Aesthetic Manifesto

            I LOVE vanity gear. I can’t remember what it was that first started me on the road to actively collecting gear, but I remember that the desire to HAVE that kind of gear came the first moment I set foot in Orgrimmar as a lv10 Orc warrior, my very first character on my very first day of playing World of Warcraft. It was the end of Burning Crusade, about 2 month before Patch 3.0, and everyone was walking around in awesome looking equipment. The images of Warrior Tier-5 / Merciless Gladiator gear and Hunter Merciless Gladiator gear was a feast for my eyes and I couldn’t wait to grow up and one day be as cool as all those people I saw.

            With 4.3 rapidly approaching and Transmogrification already available on the Public Test Realm, I thought I would talk a little bit (ok, A LOT) about my thought process in deciding how I choose my gear sets and how I complete these outfits with accessories and flair. My purpose here is not to make anyone’s decisions for them or to influence people in any way, merely to illustrate my thought process as I gear-up (pardon the pun) for my own personal vanity-fest in 4.3 When I look for gear sets to build, there isn’t much to it beyond “does it look cool” and “how does my race/gender look in it.” Fortunately, I’m a female blood elf so there really isn’t much that doesn’t look good on me. My biggest complaint is that I’m small, so I lose some of the detail in breastplates and shoulder pieces. Some items that look amazing on big-shoulder races like male Orcs and Tauren just don’t look as impressive or detailed on my smaller shoulders. It doesn’t mean they look bad, just less impressive or eye-catching. When it comes to accessorizing my sets though, there are three things that I look for and consider in order to determine if they’ll complete the grand-unification effect of the set or ruin it;

    1) color: This is bar-none, the most important criteria for me. Does the color of the item match the gear set; and not just “kind of” match, the coloring needs to be fairly exact. If something is blue, I need a blue that will match. It can’t be too light a blue or too dark a blue, and shading can be very difficult to match (blues especially in World of Warcraft for some reason) because there can be so many variations of hue and tone with today’s modern graphics. Most sets are also not single-color even though they usually have a primary eye-catcher, the highlights and undertones are equally valuable and I look for things that share these highlights and undertones. A spot-on blue weapon with yellow highlights on a weapon can’t be a match if the gear doesn’t support the eye-catching yellow of the weapon. Everything needs to be in harmony and alignment. The colors of the weapon need to compliment the colors of the armor, not just in shade, but in concert with each other. Yes, I understand there is sometimes value to contrasting rather than complimenting colors, but 99% of the time I’m not satisfied unless the items compliment each other with parity rather than contrast to each other, even if the contrast works.

    2) Visual Style: this is sort of important, but not nearly as important as color. This part could best be described as “does it look cool.” There are many, many things I think look cool in this game, but I can’t necessarily find a gearset they go well with; some items are just too unique. There really isn’t anything remotely like Thunderfury, Blessed Blade of the Windseeker, but it sure as hell is distinctive and everyone wants one because it is legendary, but it doesn’t match my Tier-1 Lawbringer set by any stretch of the imagination. So, while I love me some awesome items, and will collect them just fine, I can’t necessarily incorperate them into any “sets” I’m building as complimentary accessories. But, it is at the same time true that even if something matches perfectly in color, it has to have a certain level of visual interest to it or I won’t use it. So many vanilla weapons, especially non-dungeon gear, is very plain, very “real-world” looking and it’s just not exciting to want to use to spice up or accentuate a gear set you’ve invested yourself into.

    3) Visual design suitability to the gear: That’s a fancy way of saying don’t use a smooth round shield with big spikey armor, it just doesn’t look right. There are some really spikey shields out there, or, at least shields with alot of edges. The Red Dragonscale Protector, Elementium Reinforced Bulwark, Blessed Qiraji Bulwark, Lost Pavise of the Blue Flight, and countless others that all have an extremely unique look, and I can’t always find something to do with them. Sometimes there is just nothing I can find with both complimentary colors and design philosophy to pair a shield with. And then sometimes there are several shields that can go with the same set well. This criteria really is just about if the items “look right together” in a design sense. There is certainly room for the visual irony of matching the Bulwark of Azzinoth with a plate bikini, or Onslaught Armor with a wooden barrel top; but I don’t play my sets out along those lines personally. There is a reason people pair the Bulwark of Azzinoth with the warrior Tier-6 Onslaught armor, it’s because they look similar visually; very large, very sturdy, very spikey.

            It is a somewhat difficult thing to explain in words, so the best thing to do is probably to look closely at the differences between the colors and characteristics of three shields and use them as an example of how I evaluate and match items; the (iLvl264) Icecrown Glacial Wall, the Barricade of Eternity, and The Skull of Ruin. Each of these shields are “blue,” but each is a different shade of blue, each has a different accentuating color, and each has a different “character,” i.e. what it makes you think of when you look at it; what impression it gives off. This last part is obviously subjective and depends on individual taste to some extent, whether you like the character of a certain shield more than another, but no one can argue the obvious visual differences between the 3 shields. The Skull of Ruin and Barricade of Eternity don’t look like they would hang out with the same friends or go to the same movies.
 
