World of Warcraft: Dragonflight Review in Progress

World of Warcraft: Dragonflight Review in Progress

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Most recent World of Warcraft expansions started with a tightly scripted, story-heavy, and somewhat bothersome on-rails scenario. Dragonflight seems to have remembered that this is an MMORPG and I should be deciding what kind of adventures I want to go on. Right off the boat onto the expansive, beautiful Dragon Isles, you’ll be met with only minimal handholding and four huge, new zones to explore. It’s like Blizzard finally learned to trust us to find the fun without supervision, and they’re letting us have the run of the world again. I still have a lot of this expansion left to play, but it’s already so refreshing.

As of now, I’ve leveled from 60 to 67 and quested through two of Dragonflight’s four major zones. They really fly by – pun intended – which is a bit of a disappointment. I’m much more of a, “The journey is more important than the destination,” kind of player than one who thinks the “real” game only begins at max level. The new talent points I’ve earned along the way have definitely helped my characters come into their own, though. I feel like I understand so much better where the combat designers were going with specs like Marksmanship Hunter and Preservation Evoker now that I have a more complete toolkit to work with.

World of Warcraft: Dragonflight Reveal Art and Screenshots

These zones are downright gorgeous, too. The contrast between volcanic wastelands and verdant river valleys in The Waking Shores is a breathtaking introduction to the expansion. And it features some of the best side quest writing I’ve seen in WoW in a long time. One of my favorite quests involved sitting and listening to a red dragon, shapeshifted into a humble dwarf, talk about all his regrets and the pain of being banished from his homeland for 10,000 years.

Another one I loved involves traveling slowly, on foot, with a centaur clan to their sacred meeting grounds, complete with a pit stop for a hunting competition. These kinds of heartfelt, memorable moments really are World of Warcraft at its absolute best. They seem to be here to lovingly bonk you over the head and remind you to take your time, simply exist in this beautiful world for a moment.

A Wing and a Prayer

If that’s a bit too slow-paced for you, though, then I think you’ll love the new dragon riding system. Zooming over the landscape at up to three times the speed of WoW’s traditional “flying” mounts, I feel like I can’t ever go back to that old system. Vigor, which limits your dragon’s stamina, can feel a bit restrictive at first. I’ve developed a habit of tabbing out of the game to check on my friends in discord every time I’m forced to land and wait for it to recharge, because there’s often nothing useful or interesting to do during this downtime.

But it feels incredible when you’re soaring, banking, and diving around with a palpable sense of momentum and physicality that WoW normally lacks. The restrictiveness of your first drake’s abilities is a strong incentive to chase hidden glyphs that will allow you to go higher, further, faster, which has been one of my favorite activities – alongside dragon riding courses that reward you for better and better times.

I’m not a huge fan of how it controls on a mouse and keyboard, though. It seems to be begging for controller support, which has long been rumored but never actually manifested. Also, there are still some technical issues. If you fly into a steep slope at high enough speed, you might just glitch out and get booted to the login screen. A couple of my guildmates were even unable to log in again for some time afterwards.

A Dance of Dragons

The main story, so far, hasn’t exactly wowed me as much as the side quests. If you didn’t follow all of the out-of-game lore leading up to Dragonflight, you might be a bit confused about why you’re even here in the first place. There is some tension between the major good guys, but it rings kind of hollow. The new bad guys, the primal dragons and their humanoid minions, the Primalists, haven’t yet made an impression as especially complex or interesting villains. There does at least seem to be some sort of succession crisis brewing within the Black Dragonflight that has the promise of delivering interesting stories down the line. But the first dungeon, Ruby Life Pools, is very straightforward and unmemorable outside of the rather bombastic final fight.

All of that has kind of fallen to the wayside so far though, because I’m just having so much fun exploring the isles and getting excited about smaller adventures that don’t involve the fate of the world again. This gives me the feeling of playing 2004 vanilla WoW more than even WoW Classic did. I might get called “Champion” by the power players like the Dragon Queen Alexstrasza or the cocky Prince Wrathion, but most of the time I’m just vibing like I did in my freelance adventurer days when some guy in the woods would ask me to go collect twelve bear asses for his bear ass stew. It feels good.

And the expanded crafting system has really gotten its hooks into me, too. This is easily the best World of Warcraft has ever been for fans of making and enchanting your own cool stuff, with varying qualities of materials and different results for finished products based on your skill level and progression choices. When I make myself a pair of Tier 5 leather pants, I know every stat on those bad boys is as high as it is because my Leatherworking skill is so much higher than the recipe calls for, because I specialized into leather pants specifically, and because I chose to use only the finest bear asses in their manufacture. Those pants will be sought after because of my mastery, dedication, and reputation as a crafter. There are many pairs of leather pants. But you want these ones, because I made them.

There’s still more than half of the expansion to see, so I’ll be updating this review as my journey continues. I’d be remiss to put a score on Dragonflight before I’ve seen the new raid, currently scheduled to go live on December 12. But at this moment? While I may miss the spirit of innovation that ran through certain parts of Shadowlands – I long for something like Torghast done better, where it doesn’t feel like a chore but still allows primarily solo players like me a place to really test our skills and class mastery – the back-to-basics approach of this expansion seems to be paying off so far. The positive reaction to WoW Classic clearly inspired some soul-searching at Blizzard based on interviews they’ve given recently, and while this may end up feeling like a “rebuilding year” for modern WoW, the foundations being laid are strong ones.

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