Most recent World of Warcraft expansions started with a heavily scripted, story-heavy, and somewhat annoying scenario. Dragonflight seems to have remembered that this is an MMORPG and that I should decide what kind of adventures I want to live. As soon as you land on the beautiful and sprawling Dragon Isles, you’ll find yourself with minimal help and four huge, exciting areas to explore. But at the same time, Dragonflight feels like a creative step back from the experimental (though not always successful) spirit of Shadowlands.
You can not deny that the new areas are downright beautiful. The contrast between the volcanic wastelands and verdant river valleys of The Shores of Awakening are an impressive introduction to the expansion. And these locations feature some of the best side quests I’ve seen in WoW in a long time. One of my favorite missions was to sit and listen to a red dragon, transformed into a lowly dwarf, talk about all his regrets and the pain of being banished from his homeland for 10,000 years.
Another one that I loved is traveling slowly, on foot, with a clan of centaurs to their sacred meeting place, with a stop for a hunting competition. This type of memorable and heartfelt moments are the best of World of Warcraft. They seem to be here to pat you lovingly on the head and remind you to take your time, just exist in this beautiful world for a moment.
Unfortunately, these craft experiences sell out After a week or two and you’re forced to repeat the same daily quests over and over again waiting for the next patch to arrive, so it’s hard to give them too much credit. In general, WoW has done a good job on most expansions making the journey to max level memorable and exciting. And if that were all it took, Dragonflight would be a hit. But as a living MMO, WoW constantly struggles to maintain that level of engagement for me in the weeks and months to come, and Dragonflight is no exception.
to the skies
Where Dragonflight really tries to spread its wings, figuratively and literally, is in the design of the new Drachthyr Evoker class. And I have to admit that they are amazing. With dragon-themed signature attacks like Deep Breath, you can scream out of the skies and bathe your enemies in fire before they even know what hit them. It’s just awesome. However, both the high-damage Havoc spec and the healing-focused Preservation spec suffer from too many single-use combat abilities and can be very chaotic and disorienting to play. Especially compared to WoW’s latest hero class, the charmingly simple Demon Hunter, the Evokers are a bit overdesigned.
Flying with a palpable sense of momentum and physicality is incredible.
While the Drachthyr can glide, the new dragon riding system allows all your characters to fly. Flying across the landscape at up to three times the speed of WoW’s traditional “flying” mounts, I feel like I won’t be able to go back to that old system anymore. It’s amazing when you soar, swing, and dive with a palpable sense of momentum and physicality that WoW typically lacks. The dragon-backed challenge courses with cosmetic rewards for best times have easily been some of my favorite parts of this expansion. Although I found it too easy to get gold in all of them, which left me with little reason to return. However, I’m not a big fan of how these dragons are controlled with the mouse and keyboard. They seem to be crying out for a compatible controller, something that has been rumored for a long time but has never materialized.
Until now, The main story didn’t captivate me as much as the side quests.. If you haven’t followed the entire out-of-game story leading up to Dragonflight, you may not quite know why you’re here. There is some tension between the main good characters, but it seems a bit empty. The new villains, the primal dragons and their humanoid minions, the Primalists, have yet to make an impression as particularly complex or interesting villains. At least it looks like some sort of succession crisis is brewing that promises to deliver interesting stories to come.
The eight new dungeons are relatively straightforward and unremarkable., most notably the Nokhud Offensive, in which you will use your abilities as a dragon to fly through the air and intervene in a battle that occupies a huge portion of the Ohn’ahran Plains area. They seem to have been designed to get around the problem of pickup groups insisting on wacky routes that skip most trash fights by exploiting level geometry, which was a big problem in Shadowlands. But overall, these dungeons are… mediocre. On the bright side, the new Mythic+ season brings back four legacy dungeons from Mists of Pandaria. Keeping it fresh by allowing us to revisit some of the best content from WoW’s 18-year history is a no-brainer, and I hope they keep it that way.
The new dungeons and the raid are hardly memorable.
The first raid, the Vault of Incarnations, hasn’t taken my breath away either. There are some interesting and satisfyingly difficult mechanics to learn: one encounter involves a council of elemental wizards being killed almost simultaneously in a nod to classic Molten Core hound fighting, while another involves a giant rock elemental. who must be tricked into destroying his own damaging towers with a smash attack. The complexity of the combats is adequate for normal mode, and the visual design of the bosses is quite good, but the vault itself did not seem very interesting in terms of art or theme, especially when compared to the first raid of Shadowlands. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about any of the arenas, and I don’t even know who most of those idiots are! As of this writing, I have yet to see the final match against Razageth.
Harder, faster, stronger
The new crafting system is probably the best in WoW history, with different qualities of materials and different results for the finished products depending on your skill level and your choices of progression. When I make myself a pair of level 5 leather pants, I know that all the stats are so high because my leatherworking skill is much higher than the recipe calls for, because I specialized in leather pants specifically, and because I chose use only the best bear asses in their making. Though I suspect that since you can max out everything over time, this specialization will drop the longer the expansion lasts.
The problem is that it’s still very heavy. Dragonflight has tried to be more respectful of our time by giving us fewer daily tasks, and even the standard “daily” missions reset once or twice a week instead of every 24 hours. But in the case of crafters, you’re still expected to farm the same world monsters for dozens of hours just to craft one piece of epic gear, plus the fact that the new Spark of Wits item only allows you to craft one a week. . This would be the perfect place to introduce something like the Maw of Shadowlands zone or random solo dungeons with the spirit of Torghast. Or turn them into a reward for doing repeatable dragon riding challenges. Anything skill based, instead of farming the same unchallenged monsters forever like you’re in Purgatory. Come on, Blizzard, I beg you. We are no longer in 2004.
There has to be a middle ground. Solo players like myself should be able to have these kinds of features without making players who don’t like them feel like they have to do them all the time. Blizzard could let us use our progress on what I’ll call “higher-level solo content” as a substitute, not an addition, to other ways to increase our weekly vault earnings, for example. You can do this Hades-style random dungeon with collectible temporary power-ups or do Mythic+, but no one has to do both. That way we would all win.
Or, better yet, they could make it an efficient way to get things like elemental materials from the Awakened, rather than the clearly worse gameplay of turning on a podcast, going offline and hunting for world monsters, or flying around looking for dirt piles for hours and hours. Things like Torghast, in particular, made me feel like I had been heard as a type of player that isn’t normally a priority in the difficult balance that Blizzard must strike to satisfy so many players. Needed more iteration? Of course yes. But Dragonflight absolutely suffers for not offering anything equivalent. Cutting things like Shrines, the quest table, and having to keep track of 200 different currencies was wise. But here they have cut too much.
Dragonflight rekindles the sense of wonder and exploration that drew me to World of Warcraft for the first 30 or 40 hours. Other than that, it’s starting to feel a bit boring to me. Riding dragons is a lot of fun and I love the design of the new areas. But the basic approach of this expansion is a double-edged sword.. I probably won’t burn out as fast because there aren’t a million things to do every day to feel like I’m keeping up like in Shadowlands. But at the same time, I don’t feel like there’s really anything interesting to do once I’ve beaten all the side quests, which are very well written. The excellent new crafting system is hampered by an overwhelming amount of pointless grinding for resources, on top of the weekly limits, which seems like a double jeopardy situation. I like Dragonflight, but fell out of love with it shortly after reaching max level. I really hope that Blizzard sees this year as a rebuilding year for WoW and doesn’t hesitate to repeat some of the inventive ideas from Shadowlands that were a step or two away from being great.