The Changing Faces of World of Warcraft

The Changing Faces of World of Warcraft

After 10 years, the world's biggest MMO has upgraded its new character models. Most look absolutely terrific. The problem is, not all of them look like the original models, and some aren't even close.

Ahead of the November launch of the Warlords of Draenor expansion, the decade-old World of Warcraft just received content update 6.0.2. Apart from the patch packing content that portends the new expansion, it also brings with it some of the most deep-rooted and significant changes the game has seen in years, including fundamental changes to stats, a complete recalibration of stat scaling, and sweeping changes to the way all the classes play - much of which included "item pruning" that removed spells Blizzard decided they did not like any more (despite many players feeling the contrary).

Of course with big change comes much screaming, as the wise old MMO makers used to say, and this was most certainly evident on Blizzard's blazing hot community forums shortly after the content update went live - and seems to be heating up even more today.

One of the major issues – and one that has been ongoing for some months now – is Blizzard's controversial decision to change the character models, and more importantly, their faces. Before I go any further, it's important to recognize that Blizzard tried to pre-empt complaints by simply enabling players to chooese whether or not to use the new models. A sensible option for sure, and I will most certainly be one of the players using it.

On a personal level, I'm very surprised at how poor a job Blizzard have done in translating the old models to the new. I'm not the only one who thinks that, and complaints have been loud and long on Blizzard's forums. The official response is interesting, and a fairly clear insight into the problems - which is essentially beauty, or rather in this case, aesthetic parity, is in the eye of the beholder.

Community manager Bashiok explains, "with the old models looking as... old as they did, there's always been some amount of interpretation that's going to happen from person to person as they fill in the quality-gaps, and add their own story and character to any of the looks. Where a squiggly blurry line might look like a scar to you, it might look like freckles to someone else. A furled brow is grease smudge, a wince is a grimace, or a smile is a pout. We went into the archives, back to the source material and textures, and spent a lot of time trying to ensure we were interpreting all those squiggles and smudges in a way that is as true to the originals as possible, while also updating them to much higher resolutions and levels of fidelity. No easy task, I assure you. We expect that some will have had different interpretations of those old blurry textures than the ones we arrived at, and that's why we brought some of the recustomization features in-game for "free" (small gold cost like other barbershop features), and with that you can hopefully find new combinations and options that do appeal to you."

In other words, when it comes to your character looking like your character, your mileage may vary.

I'm one of those who's on the "WTF" end of things when it comes to my main character. Here she is in all her original glory (left), while the right shot shows her new face and more "voluptuous" body. Am I the only one who thinks my char has gone from smokin' hot to getting a John Rivers-style facelift and what seems like a stick up the butt? Comparing old and new side by side is interesting. While I'm sure much attention was given to maintaining the integrity of the source material, I just cannot see my character in there. I just can't believe someone drew this model and walked away thinking, this is a great match,

There are plenty of people who love the new models as much as others hate them, but either way, I think most people agree that only a few of the new models have captured the personality and essence of the 2004 originals. One wonders why they've fallen so short of what was promised at Blizzcon last year, when WoW Art Director Chris Robinson essentially promised faithful new versions that players will say, "Yes! That's my character." Whatever the reason, this new model upgrade can't really be considered a success.

Or can it? I thought I'd go through all the new models to see where Blizzard have succeeded, and where there's still work to be done.

Alliance

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The new human male models are a clear upgrade, but while they look much sharper and better defined than the old models, their facial expressions and dimensions don't seem to tally very well with the originals.

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I'm biased here, because most of my characters are human female, but I think these are way off base. Many look like they've been created using the Sim builder from Sims 4. Their eyebrows are too high, their skin texture is poor, and their eyes seem to be disproportionately large.

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Generally speaking, the new Dwarf male faces are a successful upgrade. They're a little hit-and-miss in terms of looking like the original models, however.

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The original Dwarf female models were quite soft-looking, and were not particularly attractive. Because of that, they've been one of the least-used race/sex combinations throughout WoW's history. The new models look much more appealing. However, the juxtaposition of the original World of Warcraft look, and the new is here, plain to see. The new style is definitely different. Looks great, but it's not old WoW, that's for sure.

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Like many model sets, there seems to be a high degree of homogenization. Models vary only in subtle ways, because the artists have seemingly held back on trying to give the models the attitude of the original ones.

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Most of the new Night Elf female faces are nicely rendered, but like the male models, they just aren't a good 1:1 match with the original models.

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The male gnome showcases the way the artists have tried to interpret the original models into something new.

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Female gnomes now have a stronger and more interesting emotional range. They're also a vast artistic improvement over the originals. They're a fairly good match of the older models, and if I did have a female gnome, I think I'd be happy. But I don't do gnomes. They freak me out.

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Draenei have always looked a bit samey, and seeing them all here doesn't change my mind. The new models are definitely nicer-looking, but I just can't see much in the way of similarities between old and new. The mouths are completely different.

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Like their male counterparts, you have to look closely at Draenei females to spot the differences. The same is true for the new models, but subtle though those differences are, it's still quite apparent that the likeness between new and old is inconsistent at best.

Horde

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Both the male and female tauren look stunning in their new form. However, since they've been quite significantly reworked, they only bear a passing resemblance to their old counterparts.

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Despite being clearly inferior models, I still prefer the orignal tauren female's psychotic stare. The new models, while being clearly superior, feel a lot softer by comprison. More cow-like. Which I don't think is a good thing.

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Troll males have benefited hugely from the new makeover. While the likeness is decent, the new models are absolutely terrific.

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Another great set of models, but they all look very similar.

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The original, highly varied models might have been artistically poor, but they pack bags more character than the inspid new ones. Some models look way, way too similar, and really lack personality.

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Like the female human models, and perhaps because they were penned by the same person, female undead characters' eyebrows are out of control. No idea what the artist was thinking in both cases, but the high eyebrows and weird smirky lips result in a really strange expression. Even on a walking corpse.

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The new orc models certainly look stunning, but in terms of a match, they fall well short. That's because Blizzard decided to completely change the mouth structure of the new model.

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Female orcs have had a similar artistic makeover, and the new models really breathe some life into the race. Some of the characteristics of the original models have been maintained too, but in terms of a match, some are better than others.

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