Having recently quit World of Warcraft after some 11 years of pretty much nightly patronage – apart from a short break during the rather disappointing Cataclysm expansion – the release of Insight Editions' The Art of World of Warcraft is perfectly timed for me.
With a foreword written by renown artist Alex Horley, and an introduction from Blizzard Senior Art Director Chris Robinson, the book spins a visual narrative of the history of Blizzard's seminal MMO. Split into chapters that chronicle the original "vanilla" World of Warcraft release and its subsequent five expansions, the 226-page, 9 ½" by 13" deluxe volume represents a decade-long travelogue through the vaults of Blizzard's art department.
I worked on the official World of Warcraft magazine a few years ago, and thought I'd seen most of the artwork associated with the vanilla release, Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King. However, while there are some familiar images, I'm impressed to see Insight Editions has managed to collect a wealth of previously unseen pieces of work. Ranging from early, conceptual drawings to fully realized, high quality finished pieces of artwork, the book articulates insights into the fundamental art direction of the game. Helping further deepen the understanding of what's on the page are extended captions from Blizzard Art Director Samwise Didier, and additional comments from Chris Robinson that outline the thought and approach that went into the artwork, and the reasoning that went behind some of the creative decision-making.
What makes the book interesting to me is simply the progression of the art as it tracks the first 10 years of World of Warcraft. Despite featuring the work of more than 40 artists – including Blizzard stalwarts such as Wei Wang, Jimmy Lo, Justin Kunz, Marc Gibbons, and Glen Rane and Justin Thavirat – there is a consistency to the collection as it ebbs and flows from WoW's inaugural release, through Cataclysm to its newest expansion.
Obviously the individual style of the artists is plain to see, but there is a feeling of variations on a theme; that there's an over-arching collective vision behind the works that bind them together. Whether it's the early vanilla concept drawings of Night Elves, or character studies for the Iron Dwarves from the latest expansion, Warlords of Draenor, there's a unifying color palette and styling that gives the book cohesion. This might be a disappointment for some, who may be hoping to see more individual expression from the impressive roster of artists, but I think most World of Warcraft fans will delight in what this book has to offer. This isn't a group of artists interpreting World of Warcraft as artistic pieces - this is an incredibly talented array of individuals conceptualizing a product known for its particular artistic style, that all have ultimately collaborated to achieve.
The other thing that I've enjoyed while looking through this tome is the simplicity of some of the artwork. Not all pictures are epic vistas of grand battles or important characters. There are vignettes of zones; landscape drawings of what are essentially tucked-away areas of Azeroth that are largely uncelebrated. It shows how thorough the artistic vision for World of Warcraft is – and for hardcore WoW players, these sketches are reminders of zones long forgotten. From the style of vegetation in Stranglethorn Vale to the barren, lightning-struck vistas of the Blasted Lands, the book serves as a terrific reminder of one's own adventures in World of Warcraft. While looking at its pictures, I constantly recalled people and places, and adventures that I've had. It probably sounds sappy, but this book took me back time and time again, and reminded me of just how much fun I've had in this game. It's something I didn't expect, but thumbing through the glossy pages of the Art of World of Warcraft has been a bittersweet, melancholic journey for me through a game I've loved for so long.
The Art of World of Warcraft is an impressive coffee table tome. While it weighs in at a rather hefty $45, its spot-varnished illustrations and matte bindings give it a deluxe, tactile feel. Sure, it's not for everybody, but it's a perfect souvenir and celebration of one's adventures in one of the greatest MMOs ever created – and a fabulous testament to the artistic vision that has driven it since its release more than 10 years ago.