Polearms: Long Overdue

Well hey there, long time no see! Been very busy last few months but some things have transpired recently that have prompted me to get back into the scene. Most noteably among them have been my successes in leveraging my design eye to make a fortune with transmogrification as covered in PC GamerWoW Insider and WIRED (UK), as well as the success of the new traveling transmog fashion show, The WoW Factor where I've partnered with friends Noelani and Ironyca over at WoW Roleplay Gear and have handed my fortune back to the community in celebration of the best transmogrified looks we can find. Check out the media from the latest shows held on TichondriusEarthen Ring and the epic show from Proudmoore.

Polearms: Differentiation Analysis
Okay, okay /hug now let's get to it! When last we spoke, Polearms were on your minds. In fact they were at the top of not one poll, but two having outlasting both last minute surges by fans of 2H Maces (who between you and me are a force to be reckoned with, I really should get to their analysis!)

The chart you see above (click for larger image) represents every Epic, Rare and Uncommon Polearm model currently eligible for transmogrification - including those only eligible for transmogrification by the original Grand Marshals and High Warlords! For a larger view with a dynamic links check out this Map Key where you can scan and link directly to WoWhead model by model.

As a reminder, one key change I've implemented here is the gray horizontal band across the top. For the purposes of determining what's currently attainable for transmogrification, Polearms that fall in this row are either no longer in the game or they have limitations such as the legacy Grand Marshall requirement. So for some, they are still eligible for transmogrification and as such I've included them in this review.

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

For those of you who are new to Disenchanting Azeroth and my methodologies here, this process 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 are not represented here. That being said, if you find something here you'd like to inquire about further, simply scroll down to the Map Key which provides direct links to WoWhead for details on where you can acquire the model or various recycled versions of it. 

Now the chart above I refer to as the Differentiation Analysis. I 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 I rank it because it is technically less unique. The less it is recycled, the more unique it becomes and thus the higher I 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.

I also identify Heroic alternates in their own row, and if a recolored skin is available I've highlighted it by reversing its position and placing it beneath the normal version.

The goal of my 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.

Initial Conclusions
  • It feels a little thin, but I suppose that's to be expected. If you consider a number of the other reviews I've conducted here at Disenchanting Azeroth, the sheer number of models existing in game for swords, daggers, staves, etc. seem to dwarf that of Polearms here. That said I suppose it makes sense because we're really only talking a few classes that would equip one. It will be interesting to see how this landscape changes come Mists of Pandaria (MoP).
  • Wrath and Cataclysm pumped up the volume. That's a pretty fair increase in model design after the Burning Crusade, which is really interesting to see. Typically in other reviews we've seen a bit of a drop after the Burning Crusade because there was such a surge of new models in 2.0. Here we see the opposite, where Polarms were actually a bit thin in TBC (though some truly standout models were born) but they grew significantly as a category in Wrath and that growth was sustained through Cataclysm.
  • Where are the truly exclusive Cataclysm Polearms? One. Just one exists, and it's a low level item that bears a striking resemblance to a low level caster staff. This is really unfortunate because we've seen this before from Cataclysm's column in other reviews where the exclusive models introduced were very few in numbers. So lots of new stuff in Cataclysm, but unfortunately nothing truly unique. Sure, Kiril, Fury of Beasts is an amazing looking weapon. But it's been reskinned three times and as such now we see it everywhere. The result is its visual value can become diluted.
If you're familiar with the way I segment form language in the matrix below, feel free to jump to my Red/Green highlights.

For those of you who are new to Disenchanting Azeroth and my methodologies here, I refer to the next chart below as the Visual Positioning Analysis (click for larger image). I use this matrix as a means to provide a visual landscape to what is currently attainable in-game for Transmogrification. The short version is I help you make sense of the clutter that's out there and show you what's actually going to stand out.

Polearms: Visual Positioning Analysis

The vertical axis here is a continuum of INTROVERTED forms (singular geometry, quiet) such as the Impaling Harpoon (1, 98) to EXTROVERTED forms (multiple, intersecting geometry, loud) such as the aforementioned Kiril polearm currently positioned at (60,5). 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) such as the Banner Slicer (5, 25) to FLUID forms (organic, smooth transitions) which actually don't have many options here but I suppose you could consider Anguish to be in that mix, currently at (75, 35). 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 my recommendations that follow.

Returning to the Visual Positioning chart, for the sake of argument, I'm going to take Blizzard's "exclusive" Polearms from the white row in the 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.

Cross-Referencing Charts

Red ellipses identify a Polearm from the "exclusive" models that either looks too much like the other weapons around it or it doesn't carry enough visual impact to truly separate itself from the pack. You could argue the Decalcified Elven Spear which I alluded to earlier, is unique enough here to warrant consideration but I can't shake the fact that it shares its model with 3 other staves that would sit in the same spot.

