Disclaimer: Wicked Good Gaming was provided with a copy of World of Warcraft: Dragonflight, as well as access to the game’s Beta and Alpha, to help provide early insights into the game. This review is based off of the culmination of my experience with the expansion so far, as I’ve spent roughly a dozen hours with the game’s campaign and endgame.
It’s no secret that I’ve been pretty down on World of Warcraft as of late.
I had my doubts about Shadowlands from the start, but ended up really enjoying the game’s launch, initial campaign, and first raid tier. What followed… Well… Didn’t excite or inspire me like the game has done since 2004, but the game’s forthcoming expansion – Dragonflight – has begun to help me believe that the franchise is still capable of recapturing it’s old magic.
Earlier this year, Blizzard acquired Boston-based Proletariat (creators of the criminally underrated battle royale Spellbreak) exclusively to work on World of Warcraft. It’s unclear exactly what they’ve been tasked with working on, or whether or not they were just shoring up existing teams or tasked with specializing in certain areas of the game, but whatever they – and the rest of the World of Warcraft team – have been doing to rekindle WoW’s ol’ magic… It’s working.
New Shores, Old Feels
Over my several hours into Dragonflight already, I can safely tell you that the game feels phenomenal. The sweeping canyons, sprawling valleys, and soaring vistas of the Dragon Isles are truly a sight to behold. Not since Mists of Pandaria have I felt this same sense of wonder, excitement, and the gnawing need to explore every single square inch of a zone in World of Warcraft… And all of those sensations are fed into wonderfully by the expansion’s new Dragonriding mechanic.
Dragonriding is Blizzard inviting you to take a look at any point in the map in their new expansion’s zones and say “go get it”. You can chase nearly any horizon you’d like to in the Dragon Isles, and I don’t think a “signature mechanic” or “gimmick” in an MMO expansion has landed quite so perfectly as Dragonriding does and has. The physics feel unlike anything else you’ve ever felt in WoW, the sense of speed is absolutely top notch, and the customization and control you have over your new dragon pal makes me wonder how they’ll ever top something like this in future expansions.
Right off the boat (literally), you are thrust into the heart of the action in this expedition into the Dragon Isles. You immediately have opportunities all around you to gain new customization options for your dragon the second you get it (you’ll get your mount roughly 30-40 minutes into the expansion), and you’re encouraged by the game’s brilliant zone design to hop back on every chance you get. World of Warcraft’s masterful cinematic trailers have always been nothing short of captivating, but it’s not unfair to say that they haven’t always translated into in-game excitement and drama. The most recent “Take to the Skies” cinematic, however, pretty much sums up exactly how cool it feels to soar around on dragonback in-game.
Enter the Drac’Thyr
Want some more dragons? We got ’em. Dragonflight also introduces the Drac’thyr Evoker, an all-new playable race and Hero Class available to both Horde and Alliance players.
Just like Death Knights, Monks, and Demon Hunters before them – Drac’thyr Evokers will feel right at home in Dragonflight’s plot and are a blast to play (literally). As a Drac’thyr, players are charged with escaping their forced hibernation into a world they no longer recognize. I won’t spoil the larger plot at hand for you, but slowly unraveling the mysteries of the Drac’thyr and the Dragon Isles are equally exciting experiences for those playing the all-new class and those returning on their old mains.
Drac’thyr come in two flavors – Devastation (DPS) and Preservation (Healer). The two specs weave distinct combinations of magic from across WoW’s titular Dragonflights, with the Red and Blue delegates granting the destructive powers of Devastation Evokers, and the Bronze and Green gangs combining to heal and preserve their parties for the Preservation crew.
Drac’thyr have easily the most customization options available for any race in the game, and I can tell you with all certainty that I have spent an absurd amount of time customizing and re-customizing my dragon man to my heart’s content. Thank god Blizzard decided to make the Barber free in-game now, so even if you get some scaly buyers remorse, you can head right to any major city’s barber to almost completely re-create your character from the ground up. It’s a brilliant quality of life improvement that will surely keep player’s imaginations running wild.
That Old Black (Dragon) Magic
From Dragonriding, to the Isles themselves, to the new factions and friends that dot the landscape of the new expansion – there is more to do in World of Warcraft than ever before. Too many open world (and live service) games that release these days feel empty, lonely, and boring… WoW doesn’t have that problem with Dragonflight, and is absolutely flexing it’s years and years of experience in crafting open world experiences. The Dragon Isles feel a “best of” in what makes World of Warcraft special, and is a not-so-gentle reminder to every other competitor in the genre that – yes – we are still the game to beat, and – yes – you’ve still got a long way to go until you get on our level.
With all of these new, exciting moments – however – are sometimes undercut by the fact that most quest dialogue still isn’t voiced over. One particular standout moment is in the first hour or so of the campaign – where a dragon recants a tale about the dragon civil war that ripped his home apart, and how his return to the Dragon Isles is more somber than joyful. It’s a heart-wrenching stretch of dialogue, and it feels criminal that Blizzard has chosen to not enlist a voice actor to bring that beautifully sad story beat to life. It’s times like these where WoW falls flat, as the typical quest structure and pacing reaches immersive heights with in-game cinematics and canned animations… But then flatlines when you can just as easily skip through the telltale walls of quest text that we’ve been slogging through for almost two decades.
I know not every MMO or live service game has fully voiced quest dialogue – but plenty these days do, and it feels weird that WoW still hasn’t made that leap when it’s making so many other improvements and innovations.
Soaring To New Heights
World of Warcraft: Dragonflight is already a hallmark entry into one of the most storied RPG franchises in history. While some stale components of it’s 18-year-old formula still remain, it is without a doubt a soaring achievement in the MMO genre. Only time will tell if the expansion can keep up the pace that it’s launched us into, but the future absolutely looks bright – and I cannot wait to see how the rest of this expansion unfolds.
The Good: Dragonriding, Drac’thyr, and the Dragon Isles bring everything that WoW needed and more.
The Bad: WoW still can’t shake it’s formulaic and predictable quest structure at times, and the new mechanics and exciting moments are sometimes undercut by the fact that most quests still don’t have voiced dialogue.
The Verdict: Dragonflight is addicting, awe-inspiring, and straight up arresting to the senses. The sights, sounds, and surging pace of this expansion both breathe new life into the stale state that Shadowlands left World of Warcraft in, and redefine how an MMO can and should feel in 2022.
Final Score (In Progress): 4.5/5.
Whether you’re a newcomer or veteran, there has never been a better time to experience Azeroth.
World of Warcraft: Dragonflight is available now on PC and Mac.
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