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It has been 18 years since the king of the MMOs released, and now that we have reached the dawn of a new expansion, it is time to move on from the problematic past and experience a new age; one of dragons. While previous World of Warcraft expansions featured a litany of stacking systems that became overwhelming and almost impossible to manage, I can say that with my time in the Dragon Isles that Dragonflight is not just a return to basics, but a new era that is incredibly fun. Does it hold up to the glory days of the MMO though? Let’s find out.
Boots on the Ground, Wings in the Air
Each previous expansion had a major “hook,” and while this one is no different on a surface level, it just so happens to be the only one that players hope sticks around: Dragon Riding. This momentum-based traversal tool allows you to mount a dragon and fly around the Isles, and it feels absolutely great! You have a couple of maneuvers at your disposal including boosting and take-offs from the ground which expand the further you get into the main story campaign. Every time you perform a specialty action, it costs one Vigor point. Don’t fret, they do slowly recharge after either flying super fast or staying grounded. You can also obtain upgrades to your dragon riding skills that once unlocked carries over to all of your other characters. Upgrading is actually quite easy as it comes in the form of finding Dragon Glyphs spread around the Dragon Isles, and they are account-wide unlocks, meaning you only have to do it once and they are unlocked forever.
Dragon Riding itself feels incredibly natural, and the new race named the Dracthyr also have a flying ability that can be used outside of the Dragon Isles. At first it could be a bit challenging to get used to the way flying feels, but after a few attempts at taking off, you’ll be flying under bridges of Valdrakken, over the hills of the Azure Span, and dive-bombing towards your profession’s gathering nodes.
Professions also received a major update on the gathering and crafting sides. There are whole new elements that allow you to embrace the literal materialistic side of the game. There is also a talent tree-like system that makes your crafting profession unique to your character. There are also work orders that players could put in that allow you to fulfill. As of right now, the work order situation is a bit rough because there isn’t a whole lot of requests to be made, which can be problematic since there is a quest that requires you to fulfill one. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to, but it may take a while to complete this one.
Materials now have rarities, meaning that you can collect specific materials of different grades to make items that will hold a grade similar to the materials you have used. My warrior is currently focused on mining and blacksmithing, allowing me to make weapons and armor as well as gathering materials, repair kits, and a whole lot more. I can also fuse materials to make rare materials for other items when the time comes. This sort of depth adds a lot to the profession system, and turns it into it’s own mini-game. Multiple times I have abandoned various tasks just to collect some resources for my profession. Sometimes I spent hours just flying above other areas just to get the materials I need to enhance my blacksmithing and find tombs of knowledge to increase my skills.
As you progress through your respective trees, you’ll unlock talent-tree like system that allows you to fine-tune your profession to a certain degree using knowledge. You’ll use this to upgrade various aspects like finding rarer materials to enhancing the build quality of specific armor or weapon pieces. Unfortunately, the exact effects are a bit vague, causing a lot of trouble since you cannot respec these talents, but you can experiment with the brand-new class talent tree system.
Return of the Talent Trees
As part of the pre-patch rollout, players were able to gain access to their new talent trees. Here you will find a mix of new and familiar passive and active abilities that lays the foundation to your character. There are so many different types of builds and a lot of flexibility within this system. Not only can you create, save, share, and import these trees, but you can save multiple variations depending on the scenario. Do you want to throw axes all day as a warrior? Do you want to become a true beast master hunter? There are tons of options that allow you to experience the class the way you want to. Perhaps the best part of this is how each build is viable one way or another.
Since I am mainly focusing on my warrior, I can tell you the multiple builds that I have constructed each provide interesting concepts behind them. For example, I really like the sword and shield warrior variant, but I absolutely hate tanking for pick-up groups. After messing around with a few talents, I was able to build out a solid damage-dealing protection warrior. Will they be effective when we enter Dragonflight’s endgame? I don’t expect it to place top of the charts with exceptional damage, but it sure is fun. As for my favorite specialty, my fury builds have developed their own interesting results. I made a Fury build that was mostly all passive buffs to my attacks, giving me just a couple of buttons to press when the time comes. There are so many options at your disposal, and Dragonflight gives you additional points to invest by the time you hit max level.