So 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 Glaive of the Pit (50, 50), a potential drop from Magtheridon. In terms of its visual appeal, it does get a bit lost among some other Polearms that have a similar form.

Green ellipses identify a Polearm 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 an obvious one, the fan favorite Black Ice (25, 10), a model introduced in Wrath that is still widely popular among Hunters in particular. Bam, it just holds its own. No other Polearm quite like it. Now that's how you make an epic drop's appeal sustainable over time, well done artists and modelers, well done.

Final Conclusions
  • To be honest, it's a bit tight. The problem with Polearm uniqueness is there just aren't many to go around. And here we see that issue compounded by the fact that many of the models look so much like their peers, particularly from Vanilla. So even though there are roughly 50 individual models to choose from, really you could probably reduce that to about 40 given what I see here.
  • Very little consideration for organic forms. It's interesting, Polearms suffer from the same issue I believe 2H Swords did, if I recall correctly. Everything is wide left or in the middle, with very few models opting for a more fluid design that incorporates curvatures or fluid transitions. So much for my big theory that Blizzard was progressing into a more organic, fluid art style in the next expansion. What I thought for sure would be aquatic and woodsy is actually going to be quite stable and introverted from what I observed at Blizzcon with MoP. That assessment will likely evolve over time though because so far they've only shown the starter zone weapons and shields. Hard to say, hard to say. Looking forward to the conversation though, and I'll be kicking off some theory and analysis in the new Disenchanting Azeroth forums in the Design of Mists of Pandaria forum.
I hope you've enjoyed this article on Polearms. Remember if you want to use the Map Key, simply click on the link and it will direct you to a dynamic page where you can link directly to WoWhead. If your goal is to truly take advantage of Transmogrification and stand out among your peers, I encourage you to reference these charts. For those players desiring a kickstart to their selection, I've included the Editor's Picks below based on my 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 the picks. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more to come from Disenchanting Azeroth!

Lastly, a special thanks to @Keltoroq who for months pushed for this article to one day see the light of day! Enjoy the Jinx gift card, sir.  :)


The following picks are in no particular order:

1. Blood-Tempered Ranseur / Terokk's Quill, the Ranseur is no longer available in-game while the Quill is a quest reward from Terokk's Legacy. Technically I've ranked the Quill as an exclusive model due to the fact its alternate is no longer available. But THAT RANSEUR. Here it is on a Paladin in Tier 2 Judgement Armor. I seriously hope someone has kept the Ranseur in their bank because it's just fantastic. But on to the Quill! What you have here is just a very classic example of a unique model that has separated itself from the pack. It's a stable, symmetrical design that also narrows the searching you'll be required to do to match it to an outfit. You've really only got a few options. But very unique, very striking nonetheless. One of my top 10.

2. Shivering Felspine, a potential random drop from Sunwell Plateau. A potentially challenging skin to match with, this Polearm is truly one of the most unique models among all Polearms in-game. I've not seen it yet at any of my in-game events or at the WoW Factor shows and I suspect it's a result of the complementary yet opposing use of green and red. Nonetheless this Polearm deserves some popularity because its model is just that good.

3. Saliva Coroded Pike, a potential drop from Moragg (the floating eyeball boss) in Violet Hold. What's great about this model first of all it's exclusive, 100% unique. There is a slightly similar design that is more common but what's working here is a strong, stable base of color. These hues cold blend very nicely into an outfit. Another thing about this Polearm is it's not extremely overbearing. It's a more introverted form, but it has some really elegant detailing going on that when paired with the right armor it could really blow the look out of the water.

4. Hell Reaver, a potential drop from the chest that appears after defeating Nazan and Vazruden in Hellfire Ramparts. This weapon needs little introduction, as it's long been a fan favorite for years. Well here's your validation that it is, indeed, one of the best possible Polearms to transmogrify. Not only is its form entirely separated from the rest of the pack, but the fluid, flowing particle effect that traverses the sword in-game is absolutely stunning. We've seen some pretty amazing transmogrifications during The WoW Factor shows using this weapon. I've provided a good one from a recent show on Tichondrius below.

