A deep dive into Revendreth, the realm of the last chance

It is easy to arrive in the darkness of Revendreth, to see the gothic spires and crimson skies and think that you are in hell, but this is a noble realm where souls are given one last chance. The prideful and the arrogant are sent here, where the Arbiter offers them a final promise of redemption, a chance to atone rather than be consigned to the Maw.

This great task requires the utmost care, and the Master of Revendreth is wise and benevolent. In a realm where centuries and millennia pass with hardly a mention, Sire Denathrius is old. He is one of the Eternal Ones, ageless beings who rule the realms of the undying. Under his care, mortal souls undergo an arduous process, stripping away pride and arrogance through rigorous rituals.

A world of vampires, under a sire

Sire Denathrius is said to be kind and gracious, but you might never think that. According to Steve Danuser, lead narrative designer, “He knows that any leniency toward these unfortunate souls would be detrimental to their progress.”

To make sure his charges are well cared for and offered the best chance at being judged again in Oribos, Denathrius requires help and has created a whole host of creatures to do his bidding, ensuring loyalty. Shaped in his image, the venthyr work to strip arrogance away from defiant mortal souls. These ashen skinned ones are vampiric creatures, brought about by forging the souls of the redeemed into immortal servants. To us, they look suitably different with their elongated arms and large hands. Jungah Lee, senior concept artist, story & franchise development, mentions the difficulty of finding the right balance to show these characteristics in a game that already favours massive, bulky shoulder guards.

World of Warcraft’s bulky and exaggerated character silhouettes are part of what make them unique and appealing. One challenge we faced when creating one of our cinematics was how to take the in-game design and make it more realistic, while still retaining that characteristic charm. Taking the overall designs from the game, I imagined how the clothes might look in the real world. For example, buckles and buttons can be a lot smaller in the cinematic version.

“One tricky part was that venthyr have long arms and very large hands. If we made their hands a lot smaller, they would just look like human proportions—but if we went with the in-game proportions, it would have felt too exaggerated. This final size for the cinematic is something in between.”

Some venthyr have been chosen by Sire Denathrius, his most trusted creations form the Court of Harvesters. This group is full of noble aristocrats, including Prince Renethal, the Accuser and the Stonewright. To help them with their tasks, the sire has granted members of the court with medallions that contain a portion of his powerful essence. This gift allows the sire to see them wherever they are… which sounds like a devilish means to make sure that his most trusted stay that way.

Even the world itself is vampiric, or at least it was during early ideation of the zone. Gustav Schmidt, senior environment artist, discusses how some of that idea lives on in Revmoat. “Early on in the ideation phase of Revendreth we wanted to capture a vampiric theme in the environment itself. We wondered what the zone could be if the land had actual veins running through the ground, leeching from those that inhabited it above. While we deviated from that initial idea, this moat subzone was an opportunity to showcase that the energies beneath the surface of the ground are not what you would find in a traditional Azeroth zone. Here we have the roots beneath the terrain completely exposed, vulnerable and compromised as their energy slowly leaks out and fills the air with a faint blue mist, combining with the pollutants that pour down from the castle above.”

Crafters and stonemasons

The rituals and practices of Revendreth involve stonework, from elaborate gothic cathedral structures to crafting the mighty stoneborn and the sinstones. Even the dredgers are formed out of muck, similar to how a potter would shape clay. This fascination with carving stone, chipping away at rough shapes and hard edges to make even the toughest rock malleable and beautiful echoes the work that they do on souls, slowly chipping away at pride and arrogance, breaking various trappings of mortality off of sometimes resistant souls. It also shows how the venthyr have followed in their sire’s footsteps, inheriting his intelligence and methodical nature as they craft things to help perform their duties.

