Thrall’s new top knot

This past weekend, we were treated to some new models – including several beasts, ancients, pets, mounts, and some faction leaders – from the Warlords of Draenor alpha, courtesy of Datamining. One of these is a new Thrall model.

My first impression was that, in general, I liked him. Upon reflection, however, there are definitely aspects of this new model that irritate me, and cause me to have questions that will probably never be answered to my satisfaction.

Much has been made (correctly) of the male-centric-ness of this brutish new expansion that we’re awaiting. The announcement page at has a header with seven male orc legends on it, and further down there is a “meet the big bad (or good) dudes” section, which features ten males: the seven orcs, plus Prophet Velen, Vindicator Maraad, and Khadgar. It’s like the ‘The Stone Age meets the Steroid Era in pro baseball’ expansion, with a couple of good guys thrown in. Oh, and there’s ONE (1) female Draenei paladin Champion that we don’t know much of anything about. Things are very male and barbaric and stuff, at any rate. Hopefully that imbalance will be alleviated somewhat once we get involved, but I’m not holding my breath.

Anyway, with that in mind, here’s a picture of Thrall’s new model (via MMO-Champion):

Thrall, WoD Alpha (via MMO-C)

Thrall, WoD Alpha (MMO-C), April 2014

For comparison purposes, here’s a model from April 2011, from Blizzard’s 4.2 ‘Elemental Bonds’ preview:

Thrall model, Elemental Bonds preview, April 2011

Thrall model, ‘Elemental Bonds’ preview, April 2011

This second model is the one we saw for a good portion of Cataclysm’s life cycle. He appears in basically this form in the Elemental Bonds questline, the Hour of Twilight dungeon, Dragon Soul, his wedding to Aggra, and at the Maelstrom, striving to hold the world together.

Finally, for the sake of further comparison, here is a picture of (the old) Thrall at the Argent Tournament (screenshot taken by Jocelyn at DK Diaries):

Thrall at the Argent Tournament (via DK Diaries)

Thrall at the Argent Tournament (via DK Diaries)

In between this time and the second shot above, Thrall went to Outland and met Aggra and began his growth/ascent into less-Warchief/more-uberShaman-ness, and ended up holding the world together at the Maelstrom while we found the pieces to the pillar in Deepholm, and so on. He emerged at the beginning of Cataclysm in his new shaman garb, with upright posture and some long braids. This is the Thrall the vast majority of us have known since he ceded his position to Garrosh and went on to address the bigger, more urgent problems that Deathwing caused.

At the time, the old model was fairly impressive, although artist renderings were more impressive than his in-game model, which was a very common Orc model with unique Thrall trappings. The Thrall of the past two expansions has been more reflective of his new position in society – a hero to all in the world (rather than just Orcs/Horde) regardless of faction, a shaman of great power, the substitute Earth Warder – as well as his visibility and importance in the game.

As for this new Thrall, I can only speculate.

I can tell you one thing: I miss the long hair/braids. This new shaved-head-with-top-knot look does nothing for me. In fact, if we look at the WoD Orc faction leaders that I mentioned in the beginning, three of the seven – Kilrogg Deadeye, Ner’zhul, and Grommash Hellscream – also have top knots. This leaves me to wonder if there is some explanation for this.

Does Thrall travel to the old Draenor and decide that he wants to look more brutal? He seems to have dropped some, but not all, of his shaman garb and slapped on some, but not all, of his plate armor. Perhaps he anticipates more hand-to-hand combat, and wants to be prepared… or, perhaps he thinks he looks more intimidating this way, with plate armor, a weirdly-hemmed cloak, and his top knot.

Honestly, if that’s the case, I would have left the hair the way it was before WoD, ditched the cloak, and definitely equipped the ol’ black pauldrons, because that would have looked way more badass than this does. But if he (or someone advising him) thinks this is both more impressive-looking and more statesmanlike, then so be it. I don’t personally know any old-world Orc leaders, so I’m not sure what impresses/intimidates them.

* * *

@gloriaboboria wrote a post this weekend called Thrall – What Happened, Man? over at Corgi Island, lamenting Thrall’s descent into Human-ness. In it, she describes Thrall’s new WoD alpha model, and compares it, side-by-side, with the new Orc model and the regular human male model. (Her post is a great read, by the way – check it out!)

And she has this to say about it (with visual comparison below):

“The model is of a vaguely orc-like looking guy in a trenchcoat…robe…thing. The outfit is interesting, but now Thrall stands completely erect. Shoulders back, neck held high. The main thing that marks Thrall as an orc at this point is his green skin. He actually looks more like a human than an orc. If you don’t believe me, here’s a side-by-side image comparison of the new male orc model, Thrall’s new model, and Gilbert the improverished (. . .) human warrior.”