5. Banner Slicer, a world BoE drop from Wrath of the Lich King content. I personally have a love/hate relationship with this design, and it was only fitting that it revealed itself as an obvious choice for the top ten - or should I say "WELL THAT FIGURES." Look at that banner wrapping itself around the model! Where's the artist that came up with this - sir, more banners like this please. This weapon is one of the few in the entire game that instantly conveys there is a story there behind it, and it's entirely due to that banner. We just saw this used recently during the WoW Factor, Earthen Ring show where it was combined with a burnt umber blend of Northrend leather. It looked great. Some of my Twitter followers have also seen me talk about the black-skinned model that is currently in the game files as being the ideal skin for this model, and I still believe in that. So in a way, this weapon wins my Jerry Maguire Award for being the weapon I love for what it wants to be and for what it ALMOST IS.

6. Halberd of Desolation, a potential drop from High Warlord Naj'entus in Black Temple. Fantastic, and still have yet to see it at a WoW Factor show. Not only is it entirely unique from any other Polearm, but it's an exclusive model, has criss-crossing blades so it's very three dimensional and has brilliant green glows to boot. Fantastic. Get it.

7. Halberd of Smiting, no longer available but was a former drop from the original Zul'Gurub. Painful, I know. I went nuts when I first came across it, and then my stomach dropped when I realized it was no longer available. Will we see it again? Perhaps. In fact I wouldn't be surprised to see it reprised during an expansion highlighting Sargeras and the Burning Legion (don't get me started again, I'm 0 for 1). The blade itself is very reminiscent of others from ZG, but this weapon retains its own unique twist with the length of the Polearm and the protruding spikes. If I had it, I would make it one of my top two Polearms I would use for looks and build an entire outfit around it. It's that good.

8. Sonic Spear, a potential drop from Murmur in the Shadow Labyrinth. Were you one of those players back in TBC that ran SL again, and again and again for this item? I wasn't, but I was a Priest and my robe dropped from Murmur as well which took forEVER. So I remember seeing the same players again and again running the instance to get this item, and when they did it was always a celebration. History aside though, this is another blade that gets three dimensional with the four major axis covered. The design itself is somewhat similar to others in the mix but it separates itself just enough. And it's just dying to be the centerpiece of a Nexus-inspired, transmogrified look.

9. Witch Hunter's Harvester, an epic crafted item introduced in Cataclysm. I'm never big on crafted items because they're looks that can become too easy to replicate, and my goal is to find you ways to really stand out in a crowd. But there's no denying this model is an absolute BEAST. Similar in nature to some other scythe models in game, but just unique enough to warrant its own attention this Polearm is likely going to get more popular for transmogrification once we move into MoP. It's just too current right now, and so many players leveling up their alts are still using it as a stat-stick and not for looks. But I'll say this now, the first player I see at a WoW Factor show sporting this look as part of an endgame transmogrification, I'll straight up tip them 1,000g because the look is valid and is incredibly unique. Don't buy the hype that you have to transmogrify your weapon from something pre-Wrath, because this one is relevant simply because it's awesome.

10. Black Ice, a potential drop found in the cache of Alexstrasza's Gift after defeating Malygos in the Eye of Eternity. This Polearm needs no introduction, has long been a fan favorite and as such I'm not going to dwell on it. I suspect, though, it's probably a tricky weapon to blend with the rest of your armor. Just know that if I had to select a top 5, it would be in there. This is one of the best Polearm models in-game in terms of uniqueness and WoW Factor!

Last but not least, two brief Special Mentions and a word on Kiril, Fury of Beasts.

First, on Kiril. Yes, it's phenomenal. Yes, it's by far the most extroverted Polearm here and undoubtedly one of the most extreme designs in the entire game. But it was copy/pasted THREE TIMES. I love what Blizzard did with Heroics in TBC and Raid Finder in Cataclysm, but I have never been happy about the way they treat weapon models as rewards from these "more / less difficult encounters". By reskinning Kiril three times, they've diluted the visual value of the model. Simple. That's not to say it's not valid for transmogrification, it is. In fact we just had a brilliant example on Tichondrius (see below). But this is about identifying the top ten picks I can comfortably recommend for immediate impact, and due to the fact it's so contemporary and has arrived in 3 versions, I just can't make that call. Ask me again come MoP and I'll probably have changed my mind.

High Warlord's Pigsticker, a Horde-only legacy PvP reward only eligible for transmogrification by players who earned the legacy title of High Warlord. If you've got it, flaunt it. You'll be the envy of many who never earned the title you did. Normally I would have this in my top ten but because its audience is limited, I've opted to call it out as a special mention.

Grand Marshal's Glaive, an Alliance-only legacy PvP reward only eligible for transmogrification by players who earned the legacy title of Grand Marshal. Same as above, and just so cool. It's capturing a bit of the same spirit as the Halberd of Desolation and the Sonic Spear in terms of the blades on a four-point axis, but what you have here that you don't have there are the fluid transitions and elegant curvature of the blades. Just awesome. Grats if you can sport this!