Icecrown Glacial Wall The Icecrown Glacial Wall is a very dark, muted blue; almost washed-out and dull in it’s color. The silver/grey metallic outline gives it a nice similar-tone complimentary color which is reinforced with the spines that protrude from the center to the edges. The darker-blue skull in the center is the largest source of contrast, feeding the red/orange/yellow streak that occupies the center of the shield. It is this center that truely prevents it from aligning with a completely muted, rather color-less gearset the way something like the Bulwark of Azzinoth could (like this for instance).
            As for its character, to me, the Icecrown Glacial Wall exhudes evil. It is something that conveys anger, ferocity, hostility, and strength. It is a dark shield, both in color, shade, and tone. It fits the forboding and dangerous atmosphere of its raid instance, Icecrown Citadel, and it matches up pretty well (but not perfectly) with the iLvl277 Heroic Sanctified Lightsworn Tier for Paladins from the same instance. (the iLvl 277, red version of this shield has a character of its own and gives off a totally different vibe despite being the exact same model. It just goes to show what a difference color can make and why I have it as the most important criteria for my gear selection). The spikes are a nice, but somewhat common, touch to shields which give it a little more visual distinctiveness than a simple shape and the cleft on the bottom is an often overlooked feature that adds more subtle distinction to its silhouette. If you look really closely you can see spider webs clinging between the spines in the middle of the shield. It also looks battle-worn, adding a touch of reliability to the shield and giving it an “age,” conveying experience and the expectation that it will survive many battles to come.
 
Barricade of Eternity The Barricade of Eternity is a very striking collection of blues, both dark and light. The electric-blue base color of the shield is highlighted with the neon-blue iconography and yellow dimaond in the center. It has just enough color variation to prevent it from being too monotone and uninteresting, and all the colors work well together which creates a unified look rather than a schizophrenic one.
            The shield strikes me as “sturdy,” “clean-cut,” “standard issue,” and even a little “boring” in its form and silhouette. But, it also contains small embelishing elements that make it look magical, special, mysterious, and powerful. I love the way this shield looks, it is one of my favorites in the game, and it is incredibly disappointing to me that I haven’t found any gear that really compliments it. It is one of the physically largest shields in the game and its impressive size allows for a great deal of detail and variation on it’s surface. Dropping from a boss who is basically the patron of magic, this shield conveys a definite connection to the arcane arts and could pass for a spellcaster shield if it weren’t so large.
The Skull of Ruin The Skull of Ruin is a combination of an icy, powder/sky blue with brown and white accenting colors. This is another shield I’ve had difficultly matching to because its secondary colors are so prominant and unusual. The blue of the Skull’s eyes is striking and the brown of the horns and underlying frame of the shield is impossible to ignore, creating a strong contrast within the item. If mages could use shields, it would actually compliment the Mage Tier-5 “Aldor Regalia” set fairly well, but I haven’t found any plate yet.
            The Skull of Ruin has a very distinctive, but very cartoony, look to it to me. The skull on top is more silly than sinister and the horns seem more ostentatious and ridiculous than menacing. The very light blue prevents me from taking it seriously as a “scary” piece, considering that was supposed to be the mood of the original 40man Naxxramas raid. Design-wise it is a suitably large and safe-looking shield with a good surface area and spikes for effect. The angular and geometrical design flow nicely throughrout the shield and I’m honestly not sure if the skull on the top (which does compliment and complete the shield, preventing it from sinking into boring-design territory) is worth its potentially destroying the shield’s ability to be taken seriously.

            Unfortunately the only one of those shields I’ve been satisfied incorporating into a gear set is the Icecrown Glacial Wall which I paired with the Heroic Sanctified Lightsworn armor. The Barricade of Eternity has a blue that isn’t shared by any plate armor that I’ve been able to find, and the yellow further isolates it from potential compatable sets. There ARE a few blue plate sets, but the hues are just too different for me to reconcile pairing the items thus far. The closest I’ve been able to find is the lv58 world-drop BoE greens “Vanguard” set which has hilarious irony potential pairing a metal bikini with the large shield, but the color differences between both the blues and the yellows is too noticeable. It also is further alienated from that armor set if your character is male because the breastplate is no longer a bikini and now has a big red jewel in the center of it. The Skull of Ruin is just too-light a blue to find anything in plate it seems. I have had a reasonably successful time pairing it with the Slayer of the Lifeless and combining both of those with the Paladin Tier-1 Lawbringer set. The bright yellow and the pale blue are able to compliment and contrast each other in a way that makes it kind of work for me. Without the sword’s companion presence to the shield, I’m not sure it will ever be able to work with any set of plate armor for me.

            I realize all of this could come across as rather pretentious, especially because until I actually sat down to write this, I never reallized how in-depth and descriptive I could be about this. Finding something interesteing or attractive doesn’t really have much thought put into it; it’s either “gotta have it,” “only sort-of interested,” or “do not want!’ That decision is basically made split-second and is never really analyzed beyond its initial conclusion unless someone has a purpose to do so. I definitely do not think all these things through while I watch the timer-bar decrease when the loot widow pops up. But in order to explain why, both to myself and to others, its interesting to see just how much I can elaborate about what draws me to one thing versus another thing.

            I’m going to put together a series of posts talking about several of the sets I’ve gathered and accessorized during my time in the game and maybe give some people some interesting ideas they may not have considered if they’re going to assemble those sets themselves.

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