because the nature of a bow is already somewhat extroverted. So many of the Bows in-game have phenomenal detailing on them, as well as glows, crystals, all sorts of fun stuff. It really is a fun category. But it made for an incredibly difficult push to realize the Visual Positioning matrix we typically do. If you ever look to leverage this methodology, here's a tip that we haven't had to use in a while - but we did for Bows:

If you're having trouble discerning the differences form to form, remove color from the equation. Try to do your analysis in grayscale. If that still doesn't work, then drop it into negative space (at left) and invert the forms so you can start to assess them more from a cookie cutter standpoint. Both of these tricks can help a lot and can pull you out of the weeds.

Returning to the Visual Positioning chart, for the sake of argument, we're going to take Blizzard's "exclusive" Bows from the white row in our Differentiation Analysis and cross reference them with this Visual Positioning matrix. This will let us know if the models that have maintained their exclusivity over time can actually stand out in the crowd.

Red ellipses identify a Bow from the "exclusive" models that looks too much like the other weapons around it. In other words, the value of being an exclusive model doesn't do it much good if its aesthetic is too similar to its peers. A great example here is the Bristleblitz Striker (50, 37), a potential drop from Archimonde. Don't get us wrong, if it drops you still want to grab it because it's still potentially rare due to the effort required to acquire it. But in terms of its visual appeal, it does get a bit lost among some other bows that have a similar form. If you want to pull from the Burning Crusade, we would recommend the aforementioned Golden Bow or the Black Bow of the Betrayer, both of which we'll revisit below in our Editors' Picks.

Green ellipses identify a Bow from the "exclusive" models that is far enough removed from the mass of parity that it should be able to maintain its identity. Equip one of these, and you're more likely to stand out among your peers.

A great example here is the Bow of Kargath (30, 80), a model introduced in Cataclysm that's got an interesting little story about it. If you play Horde, it's an "exclusive" model, nowhere else you can acquire it. If you play Alliance, however, you can acquire the model in two other places. The majority of our characters are Horde, so we've ranked it above in the "exclusive" category, but we wanted to note that if you're Alliance, it takes a hit and would drop down one row.

Since we're also covering the Bows that are technically no longer attainable, but are still eligible for transmogrification, we want to take a moment and highlight their locations as well. Just because they're so rare doesn't mean that they'll be able to help you stand out. Same exercise and methodologies here, but you can get a feel below (click for larger image) for just where these six extremely rare models are positioned.

Also worth noting are the four Bows that have been introduced on the PTRs and are coming in 4.3. We aren't sure of their names just yet, but one is from the Deathwing raid, two are from the 5-man dungeons and another looks to be from the upcoming Arena season. All four appear to be great candidates for individuality, though you'll likely be competing with a number of players who will simply be toting the Bows for stats.

It's also worth pointing out here, that the trend some players have called out as "everything looking similar", is totally being bucked here. The three Bows on the top, in particular, are arguably the most extroverted Bow designs ever to land in Azeroth - at least on the PTRs anyway. That's a big shift in visual differentiation and pretty exciting.

Our Final Conclusions
  • Hunters, you've got options here. Unfortunately some of the more niche models are no longer attainable, but nevertheless you've got a number of different models you could go with here and still be effective. There's good diversity here.
  • Patch 4.3 is introducing a major shift in Bow aesthetics. Northward bound! There is some irony here in that three of the most visually exciting Bows ever released are hitting when Transmogrification hits. The really fun thing for the rest of us to watch is to see how many hunters that acquire these items will actually be changing their look out for something else. Our guess is it will be initially hard to part with these looks because they're just that good.

We hope you've enjoyed our article on Bows. If your goal is to truly take advantage of Transmogrification in patch 4.3 and stand out among your peers, we encourage you to reference these charts. For those players desiring a kickstart to their selection, we've included our Editors' Picks below based on our analysis. And remember, a Map Key identifying all the models reviewed here, as well as links to WoWhead and the actual items can be located below our Editors' Picks. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for our next article targeting the winner of our reader poll: Polearms! I'll be getting on this as soon as I can, newborn baby and RL business busy season have become pretty taxing.

See you soon!

The following picks are in no particular order:

1. Black Bow of the Betrayer, a potential drop from Illidan Stormrage in Black Temple. We've seen this item mentioned in a number of different places since transmogrification was announced, so we're going to shuffle it off as the first of our Editors' Picks because most hunters are already familiar with it. It is what it is, and it's carved out a nice little niche for itself considering how similar the general aesthetic for Bows was during the later patches in Burning Crusade. We'd give more credit for the green, glowing particle effect, but the reality is most of the Bows released in the latter half of Burning Crusade had a similar effect so it's somewhat nullified in terms of uniqueness. That said, you won't find another Bow design in-game that has this battlefield bayonet aesthetic. It's just a fantastic looking item.

