World of Warcraft: Dragonflight will give fans everything they want
It's time to take to the skies of Azeroth on the back of a dragon to save the world.
"Here begins the new age of Dragons," announces the voice of Alexstrasza in the first trailer for Dragonflight, the new expansion for World of Warcraft. Like every even-numbered year, Activision Blizzard's MMORPG gives us the chance to go on a new adventure in Azeroth to save the world for the ninth time in a row, this time on the back of a Dragon. Over the past few weeks, we've spent a good amount of time testing the pre-release beta, and while many of the new features are interesting (and I'd say necessary), we're left with the same old question: is Dragonflight the breath of fresh air that World of Warcraft needs, or is it yet another stagnant expansion? Here are our impressions of what we've seen so far.
This time we enter the Dragon Isles, a new area whose story is full of nods to the classic versions of the game, as we journey with Alexstrasza, Nozdormu and Kalecgos, some of the Aspect Dragons whose first appearance in the game takes us back to Wrath of the Lich King. We all know how much Blizzard loves in-game references, so it's no coincidence that the Classic version of the Lich King expansion was released just a couple of months ago. The new continent includes four "level" zones: The Awakening Shores, filled with rivers, mountains, and elementals; Ohn'Ahra Plains, land of centaurs; The Azure Span, inspired by the Dark Hills map; and Thaldraszus, the area of the main capital, Valdrakken. On our journey we will help centaurs, tuskers, dragons and even travel back in time to the time of the Titans with Chromie to help restore the time flow and balance of the world. In this sense, reputations with the different parts on the islands are of great importance and we will be able to earn great rewards as we progress through each zone. All of these maps feature very high mountains, wide open landscapes and explorable areas that are often accessed by flying.
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In general, the way to level 70 is not very different from what we already know in WoW, as there is hardly any innovation in the type of quests we have to complete to reach the maximum level. The most notable aspect in this regard is that in some of them we will have to use the new Dragon Rider feature to ride our custom drake and fly at full speed through the different maps. In addition, Blizzard has included a dragon racing mini-game in which we can complete circuits flying through different areas to earn rewards and achievements. The truth is that within the new continent our drake has a great role, not only to move through the vast plains and high mountains, but also to explore, collect resources such as ores and herbs located in areas that can only be accessed by flying, or get draconic glyphs that allow you to improve the skills of this new mount. Admittedly, this new form of flight is fun at first, especially the feeling of speed and the manoeuvres you can do in the air and when landing. However, once you get the hang of the dynamics it is just another flying mount that can move faster than the rest. It is worth noting that the customisation of the four available drakes is very extensive, and we can access the Rostrum of Transformation to modify the tail, horns, colour and many other options to customise the appearance of our new mounts.
In the Dragon Isles we can also find The Forgotten Edge, the starting zone of the new class-race, the Dracthyr Evoker. We tested this new character and it looks fun, although it doesn't include too many innovative dynamics. The character's movements take a bit of time to get used to at first (it feels weird to control a dragon that walks on two legs), but once you get the feel for the mechanics, it has some interesting aspects. We can choose between two talent specialisations: Devastation, which is the damage branch, and Preservation, which focuses on healing and ally support. Both use magic as the main element, but you can also launch your enemies into the air and glide through the skies in true Demon Hunter style. The use of power-ups is also important, or in other words, abilities where we charge a bar for a period of time and when released they become stronger the longer we charge it. In addition, we can use our draconic form to fly at full speed as if we were riding a drake. Believe me, if you don't want your eyes to hurt, don't use flying mounts in draconic form. I recommend instead the humanoid form, as seeing a Dragon with wings on a proto-drake is a bit of a... peculiar feeling. On the other hand, the starting area, The Forgotten Edge, is not only visually stunning, with vast landscapes full of all kinds of creatures, but it also has a very entertaining story and quest chain. As with the Pandaren, after completing the initial chain we can choose to join either Horde or the Alliance.
Another interesting update is the reworked talent system. The new talent trees borrow from the more classic versions of the game and offer a sense of progression more in line with the game's dynamics, adding value to every talent point we spend. Gone is the system of previous expansions where we could choose a talent every 5, 10 or 15 levels and had little depth (thank you, Blizzard). With this new update, we will have a class branch and a specialisation branch that opens up a world of possibilities and new builds that have yet to be discovered. For example, a Frost Mage will be able to spend points in the Wizard branch to access Fire abilities like Dragon's Breath or Blast Wave without losing points in their specialisation branch (in this case Frost). This is a substantial change to the gameplay and class balance we had until now, and also adds value to the choices we make.
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However, the talent system is not the only revamped feature of the new expansion. Eighteen years later, Blizzard has finally decided to overhaul the tedious profession system and the outdated, obsolete interface. With the new profession model, we become true artisans, and within each profession we can specialise in crafting better recipes or gathering better resources through a progression system where we decide what kind of artisan we want to be. For example, miners will be able to specialise in the collection of Severite (a new mineral) in order to obtain more loot when we mine a deposit of this type of mineral. Another new feature is the inclusion of a crafting order system where we can ask other players to craft items we don't have access to or offer our most unique recipes. We'll have to see how the system evolves, but from what we've seen it does seem that professions will have a more important role in the game, and that's something to be welcomed.
As far as the interface is concerned, although it's a much-needed implementation, it arrived late, and they didn't need to wait for a new expansion to implement it, as it feels like they're just doing it to sell it as something exclusive to Dragonflight. The editing mode is fine, and allows you to move all the elements on the screen to your liking, something we've been doing through add-ons for almost 18 years of the game's existence. However, I doubt that players who are already accustomed to using add-ons like Bartender or ElvUI will make use of Blizzard's new interface at this point. All in all, it is a necessary change, but one that should not be advertised as exclusive.
In conclusion, after testing most of Dragonflight's new features, it is true that many of them improve on what we've seen so far (especially after Battle for Azeroth and Shadowlands). It is clear that Blizzard has taken note of the experience of the Classic versions, especially when it comes to the talent system and trying to give value to the world's resources through professions. However, we'll have to see if this new content doesn't stagnate over the months and see if we can enjoy an entire expansion without having to put the game down every couple of months until something new is released. The new Dragon Rider flying feature is fun, and the feeling of speed when riding a drake is nice, but it's not something that changes the game dramatically. If Blizzard listens to community feedback and the endgame content doesn't become repetitive, there is hope that Dragonflight will become a very good expansion.