Revendreth is one of the four zones in World of Warcraft: Shadowlands and home to the Venthyr Covenant. The Venthyr are uniquely spooky, pulling off a gothic aesthetic in a realm full of vampires, castles, and blood rituals. It’s not all atonement and misery; Revendreth is also full of courtly politics and drama that are unique to the Shadowlands.
Polygon spoke with Blizzard Entertainment about the zone’s development, from the initial concept to the Dreadlord connection to the first raid of Shadowlands, Castle Nathria… and we discovered some surprising details about the Venthyr Covenant and their goals.
Welcome to Revendreth
“When we were talking about the different possibilities of the Shadowlands, we talked about what classic themes are related to afterlives and undead.” says Steve Danuser, lead narrative designer on World of Warcraft. A natural conclusion to that conversation was vampirism and blood magic, pulling inspiration from classic tales like Dracula. This also explains parts of Azeroth we’ve seen before, from the blood trolls of Nazmir to Blood Queen Lana’thel and her servants in Icecrown Citadel. We’ve seen the powers of the Venthyr before; now we get to meet them up close.
That initial premise of the zone was mixed with Greek mythology, Gothic architecture, and Blizzard concept art of tombstones designed for Shadowlands. These deliberate design decisions carry over to characters like Sire Denathrius, the Covenant’s leader, who just happens to have quite a lot in common with the series’ nefarious Dreadlords. Danuser is careful to avoid spoilers, but confirms that resemblance is intentional.
- 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. Gustav Schmidt – Senior Environment Artist Image: Blizzard Entertainment
- 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. Gabe Gonzalez – Environment Artist Image: Blizzard Entertainment
- 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 center of the chamber we have the once mighty Kael’thas Sunstrider, their most prized ward, made to submit before an effigy of Denathrius. Matt OConnor – Senior Concept Artist Image: Blizzard Entertainment
- 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 became 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. Jungah Lee – Senior Concept Artist, Story & Franchise Development Image: Blizzard Entertainment
- Image: Blizzard Entertainment
- Gargoyles 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 armor, or if they would even wear armor 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 armor 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. Matthew McKeown – Character Artist Image: Blizzard Entertainment
- 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. Jay Nam – Character Artist Image: Blizzard Entertainment
- When we started working on the bestiary for Revendreth, we started with the venthyr, the gargoyles, and the dredgers. As we continued to develop Revendreth, we quickly realized we were going to need a lot more creatures to populate the zone. The dredger brute was an effort to provide a wider variety of dredgers and bring more variety to the zone. The idea of having a hulking one that could be used as beast of burden for hauling sinstones came up in a meeting, so I did a quick sketch and put it side by side with the original dredger. Jon McConnell – Senior Character Artist Image: Blizzard Entertainment
- 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. Mat Myrvold – Prop Artist Image: Blizzard Entertainment
- The shadowy corners throughout Revendreth harbor 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 armors 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! Tom Yip – Senior Character Artist Image: Blizzard Entertainment
- 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 cross guard brought a unique element that left room for a story to tell. Jon McConnell – Senior Character Artist Image: Blizzard Entertainment
- When I started this concept, there was already so much great artwork done by other teams, such as castle walls, gargoyle statues, and lots of other props, which were very inspiring. I was trying to keep the same vibe but make it even cooler so players would enjoy seeing—and hopefully feel happy when they obtained it. Sukjoo Choi – Character Artist Image: Blizzard Entertainment
While the Maw is a super hell —the ultimate dark place where evil souls show up —Revendreth is a much lighter kind of damnation. This is a place where bad people can atone and make up for their sins. These sins are inscribed in a very literal stone that damned souls have to carry around as a reminder of their atrocities. That includes iconic characters like Kael’thas Sunstrider, who died in The Burning Crusade.
Kael’thas is a character fans have wanted back for a long time; many found his sudden heel turn and allegiance to the Burning Legion to be out of nowhere. Blizzard has an opportunity to revisit that story and flesh it out. We’ll find out more about Kael’thas and why he turned from an anti-hero into a villain that players had to kill not once, but twice. It also looks like we have a chance to redeem him and cast off his sin stone, suggesting that he’ll have a role to play in the story of Shadowlands as the expansion progresses.
Cleaning up the Court
World of Warcraft players aren’t dead souls getting judged — we’re heroes of Azeroth checking out the afterlife to solve its problems. The entire Shadowlands is starved of its life-fuel: Anima. While zones like Ardenweald and Bastion are wilting, the party is still going on in Revendreth. “It’s really a case of the haves versus the have nots,” says Danuser. The higher class nobles are doing just fine, but Venthyr who are on the outs are left to starve.
This leads to a series of conflicts, and while the inspirations for Revendreth are highbrow, in practice the Venthyr live for drama. Some characters believe in the mission of redeeming lost souls and helping them atone. Others are interested in accumulating power. Some Venthyr, like the Countess, are flexible, and try to play the Court to get as much power as possible. A player who joins the Venthyr Covenant will be smack-dab in the middle of these struggles.
This includes the Ember Court, the special Covenant activity at Shadowlands’ endgame. This is a Venthyr-only activity, where players have to manage a huge party and make sure it’s not a flop. Players will navigate the court and make their own choices. There’s some agency as to what the player thinks the perfect ball will look like: You’re bouncing out undesirables, but you’re also making small talk and party planning.
While the other afterlives of Shadowlands have strong themes of nobility, martial might, or nature, the Venthyr are more complex. That being said, there’s still a goodness there — the Venthyr do ultimately want to help souls move on, whether that’s to one of the other zones in Shadowlands, or to become a Venthyr themselves and join the Court. As they progress through the Covenant storyline, they’ll get to resolve the class war brewing between the various levels of nobility in Revendreth. Once players choose the Venthyr, they’ll get introduced to a whole new layer of intrigue and politics.