New Orc / New Thrall / Human comparison, via @gloriaboboria

New Orc / New Thrall / Human comparison, via @gloriaboboria

The picture illustrates how well Thrall stands apart from other Orcs, while looking more like a human (in the general male, He-Man-ish way that males tend to look in WoW anyway).

However, while @Gloriaboboria and others express dismay at the new model and its Human-ness – and while I see her/their point – I would argue two Things:

1a) The new model is structurally almost identical to the old model – the one we’ve seen for the past three years. His straight back, high neck, slender-er torso, etc., are evident all over Cataclysm in the places I mentioned in the beginning of this post, and in the picture from April 2011. It can also be seen in this rather recent video (WARNING: Siege of Orgrimmar spoilers…):

1b) As such, his “Human-ness” looks exaggerated in the new model because the old “new” model was already so human. Rather than having the Roid-lats and hulking shoulders that the common Orc model has, Thrall circa Cata and MoP has a very Human body as well. Add all that thick plate armor – sans shoulder plates – and that hulking appearance is lessened even more. Take a look at (Human) King Varian Wrynn, another faction leader and warrior (via WoWWiki):

Varian Wrynn in 5.1 (via WoWWiki)

Varian Wrynn in 5.1 (via WoWWiki)

This isn’t the best pic for this illustration, but I’m currently on break from paying for WoW, so I grabbed this one for convenience’s sake. It shows something that I’ve noticed about Varian for a while, which is that the combination of his belt and chestplate serve to somewhat smooth out the tapered-torso/huge lats/big shoulders (Varian’s huge shoulder plates notwithstanding) look that many of the male races sport in WoW. His torso also seems to stick out in the front a bit more than I think it should, but I’ve always chalked that up to the cartoony-ness of the game.

In a similar way, on top of Thrall’s established (Cata-forward) model, Blizz took away his hood, gave him a trench-cloak, slapped his plate back on him, and gave him (something of) a midlife-crisis hairstyle. Upon putting that armor on, Thrall’s silhouette evolves even closer to a cylindrical shape, and less orc-like. Here’s that new-model picture again; in particular, you can see what I mean in the image on the left:

Thrall, WoD Alpha (via MMO-C)

Thrall, WoD Alpha (via MMO-C)

(I personally think it makes him look short…)

(I also think his huge boots make him look like the Hero of Oakvale in the first Fable game… but I digress.)

So, I would argue that, other than refined textures and new armor/hair/cloak, Thrall’s basic model is actually the same as it has been for the past three years. Of the in-game models, I personally like the current in-game shaman look best.


* * *

I like Thrall. He’s a fairly polarizing character… and his wedding annoyed me because I was thinking “Why isn’t other, more interesting lore about Thrall in the game instead?” And also because it basically marked the beginning of the end of players interacting with Aggra, who I think could be written as a prominent, enduring, strong female character. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we will see that for a while, from what I’m reading…

But despite Thrall’s many critics (and critiques), I still enjoy learning about his life experiences and seeing what he will do next in the game. That holds true for Warlords, in spite of all of the likely social justice-related mis-steps in the expansion that are bound to stick out like awkward boners. I still like Thrall. But I think his WoD alpha model looks a little stupid, and that’s in part* because Blizzard’s artists didn’t flex his figure (OR his armor) to make his wearing of plate look more proportionally appropriate. (To me, humans and Thrall and others sometimes look like they’re wearing huge shields on their bodies instead of custom-fit chest armor.) In this instance, not doing so diminishes the silhouette and the general figure of Thrall as we go forward.

But who knows? Perhaps the design will change between now and Warlords. There’s always a chance…

*And in part because of his hair. Did I mention his hair?? :P

* * *

Thanks for reading this post by Mushan at Mushan, Etc. Comments are welcome!

Unconventional Leveling, post #1: permadeath as a foundation for intense player experiences

Suurahl. He died. He was 14. R.I.P.

One of the topics I hope to write about a bit here is the concept of unconventional leveling.

The WoW Ironman Challenge

The idea was partially inspired by a post by Psynister last summer called WoW Ironman Challenge.  I didn’t actually read the post until sometime last October or November, but once I did, I branched out and found some more posts that discussed fun ways to level.  In particular, The Overlooked Heroes of WoW – Unconventional Ways To Level by Ironyca was an eye-opening collection of various ideas about how to spice up the leveling game.  And Tome of the Ancient brought her warlock, Ironsally, to 85 back in October following the Ironman Challenge rules, which was a heroic feat!