The Stonewright, for example, has crafted legions of stoneborn. These defenders are chiselled from the quarries of Revendreth by hand. The stoneborn are ever-vigilant and built to be unswervingly loyal soldiers. Matthew McKeown, a character artist, details how in early creation, they were still deciding if the gargoyles wore armour or had separate arms and wings. “This piece was part of some early exploration of the gargoyles of Revendreth. These concepts were experimenting with all sorts of different ideas including different wing types, body shapes, faces, hair, and more. These were also exploring how they might equip their armour, or if they would even wear armour at all, with other ideas like just having a stone form for protection. This image shows a small glimpse into that process. On the left is an example of a gargoyle with armour equipped, with both a set of arms and wings. On the right is an idea for their faces, also having longer, wilder hair flowing down the back, with only a set of wings that would also be used as arms.”

You can see how both concepts made their way into the stoneborne when looking at the wardens versus the scouts, with the big bulky protectors (males) having wings and separate arms, while the smaller females have wing-like attachments on their arms.

Some creatures don’t even appear to be made of stone, but as the venthyr perfected their craft, the Death Wargs were made. Jay Nam, character artist, discusses how the Death Wargs came to be, a fusion of stone and anima.

“The first step in my process of creating creatures like these is to work with a description from our narrative team. I was informed that gargons are loyal beasts, crafted first from stone and animated by the venthyr using the anima they exsanguinate from souls sent to them. They are used as guards, hunting companions, pets, and fellow tormenters of souls. In the rare battles Revendreth has fought, these creatures would be used on the front line against ground forces.

“It can be challenging to create a new type of creature like this since there are so many possible directions to go, but I knew I needed to make a friendly pet for venthyr. Inspired by some of my favorite old animations, I decided that I wanted this creature to have a bat face and bear body. I also wanted to make sure the design looked epic, because this is the first time a creature like this will be seen in World of Warcraft.”

Worked stone can be seen throughout the zone, making up the bridges, buildings, mausoleums and gravestones of Revendreth. Gabe Gonzalez, an environment artist, discusses the inspirations for this fantastical place. “At the early stage of the zone, we pictured a vast castle covered in graves and mausoleums that would make up a large portion of the city’s feel. Architecture made to commemorate the dead has always been designed to outlast time, and we wanted to capture that ancient feel. Inspired by places like Père Lachaise in France, I wanted to play with the idea of what a garden of graves and stone could look like. In this image, I wanted to focus on the overgrown feel and the precariousness of many small urns and gravestones stacking against each other, but still integrated with the organic elements you would traditionally find in a garden. I also wanted to bring a bit more focus into how the player would move through the space, and what a manicured version of what a Revendreth garden path could feel like.”

Walking around the zone, the imagery of wings is repeated all over. From winged creatures, to trees that resemble a crow’s wings, there is a sense of flight everywhere. Even the improbable architecture of Castle Nathria follows this motif, with two towers curving upward and back towards the centre on massive flying buttresses, mimicking the shape of a large pair of wings, the ultimate expression in stone. This carries through to weapons as well. Just look at the wings on this sword, and the gargoyle becoming a shield.

The effects of the anima drought are evident in the zone, where much of the stonework lies tarnished and damaged. The trees appear withered and sickly, unable to draw enough energy from the ground and even the rats of the zone are scrawny, tired creatures, desperate for a meal.

Sinstones, prisons and torture

As soon as new souls arrive, they have to transcribe their transgressions on a sinstone. This is just the beginning of a long and painful process of knocking prideful souls down a peg or two. The souls are helped by dredgers, the lowliest of the loyal workers in this realm, one of many cleverly designed insults to mock a prideful soul. You aren’t even worthy of the time of the venthyr yet, with the lowliest creatures there to instruct you in what happens next. It is all cleverly calculated manipulation, using subtlety to start process of breaking down the errant.

These rituals have a secondary benefit, besides preparing them for being judged once again. The more prideful the soul, the more anima it has stored within. The most prideful and arrogant, those who arrived here instead of the Maw by a hair’s breadth are a powerful source of energy for the Shadowlands.

In times of plenty, the anima was shared for the betterment of all loyal subjects of Denathrius. Now in the anima droughts, there is a rebellion underway and a stark divide between those with anima, and those with absolutely nothing.