Better Late than Never
Dragonflight also introduces a new HUD that can be fine-tuned to your experience. Want to add a bunch of toolbars? Go for it. You can also customize how many rows and columns each one has. You can also set how many slots each toolbar has. Want a convenient hot bar just for mounts? Go for it. You can move some elements out of the way completely, putting total control in your hands.
You also have the ability to take all of your bags and open them up in a single bag interface for a more streamlined user experience and optimized way to organize your bags. It doesn’t stop there either because there are so many interface and accessibility options that it really breathes new life into playing the game on a fundamental level.
There is a new search feature in almost every menu you can think of. Between the core settings to the talent tree screens, if there is something specific you are looking for, the search feature will help you find it. For example, any time I start a new character I search for “tutorial” so I can turn off all the on-screen pop-ups. If I am in the talent tree menu and I want to see anything that revolves around my whirlwind ability, it will be highlighted. We also have the chance to enable a dedicated interaction key and we can select which button we want that to be, which is a great touch.
I think upgrading these UI functions and providing additional support to the game will end up enabling the team to add even more features down the road. There are several controller-like icons within the file systems, so bringing Warcraft to console with real controller support (a la Final Fantasy 14) is not necessarily a far cry at this point.
Tails as Old as Time
World of Warcraft’s story is a long and lore-filled amalgamation of names and facts that can get easily confusing if you didn’t pay attention. While the game continues to offer the same “click-and-go” gameplay that it is best known for, I have found various elements so interesting that it made me slow down and really take the world in.
From the start where your respective transport brings you into the world, you are met with various scenarios that properly introduce you to the main antagonistic force: the primal dragons. Dragonflight wastes no time, bringing you up to speed in unique ways while also presenting gripping moments. Characters you become attached to end up not sticking around while other quests have you fixing a dragon’s stuffed toy. There is one quest that has you sit down and listen to someone speak about their own history and experience and Warcraft never had something this impactful before. There are these little wonderful moments strewn about the world, and it makes it worth visiting and experiencing these moments.
In particular, I found the last zone’s campaign missions to be absolutely amazing and some of the best storytelling ever made. For the fans who have yet to beat it, there are plenty of surprises that takes you across time and universes for some really hysterical moments. It is worth paying attention to.
You Do You
Saying Blizzard outdid themselves is an understatement. When it comes to story and in-game elements, it might seem a little thin at first glance. But then you realize that there is a literal ton of things to do in the game short of modifying your dragon to delving into the dungeon content, which have been squeezed into more vast yet streamlined content in the game. It looks like Blizzard is putting the story and core experiences first, which is only going to help Blizzard and fans in the long term.
Final Fantasy 14’s Yoshi-P stated a while ago in an interview that he wants players to leave the game every so often and not feel like they must play all the time. While I am paraphrasing here, the message isn’t lost; you are allowed to spend time away from Final Fantasy 14 to enjoy other parts of life (and other games, of course). After all, if I am bored or burned out, why would I bother sticking around? Blizzard is trying to embrace this mentality and I think Dragonflight is a solid step in that direction.
While this expansion hits all the notes it leaves behind one question: Will this positive energy continue as we get further into the expansion’s lifespan? Blizzard has gained a ton of positive press recently because of how great Dragonflight is. Steve Danuser, the lead narrative designer for Dragonflight, has done an amazing job alongside the rest of the team to deliver the most enthralling expansion to date. Chris Metzen is also making a return to Blizzard, and an upcoming patch will include various updates to the game, keeping it fresh with obtainable cosmetic items that are earned by completing tasks within the game. If you happen to be someone on the fence, I must tell you, being a Warcraft fan has never felt this good.