But, as Marc Pavey explores in our Dragonflight review, is it the soaring miracle it’s cracked up to be?
World of Warcraft Dragonflight Is Pretty Good
First impressions of WoW's latest expansion have been overwhelmingly positive. In our Dragonflight review, we set our resident WoW-man to the test to see whether he would come down with a case of dragon-fever too.
On 28th November 2022, the 8 million-odd players still inhabiting the World of Warcraft collectively sighed "This ain't my first rodeo." as they embarked upon adventures in new lands for the tenth time.
Practice in the rodeo is apposite; this expansion is at least in part a question of how much you enjoy extreme forms of attempting to ride animals. However, the inclusion of a dragon-riding mechanic intends to attract and retain new players, rather than to dispense with them injuriously.
Reviewing the 9th expansion of one of the most well-known games ever is always fraught. Between the hardcore, the casual, the new, the returning, the role-playing, the PvPing, the PvEing, the achievement-hunting and myriad others, there are too many different ways that people interact with World of Warcraft to say anything universally representative. It's like trying to review a genre.
Warcraft expansions are also often perceived differently in time, with the balance, challenge and excitement of end-game content becoming apparent in the weeks and months after the novelty of a new race, class or game mechanic has started to wear off. Or, as with Shadowlands, some start to become downright disliked.
So, like the unveiling of a new iPhone, a couple of years have passed, and a company wants your money again -- in my Dragonflight review, I explore whether the same thing is different enough this time to warrant your attention.
Your dragon can also be customized to a similar extent to a player character, the high fantasy equivalent of adding side skirts to your Toyota Supra.
While Shadowlands took players across the realm of the dead, Dragonflight takes place on the Dragon Isles which have suddenly been discovered after being bewilderingly missed by any seafaring adventurers for centuries prior (this is, of course, explained by magic but that doesn't fit my sardonic agenda). The Dragon Aspects, who have been variously friend, foe and neutral in previous games, are growing in power.
The game's rival Alliance and Horde factions find a rare moment of diminished disagreement and launch a combined mission to explore the Dragon Isles in the interests of science and discovery; frankly, a welcome change in tone from the grim, traumatic experience of trawling the lands of undeath in Shadowlands.
The new world looks as good as any predecessor expansion, but returns to a more classic fantasy aesthetic. Environments range from sweeping plains and lush jungles to ancient structures and arcane castles. As ever, variety is not an issue though none of the new environments feel particularly novel. This does, however, risk underselling the innovation in this expansion's environments with each zone offering a great deal of verticality and, at times, expansiveness, providing the ideal space to spread your wings in the literal sense with Dragonriding.
Dragonriding is a fun new flying mechanic that is more involved and much faster than previous forms of travel. There are some basic concepts to grapple with, including gravity physics that will increase your speed when flying downwards, and momentum which, if lost, will eventually cause you to lose altitude and land. Dragonriding can be upgraded throughout the expansion with talents to make it more enduring, and to have co-benefits to activities like gathering resources. Your dragon can also be customized to a similar extent to a player character, the high fantasy equivalent of adding side skirts to your Toyota Supra.
Of course, if you really want to personalize a dragon, you need look no further than the expansion's new race-class combination, the Dracthyr Evoker. The Evoker follows the Death Knight and Demon Hunter as the game's third Hero-class, starting at a higher level. This class can play as a damage-dealer or a healer, with an impressive range of abilities drawing on the various Dragon Aspects representing different elements and good mobility. The Deep Breath ability, which sees the Evoker fire a beam of hot death at the ground while airborne is particularly impressive and intimidating. The Dracthyr also come with flying abilities built in, though these are more limited than the full Dragonriding experience.
On to the meat of Dragonflight's offering, the game includes 8 new dungeons, one of which is a fairly comprehensive revamp of an old dungeon. The dungeons are varied and for the most part offer new twists on previously encountered mechanics that make for satisfying encounters, and some with more trash mobs to endure than others. Most notable, however, is the Nokhud Offensive which takes place across the whole of the Ohn'ahran Plains, utilizing Dragonriding and offering epic-scale encounters. Vault of the Incarnate is the first raid offering with 8 bosses and on the Player-versus-Player (PvP) side of things, Dragonflight offers a new arena but no new battlegrounds.
Other new features of Dragonflight include a revamped crafting system, a new talent system, and a modernized HUD option. On crafting, one of the most significant changes is the ability of a player unskilled in a profession to put in a crafting order to someone who is. For example, a caster will be able to pay another player with skill in tailoring to make them a high-level robe, making the profession slightly more effective as a commercial undertaking. The system also introduces quality, with the potential to produce better or worse gear with some element of luck involved.
The new talent system is a return-to-old, with long talent trees and the ability to build into them flexibly. This feels like a deeper system than Shadowland's choice of 3 options at various levels. However, whether this updated mechanism actually yields greater build variety remains to be seen. Finally, the modernized HUD brings many of the benefits of mods, considered essential for playing effectively in the past, into the core game.
To draw this to something of a conclusion, I have enjoyed Dragonflight more than I have enjoyed other recent expansions. The brighter tone and atmosphere, the fun of the new Dragonriding mechanics, and a further consolidation of quality-of-life changes make this as good an expansion to return to WoW as any.
On the flipside, unless you plan to do endgame raiding or PvP, one has to question whether the price is worth it for a game that still includes a tedious amount of grinding for quests and crafting, and a routine that is incredibly familiar to anyone who has played WoW before. Most people are looking at a $50-price tag, $70 for the Heroic Edition if you need to boost a previous character to use them in this expansion, or $90 for the Epic Edition which also includes 30-days game time. To note, the more expensive editions also include mounts, pets and armour, and you could also buy the cheapest version with the game time separately at a price of $15 for 30 days.
Honestly though, I'd say that you can get a similar or better experience from other MMORPGs that are more modern and less expensive, or free. However, if your WoW nostalgia is strong enough, you'll probably get a dirty dopamine hit which may be enough to stave off the regret of the purchase, and diving deep back into the genre-defining MMORPG is surely a superior way to spend the holidays than Disney movies with the family.
I recently saw a great video called "Why it's Rude to Suck at Warcraft" which explained two types of play behaviour. Free play is playing without specific objectives and is more freeform, exploratory, and potentially creative. Objective play, meanwhile, is playing with specific goals in mind and incentivizes maximising your performance towards those goals.
As someone who loved WoW for its world immersion and the sense of possibility, I don't particularly find WoW as fun or engaging anymore. However, it still offers a very strong catering towards objective-oriented players and is as promising as any for its end-game content, which remains to be proven as the content is experienced and released throughout the expansion. This is the game it has been for at least a decade, and comparing this to other entries in that time, my Dragonflight review gets an 8/10.