2. Deathwing Raid Bow, a potential drop from Deathwing. We've already talked this bow up quite a bit, so we're not going to focus too much on it again here. Just go and get it and wear it for as long as it's relevant! Hopefully it's not such a widespread item that you're seeing it everywhere because this Bow is simply bad ass in terms of its extroverted aesthetic.

3. Dutiful Longbow, a random BoE Northrend drop, but also a fairly common model as part of Quest rewards while leveling in Wrath. Why place such a common item in our Editors' Picks? It's a totally valid question, and one could argue Melmorta's Twilight Longbow belongs here instead since it's the only way to use the model for the legendary Netherstrand Longbow used during the Kael'thas fight in Tempest Keep. In the end, we felt that with so few organic, fluid weapons in the entire game, it was worth highlighting this little gem because while many players will immediately target Melmorta's, we suspect very, very few will even remotely consider or remember the Dutiful model. And with a Druid/Night Elf-like aesthetic returning in 4.3 with drops from the new dungeons, this weapon aesthetic will blend right in. Some players may even ask you which boss in the new dungeons it dropped from.

4. Frenzystrike Longbow, no longer attainable. The first of our Editors' Picks that are no longer available in-game, this Bow stands alone in our matrix above, so if you were lucky to acquire it in Wrath, now is the time to dust it off. A fantastic example of how intersecting forms can make a design more extroverted, the Frenzystrike is all Horde and it's incredibly thick, packing some serious visual muscle. If you're lucky enough to be able to tote this one around, a lot of players are going to /gasp at how much you stand out in the crowd. It's that unique.

5. Golden Bow of Quel'thalas, a potential drop from the Eredar Twins in the Sunwell. We've discussed this Bow a few times now, so we'll keep this description short. Phenomenally detailed and highly extroverted, it has angular protrusions but overall it maintains a fluid form. Another Bow from the latter half of the Burning Crusade that didn't get caught up in the other designs released, the Golden Bow gets even more amazing the closer you get to it. Whereas some weapons in WoW look amazing from across the Valley of Strength but lose their appeal up close, this one will also look amazing when you're standing next to the Hunter equipping it in raid. It's got that much detail to be appreciated.

6. Season 11 PvP Bow. We're still awaiting more news on this Bow as we uncovered it in the PTR files, but in all likelihood it will be released with the next arena season. Talk about detail, this is one of the most amazingly detailed weapon models ever to be found in the World of Warcraft files. Fingers crossed it makes it to live, and if it does, it is absolutely worth transmogrifying it and yanking it into the PvE realm. There's simply nothing else like it, and you can tell the designers really put a lot of love into it, which we really appreciate.

7. Rhok'delar, Longbow of the Ancient Keepers, no longer available in-game. We suspect a number of Hunters that have been around for awhile have this little baby sitting in their bank. Folks, it's time to pull it out because what's great about this item is not only is it visually unique in terms of our rankings above, but it's got a great storyline to it that's specific to your class. It has a similar animation of flowers blossoming as the Draenic Wildstaff, which begs an interesting question: Hunters can equip Staves, right? Why not tote around your Rhok'delar and transmogrify the Draenic Wildstaff onto your agi Staff? You'd be a walking, animating beanstalk and you could probably convince a Druid to lend you their glyph of wildgrowth. A very cool item with a lot of history for Hunters, so flaunt it if you've got it!

8. Rhok'shalla, the Shadow's Bane, no longer available in-game. It's fortunate that the Frenzystrike bow we highlighted at #4 has an Alliance-only counterpart that is equally as breathtaking in terms of unique aesthetics. Enter Rhok'shalla, the Alliance equivalent to the Frenzystrike, and every part as unique in terms of visual design. Frenzystrike may be more extroverted, but Rhok'shalla is far more fluid, making its aesthetic even more rare in the World of Warcraft. As we've noted throughout the rest of our weapon reviews, the extroverted, spiked aesthetic has been a bit exhausted through items from Wrath and Cataclysm. Yes, Frenzystrike stands above the majority of them, but the point is it still has to compete whereas Rhok'shalla does not. What that means in terms of visual identity is Rhok'shalla will be slightly more recognizable as being highly differentiated from most weapons in-game.

9. Vengeful Gladiator's Longbow, no longer available in-game, though rumor is it may become available when patch 4.3 hits via the Darkmoon Faire. Which would be fabulous because this design is so far out there from any other Bow in-game, that it would be a shame more players couldn't play around with it. It doesn't rank very extreme in terms of its form language, but this is where things like color, contrast and particle effects can really sway an aesthetic from "so-so" to "shazaam!". A potential challenge to marry this Bow aesthetic with that of the rest of your gear, we suggest you check out our friends over at WoW Roleplay Gear to see if you can get them to play matchmaker.

10. Night Elf Bow, from the PTR files. We're starting to get a little nervous on this one. Since we found it in the PTR files, we've continued to watch for news of its name, stats and drop location. WoWhead has a great post up accounting for these details on the majority of weapons we found, but this Bow appears to be on the MIA list. This is a concern. Have we missed something? Has it been scrapped? Stay tuned, because it would be a damn shame if this Bow doesn't see the light of day on live. It's simply the best example of the organic/fluid aesthetic we've been discussing here at DA for some time, and as one reader posted, it's absolutely gorgeous.