To extract this cosmic essence, the venthyr exsanguinate the souls with ritual devices deep in Castle Nathria. Mat Myrvold, a prop artist, discusses how the devices were designed to marry venthyr aesthetic with purpose and function. “The venthyr are renowned throughout the Shadowlands for their skill in exsanguination of only the most pure, concentrated anima from souls. Their process is not a clean one, however, which leads to abundance of unresolved energies and pollutants that must be run off. This sketch shows some early development of grates that would be used to indicate waste being dumped out from the inside of Castle Nathria’s walls into the Endmire. The visual identity of the venthyr involves gargoyles and spikes, so we knew early on that this would be a great opportunity to reflect that—and having a giant gargoyle head on the wall is simply badass.”

Stripping souls, especially wilful and prideful ones, takes some creative work from the venthyr and their sire. The most powerful among them are placed in the castle proper, on display for the aristocrats and nobles. Here they are broken in many different ways, using finesse and attacking the mind rather than employing brute force. This is evident in Kael’thas prison room, where the Sunstrider is made to kneel in front of an image of his captor. Matt OConnor, a senior concept artist, goes into detail.

“Within Castle Nathria we have a ‘trophy room’ of malignant souls entrusted to the venthyr. The creative challenge we faced was to show how these masters of subtlety and manipulation would restrain their wards. 
With violence and torment being the tools of the Jailer, perhaps the venthyr might adapt their mirror magics to trap these souls in a pocket realm—with nothing but their own image for company and haunted by the echoes of their past lives.

“In the centre of the chamber we have the once-mighty Kael’thas Sunstrider, their most prized ward, made to submit before an effigy of Denathrius.”

The tools of heroes

Surviving in this land is not easy. It is a place full of hunters who strike from the shadows, eager for a meal. Heroes will have to equip themselves well to handle the threats here, which is what Tom Yip, senior character artist, kept in mind while creating armour sets for our characters. “The shadowy corners throughout Revendreth harbour monstrous foes and powerful beasts. These relentless aggressors make quick victims of all who are ill-equipped to combat the perpetual hunt. It is understood that sharp claws and hungry teeth are just the beginning of what awaits in the dark. Those who choose to directly confront this hostility are a rare breed of brave souls who fear only that the hunt ends too soon. To aid in this effort, I was tasked to come up with concepts for a set of armours with a mercenary’s edge for battle that is uniquely Revendreth. Hunting horrors in the night is dangerous work. I wanted to supply each design with gear and items that promote functionality and purpose. So sharpen your stakes and steady your senses—the game is afoot!”

Similarly, weapons are a collection of spikes, red magical energy and that small connection to reality that makes them seem practical. Jon McConnell, senior character artist, describes how he made a new two-handed sword that marries the setting’s influences while hinting at a story. “This is the concept for a two-handed sword for the Revendreth raid in Castle Nathria. My goal was to make a fairly simple design with some interesting elements that made it raid worthy. With Revendreth having such a strong medieval influence, I decided to use a classic claymore or zweihänder sword as a base for inspiration. Once I had the sword shape settled, it still didn’t yet feel quite like a raid weapon, even with the red magic. The small addition of a venthyr amulet wrapped around the crossguard brought a unique element that left room for a story to tell.”

A touch of horror

It is impossible, and would be a complete disservice, to look at a zone that appeals to a horror theme without giving due consideration to the audio. Sounds can access our core instincts without us even noticing their influence, meaning that sometimes audio work can go consciously unnoticed, while having a strong impact on us subconsciously.

In the anima drought, the lofty goals of Sire Denathrius to spread anima evenly have disappeared. Now there is a stark divide between those who gorge themselves in luxury, while others suffer the brunt of the drought, enduring a terrible famine. This cruel duality is present in the sound and music and will remind you where you are in the zone. The Blizzard music team say this about creating the music of Revendreth, which has touches of class and high fashion parties, with undertones of dark pipe organs playing.

