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Shifting Perspectives: Let my kitties go!


Every Tuesday/Wednesday/some sort of day occurring midweek, Shifting Perspectives explores issues affecting Druids and those who group with them. This week Allison Robert yanks John Patricelli's column again, hoping to make good on a threat previously made concerning her "dissatisfaction" with Tauren cat form. And by dissatisfaction she might mean something else.

I'll level with you; we have a huge Druid post in the pipeline that's going to round up the changes to the class in Wrath, new talents, new skills, new everything, and frankly I'm sick to death about reading or writing anything having to do with the expansion. So, just to buck the overwhelming trend that threatens to drive us all to the nuthouse, I'm going to turn to a topic that's plagued Druids for a while.

By this I mean the perennial form issue, something that my Druid colleagues on the blog have previously termed the Same Old Animal Posterior, or SOAP. But it's one that we've been given reason to believe will change in...Wrath. Well, that didn't last long. You'll note that David's article was written in October 2007, more than a year ago, but the same thing could have been posted in 2006 as well. Druid forms haven't changed since launch*, and while they were never really at the cutting edge of Blizzard's art direction as a result**, they look more and more shabby in relation to the higher-polygon models and landscapes. As everything around you gets better and better -- more evocative lighting, more intricate details, fantastic animation -- it's hard not to feel a strange sense of displacement as you shift into a 2004 form within a 2008 game.

But at long last we may see Druid form customization, an overhaul to the default forms themselves, or possibly (hopefully?) both.


A lot of people have made suggestions concerning Blizzard's options:

Visible armor on animal forms

To be honest, I'm not wildly enthusiastic about this. I'm not sure how this could be implemented without it looking...words fail me...kind of dumb, or at best awkward. A lot of people really didn't like the look of the Amani War Bear for that reason. I really think there's something to the notion of a Druid being able to shapeshift into an animal that blends into the wild seamlessly (or as seamlessly as it gets when all of the real animals are hostile to you) and, whatever else you might think about it, a bear sporting a giant Uzi is not, per Mother Nature, working as intended.

New markings (new tattoos, symbols, scars) on animal forms

This has a lot of potential and would be a fantastic set of options to include with the barbershop-style customization that Ghostcrawler's hinted at, but I don't think it's going to be enough on its own. This is the band-aid-on-the-gangrenous-limb approach to the issue; it doesn't change the underlying model issues. And, worse yet, Tauren cat form doesn't have Druid markings on it to begin with; you can make the argument that we'd be paying to add something that should have been there in the first place. And on that note --

The unadulterated suck of Tauren cat form

You may have seen me make mention of my all-consuming hatred for this model here before. I hate this model. I hate it. There aren't many things in the game that I think merit a big fuss, but everyone has that one thing that drives them absolutely up a wall, and mine is Tauren cat form. It is the reason I spent as much time in the game as possible trying not to be feral, and only caved when I realized how bad the tanking shortage was on my realm. And it's one of the reasons, if I am very honest with myself, that I still spend as much time possible tanking and not DPSing.

Every time I look at it, it makes me think that Blizzard's art department missed a deadline and hurriedly pasted a wyvern head onto a cat body, and I hate being forced to use a form that feels as if it were an afterthought. I actually understand it somewhat. It's a big game with thousands of models requiring thousands of animations and bug tweaks and what have you, and the developers probably guessed (correctly) that Night Elf Druids would be significantly more popular than their Tauren counterparts. What I can't understand is leaving something that looks like a placeholder graphic there for years.

Or -- no, it's worse than that. They could have used any of the cat models in the game as a placeholder graphic, and I find it excruciatingly ironic that cats are considered the most beautiful Hunter pets and are overwhelmingly popular in no small part because of it. The ugliest cat model in the game is the one that's being used by actual players, who have no choice over having to use it outside of not playing the class at all.

I just -- I don't even know what else to say here. I hate this model. There's a reason why a petition to replace Tauren cat form was one of the most popular and consistent thread topics on the Druid class forums, and there's also a reason why Googling "tauren cat form" will present you with dozens of webpages offering suggestions on how it could be changed or illegally replaced ingame.

Overhauling the existing models

I have yet to meet anyone with a bad word to say about either version of swift flight form. They're beautiful. They're wonderfully designed with gorgeous coloration and fantastic, realistic animation whether they're flying or just sitting there peering at their surroundings. And, honestly, that's where a lot of Druid complaints are coming from, I think. We know that Blizzard has the capacity to make models that are a thousand times better than the ones that went live in classic WoW, and it stings a little to see an entire expansion full of things that look so much better than the character you worked hard to level and gear.

With that said, I do expect a certain percentage of players to want to keep the classic forms, or possibly switch back and forth as nostalgia dictates, so I'm hesitant over saying that the original forms (even -- /spit -- Tauren cat form) should be axed from the game completely. Should they remain the default, trainable forms? Well...maybe. There's still no denying that they're pretty archaic models for the game's increasingly advanced artistic sense.

Glyphs

Buh-bye. The three previous glyphs to alter form appearances -- Glyph of the Red Lynx, Glyph of the Forest Lynx, and Glyph of the White Bear -- are technically in the game files but not active. Blizzard came to the conclusion (which I think most players agreed with) that it wasn't really fair to make Druids or Shamans use a glyph slot to customize their forms.

Barbershopping

This is the most likely option now. We have no real information on how it's going to work, but there have been hints that Blizzard is planning to implement this in a major content patch to be released in the months after Wrath goes live. I have no qualms about saying that I look forward to this more than just about anything else in Wrath.

Conclusion

Druid form customization may seem like a small issue, especially to those who don't play a Druid as a main, but it's really not. It affects whether people choose to play Druids in the first place, affects how long they're willing to stick with the class, and has also had a significant impact on Druidic faction balance. The Night Elf forms are almost universally considered more aesthetically pleasing than their Tauren counterparts, and that's one of the reasons most commonly cited for the continued NE population advantage.

The class already has very few options from the moment you hit the character selection screen. You have to be a Night Elf if you play Alliance. You have to be a Tauren if you play Horde. You can't pick an Undead Druid because you like their casting animations more, or be a Human Druid because you prefer their racials. Once your initial choice is made, you know exactly what you are going to look like from 1-80 regardless of gear upgrades or time and effort spent in the endgame. And the only choices you'll have over how you look will require increasingly costly respecs in order to obtain the equally-dated moonkin or Tree of Life forms. In the absence of any real choice over how their character looks, most people would prefer not to play things that are widely seen as irredeemably ugly, or at the very least, extremely dated given the graphical improvements made to the game since its release.

Please, Blizzard; let my kitties go!

*Yes, Tauren cat form was "improved" in patch 2.3. You may need to have a few beers and a long squinting session before you can really see the difference. Actually, if you're going to look at Tauren cat form for that long, may I suggest a few more beers?
**Until swift flight form. Hallelujah!

Filed under: (Druid) Shifting Perspectives, Night Elves, Tauren, Druid, Analysis / Opinion, Features, Wrath of the Lich King

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