Update 10/20/11: We've been notified that Tyrande Whisperwind is currently equipping this Bow on the PTRs, which would explain why it's not showing up as a player drop but is still present in the files. So it may not be a Bow players can equip with the release of 4.3 after all, which would be a crushing blow because this was hands-down one of the most aesthetically unique weapons in the entire game.

Stay tuned, and don't let your hopes be dashed because that's a lot of effort to put into such a unique design, only to have it collect dust with a dungeon-based NPC that will later be forgotten come the next expansion.  If you look at Blizzard's history of recycling weapon models from expansion to expansion, this design could quickly return to the horizon as a Bow that could be recycled for playable content in WoW 5.0. Interestingly enough, it would fall right in line with our theory that the next expansion will host the Emerald Dream and a significant number of woodsy, Druid-themed weapons.

Map Key (click for larger image)

64. Silent Huntress
63. Shadowleaf Bow
62. Blackwood Hunter's Bow
61. Bow of Kargath
60. Overpowered Chicken Splitter
59. Themios the Darkbringer
58. Ruthless Gladiator's Longbow
57. Arathar, the Eye of Flame
56. Vicious Gladiator's Longbow
55. Bow of the Great Hunter
54. Keeshan's Bow
53. Warpwood Bow
52. Mardenholde Bow
51. Amber Messenger
50. Angerfang Bow
49. Relentless Gladiator's Longbow
48. Rhok'shalla, the Shadow's Bane
47. Frenzystrike Longbow
46. Crypt Fiend Slayer
45. Arrowsong
44. Hateful Gladiator's Longbow
43. Sin'dorei Recurve Bow
42. Dragon Slayer's Shortbow
41. Drakkari Hunting Bow
40. Bloodthirsty Gladiator's Longbow
39. Avalanche
38. Njorndar Bone Bow
37. Bow of Bone and Sinew
36. Advanced Flatbow
35. Acute Shortbow
34. Ancient Amani Longbow
33. Vengeful Gladiator's Longbow
32. Brutal Gladiator's Longbow
31. Black Bow of the Betrayer
30. Golden Bow of Quel'thalas
29. Bristleblitz Striker
28. Wrathtide Longbow
27. Feather-Wrapped Bow
26. Serpent Spine Longbow
25. Skyfire Hawk
24. Melmorta's Twilight Longbow
23. Starbolt Longbow
22. Rocslayer Longbow
21. Sunfury Bow of the Phoenix
20. Ethereal Warp Bow
19. Marksman's Bow
18. Rhok'delar, Longbow of the Ancient Keepers
17. High Warlord's Recurve
16. Grand Marshal's Bullseye
15. Voodoo Hunting Bow
14. Bow of Taut Sinew
13. Striker's Mark
12. Mandokir's Tribute
11. Huhuran's Stinger
10. Heartstriker
9. Accursed Bow of the Elite
8. Outrider's Bow
7. Satyr's Bow
6. Riphook
5. Ranger Bow
4. Bow of Searing Arrows
3. Screeching Bow
2. Naga Heartpiercer
1. Baelog's Shortbow


  1. Great work! Been waiting a while for this one. It's interesting to see just how many great bow models Blizzard has made unavailable! The Vengeful bow was always one I wanted to grab, but not being a PvPer it was always out of reach.

    On that note I do believe that #44 Hateful Gladiator's Longbow (and the other bows that share the model) is also no longer available.

  2. On the other hand i am gutted i never got Rhok'delar, Longbow of the Ancient Keepers when i had the chance. I was pretty far advanced in the quest during Lich King patch but then gave up. Boy do i regret that move. I might still have the item of the quest just for fun but not the actual bow :(
    That is sad indeed. I would really stand out with it.
    Anyway keep up the good work and can´t wait to see what you show for Polearms. I have a soft spot for Black Ice dropped from Malygos. What you think of it personally before analysis itself?

  3. Thanks guys! MrCrispin we'll look into it, WoWhead isn't calling it out as unavailable, but they're also not listing where the model can be acquired. Need to do a bit more legwork on this one, but we'll check it out! -Keel

  4. Btw Can i ask you how you put each weapon on an image without being in character or game image. I mean only the weapon.
    If you can answer would like to know.


  5. Hey Pedro,

    We use a few different resources to get the weapons on their own. It's about 40% WoWhead on a PC using the Javascript model viewer, 10% WoWhead on a Mac using the Flash model viewer, 40% using the WoW Model Viewer application and 10% in-game screenshots. We use these resources as baselines to acquire the weapon images, and then we switch to Adobe Photoshop to knock out the backgrounds, apply templates, etc. Hope that helps! -Keel

  6. About that 10. Night Elf Bow,
    Its the model of one quest rewards in new 5 man dungeon but with Str attribute, anyway you can transmo it :)