“The earliest concepts of Revendreth—ominous and gothic with ancient catacombs and castles everywhere you look—set a clear tone, though with a challenge to score without relying on the more obvious musical tropes that easily come to mind. For a place designed to be dark and inspire fear, we chose a simpler orchestration, focused on strings, to help us communicate the shadowy drama with a singular strong melodic theme to establish and expand on. Low, heavy tones suggest sinister mystery, while short violin notes tease and bite to amplify the tension. Where one take might be aggressive and wild, another arrangement might be slow and sombre to reflect the decay of these people and this place. In a way, the music reflects how Revendreth itself continues to build on top of its ruins—echoes and a reminder of the dark purpose of this zone.

“In the more kept areas of Revendreth, we wanted a different feel. A pivotal moment came when one of our encounter designers, Stephanie Newland, reached out with a musical challenge: what type of music would venthyr dance to? We were already feeling that classical stylings would evoke a more cultured atmosphere for those occupying the inner sanctums and castle. There was early talk of baroque-inspired music, like Bach. Thinking of it in terms of dance was a lightning rod that helped us formulate and capture both a sense of danger and the pride found in the venthyr close to Sire Denathrius. When our own Jake Lefkowitz started in on this, we looked to Strauss, a romantic composer, for inspiration and created a 3/4-time piece that builds into a waltz that literally sweeps you off your feet. Based on an early mockup, animator John Butkus created an amazing animation that works in time with the music. These collaborative efforts are always rewarding, and often produce some of our best work.”

In keeping with the nature of the venthyr, with their magic that extracts pride, a new sound was required for their magical efforts. Aaron Craft, sound designer, explains how the sound of pride was created and the odd instruments used. “What is the sound of pride? The anima of Revendreth is essentially ‘pride extract’—pride in its purest and most poisonous form. Extracting this essence during the redemption process comes with the risk of succumbing to its corrupting influence. Pride has an alluring and seductive quality. It doesn’t feel bad to have it; it’s not outright bad in small and controlled doses; but it can quickly lead one down an intoxicating and destructive path, unravelling in arrogant wrath and ugly rage.

“To illustrate this, the sound of pride-wrought magic needed to change to reflect the context and intent of its wielder. If you run across a venthyr engaged in ritualistic activities, you will hear pride in its controlled form: seductive and alluring, constantly tempting the wielder. However, if you show hostility, the demeanor of the venthyr will change, unleashing the feral monstrosity inside them as their rage and arrogance flows through the anima they wield.

“My fellow sound designer Andrew Holscher and I teamed up to show this duality—I focused on the controlled sound of the anima, and Andrew concentrated on the rage. 

“For the controlled end of the spectrum, we identified three concepts to explore: seduction, beauty, and a prideful society. Searching through traditional vampire fantasy themes, we found inspiration in the succubus, the entrancing song of a siren, and the string quartet. The succubus gave us breathy female vocalizations. The siren gave us legato-style operatic female singing tones. And the string quartet gave us a homemade cello—appropriately dubbed the ‘Venthello’ . . . also known as a Cellomination . . . take your pick.

“For the rage end of the spectrum, we focused on the concept of a monster below the surface being unleashed. To ensure our depiction of this monstrosity would highly contrast the qualities of the controlled version of this magic, we needed to create sounds that had a certain amount of desperation, ferality, and pure, flowing (but hollow) power. Mangling recordings of spitting mad cats and defensive cobra hisses gave us a distinct flavour of desperation, while layering pitched tigers, boars, and lions nailed the feral voracity of a bestial nature. 

“To provide the power quality, and to tie the two halves of this magic together, we went back to the Venthello—this time applying some gnarly tube distortion to ‘ugly it up’ and turn the sound artificial.”

If it has the letters RPG in it, I am there. Still battling with balancing trying to play every single game that grabs my interest, getting 100% in a JRPG, and devoting time to my second home in Azeroth.

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