This winter, the idea caught fire, and a large-scale WoW Ironman was started by players world-wide, complete with a website,, and database to keep track of participants (the rules are at this link also).  This challenge had a slightly more strict set of rules than Psynister & Co.’s, and Kripparrian won this challenge back in February, bringing his troll hunter to 85 in an impressively short amount of time.

Permadeath in DDO

Before the Ironman, though, inspiration came from reading about the permadeath playstyle that was burgeoning in Dungeons & Dragons Online a few years ago.  The idea of permadeath, which is also a condition of the WoW Ironman, is generally that you play a character until it dies.  There are degrees of ‘hardcore’-ness associated with permadeath: often permadeath guilds in DDO have strict rules that state that a member plays until the character dies, and then he or she must delete that character and re-roll if they want to continue.  Other guilds and sets of rules have less ‘final’ or brutal standards, but the concept is basically the same.

I found the idea of permadeath to be very intriguing when I read about it.  Karthis at the now-defunct Of Teeth And Claws blog first brought it to my attention after he quit playing WoW and was looking into new MMO experiences.  His first article on the subject, Craving Death, literally had me craving a permadeath character!  However, he has stopped blogging entirely, and the blog has gone down, so that post and its followups are sadly no longer available.  He did post about permadeath on the Gamers With Jobs forum back in October 2009, and that post and responses are still viewable here.

One of the things that makes permadeath, as well as the Ironman, special is its contrast to the way of modern MMOs.  In WoW and similar games, there is generally a lot of character death.  There have been articles and blog posts all over the place over the past several years about two related subjects: how easy it is to level, and how small the penalty is for dying.  In essence, we become fairly immune to death – it is reversible, and is an essential ingredient of progress, particularly at endgame.  Permadeath, on the other hand, immediately intensifies the playing experience, because you can put a great deal of work into a character, only to have it be nullified in an instant.  I’ve read many stories over the years about epic experiences had by players, either solo or in groups, playing a permadeath character.  DDO permadeath guilds will often take groups of characters that have a great deal of time invested in them into an instance or encounter, knowing that, for them, this could be the last battle.  And whether they come out unscathed or end up dead to the last man, the end result is often an epic and unforgettable experience.

My meager experiences with permadeath

For all of my interest in permadeath, I have only attempted it five times in WoW.

A few years ago, after I first read about permadeath in DDO, I made a paladin that I took to level 10, and then decided that I didn’t want to level another paladin.  In 2010, I started a dwarf hunter that I took to 24, but eventually deleted him in order to make a worgen hunter (my current ‘other level 85 hunter’).  I made a tauren shaman, Suurahl (pictured above), on a different server last December, and he died at level 14 just south of Ratchet in a facepalm moment.  I then made an orc hunter who is currently 11, but hasn’t been played for four months now.  Finally, I made a dwarf hunter less than two weeks ago and took him to 15 in one evening – an evening which ended during a quest that I had never done before, where I was ambushed by a bunch of murlocs and mercilessly beaten to death.

What did I discover about permadeath with those characters?

While I only ever played at low levels, the experience was immediately much more meaningful because I knew that I had to be careful.  This adds an element to the game that can be missing, particularly for veteran players for whom leveling is basically a total piece of cake.  On my orc hunter, for instance, I was questing in a completely new area, and did find myself in some close shaves (where I was kiting with almost no kiting abilities), simply because I wasn’t questing on autopilot and didn’t necessarily know what was around the next corner.

On the two occasions where I died, I found myself to be markedly more upset than I normally would be by a character death.  On the shaman, where I was unfamiliar with the fatal quest, I went into an area where there was a quest target that was impossible to pull without also pulling the two closest mobs to it, and I was unable to handle the resulting carnage.  This left me upset with myself because I did not accept the situation for what it was, and so did not wait a couple of levels to be better able to handle all three at once.  The hunter death, on the other hand, took me completely by surprise, and left me mad at the quest for not indicating that I was likely to be attacked by a bunch of extra murlocs.  Had I gone to Wowhead and looked it up ahead of time, I would have had a slightly better idea of what I was up against, but part of what I liked about these experiences was playing new areas – it adds discovery and uncertainty to permadeath play.

Ultimately, there is something to the feeling of defeat when your character dies that is unique for veteran players at these lower levels.  I can only imagine that it intensifies at higher levels.  I found, in my limited experiences, that I was more immersed in the game, felt close to my character, and took it harder in various ways when it died.

I hope to someday level a character in an unconventional way that incorporates permadeath as a core condition.  If I do, I will share my experience with it here.

If you’ve had any interesting leveling experiences and would like to share them, feel free to comment!

More on Unconventional Leveling to come.

– – –

Thanks for reading this post by Mushan at Mushan, Etc.  Comments are welcome!