Finally—After the last four years of dogwater power systems and watching Activision Blizzard implode on itself, I feel I can wholeheartedly recommend World of Warcraft to people again.
The new expansion for the game, Dragonflight, is phenomenal, but can the company capitalize off this great start to turn the game around?
I have a good 40+ hours in the new expansion already and many hundreds of hours of familiarity with the game over its entire lifespan. I think it's safe to say that what you read here is a genuine read of the game's current state.
This won't be a traditional review—in fact, it's barely a review at all, so if you want an arbitrary rating for the game to push you to try it out, please accept this humble 4/5 ☠️ ☠️☠️ ☠️. Mount up and let's fly!
The Past: Low Expectations
Internal company behavior aside, the expectations for World of Warcraft had been set abysmally low. The last two expansions were rife with awful storytelling and terrible mechanics designed to both waste your time and refuse to properly reward you for spending any of it on the game.
If anything, the reward was just being able to play the part of the game you actively pay to play. The fact that World of Warcraft's story often took a backseat to the gameplay didn't help either. This was where my biggest gripe with the game came from.
There's nothing for me to care about as a solo player. Sure, I get to see some cool characters, but that's not a selling point it's an expectation. How the characters interact in a story that we should be a part of is what matters.
I don't know about you, but I couldn't care about a story that consistently ended on cliffhangers that took months, if not years, to resolve—and no, I don't want to understand important in-game events by buying a book. The book should ALWAYS be supplemental, but that's just my opinion.
The Present: Noticeable Changes
World of Warcraft: Dragonflight is a breath of fresh air. It only took four years of irritation to get here, but we're finally here. The first noticeable changes happened in the pre-patch event which allowed players to get a feel for some of the more technical changes.
First, those who preordered the expansion got a chance to play the new race and hero class combination: The Dracthyr Evoker. Locked away in stasis off the mainland of the Dragon Isles, these draconic humanoids awaken to their home in chaos. Of course, the old dragonflights return just in time to whisk them away to safe harbor under the Horde and Alliance.
The class itself is extremely fun to play, introducing chargeable abilities. Dracthyr players specializing in dealing damage will use focused Blue magic and chaotic Red fire to defeat enemies. Those who would rather preserve their allies call upon the Emerald Dream to heal or the Bronze sands of time to prevent damage.
Second, the game's old UI has been upgraded to a fully customizable version à la Final Fantasy 14. No longer will you need to download a third-party add-on to organize your screen. Not only that, but you can even set profiles you can swap between if you want a different layout from one activity or character to another.
Third, the old talent trees returned with a modernized look. Talents are passive or sometimes active abilities that enhance or even change your class's playstyle. In the past, you would gain a new talent option every 10-20 levels. Each tier had three choices and you could only pick one. It was limiting and contributed to a lot of frustration with character progression.
Now, new players can feel themselves getting stronger with a new talent point at every level. The game feels more like an RPG than ever before. If you want to be a mage slinging arcane magic around like food your mom TOLD YOU would be very hot, go ahead! There are talents that enhance whatever playstyle you can think of.
For max-level players, the ability to create talent loadouts to swap on the go was a blessing. No more fiddling with talents mid-activity or forgetting to make an extremely important selection. Set up your tree, save it, and swap out whenever you feel. It's super convenient, and convenience is something this game has needed for a while.
The Dragon Isles
Once the expansion patch finally released, we got to experience the new continent, the Dragon Isles, and all of its new features.
Dragon riding is the big one here. Flight wasn't always accessible for a large part of new expansions. It took nearly a year for it to become active in new zones, and you had to explore everything before the game let you fly. Now, we can reach for the skies right off the boat.
The new continent has a lot of verticality and is fairly wide open (not to mention it's inhabited by dragons). All of this open space allows for freedom with the new system. Lift off, spiral, and divebomb into the horizon to your heart's content!
The most important addition– especially for casual players—is that the story feels more like... well, a story! The main questline and side quests are full of interesting characters both new and returning.
I can't find the words to describe how enthralled I was arriving on this brand-new continent in an already vast world. It's a whole new story, and you don't need much context to enjoy it.
Along with your own expedition team and the dragons inhabiting the isles, you'll also meet some fun faces on your journey. Settled on the western plains are the hunting tribes of the Maruuk Centaur, and south of them in the coastal taiga are the blubbery Iskaara Tuskarr.
The Future: We Wish For World Expansion
This is going to get a little wordy, but I'll try to retain clarity.
I'm a firm believer that what World of Warcraft needs to reinvigorate itself is a shift in focus. The era of catering primarily to end-game group content is long gone and it's about time Blizzard put some more love into what the largest portion of its player base will see.
Not everyone can do mythic content. Not everyone cares about doing PvP. Not everyone wants to become the ultimate life form and collect everything in existence. But everyone WILL have to experience the main story on their way to level 70.
While Dragonflight has experienced a successful launch, it's important to remember that this is still just the initial launch phase. Players will inevitably begin to fall off as the life of an expansion goes on, but it's a matter of how fast that occurs. If Blizzard can continue to add engaging, unobstructed content that anyone can catch up to, it might be enough to reel players back in.
The game has already seen those additions for players who stuck around during season 4 of the previous expansion Shadowlands. Gearing was made significantly easier and old content was repurposed and brought back into relevance with new difficulties. As long as poorly designed features like early Torghast and warfronts aren't added mid-life cycle, Blizzard has a recipe for an extremely successful expansion.
One Last Point To Add...
While Blizzard can do everything possible to better the game through development, the success of keeping new players playing relies on cooperation from veterans like me. There has been a noticeable history of shunning players who play the way they want to, simply because it's not what everyone else silently agreed upon in the past. "No clicking your abilities! No keyboard turning! You can't learn this dungeon/raid blind, you MUST watch a guide!"
The video Why It's Rude to Suck at Warcraft by Folding Ideas covers the concept I'm trying to explain much better than I can. It's an excellent, well-researched dive into the breakdown of a virtual world to nothing more than a spreadsheet. It may not be pertinent to you, especially if you're playing the game by yourself, but it is an interesting documentary nonetheless.
At the end of the day, I am a very satisfied player. We've reached a point in the game I'm proud to show off. Vault of the Incarnates is looking to be as good as all the other raids. The new Mythic+ dungeon rotation system will keep things fresh throughout the expansion. Hopefully we'll get new mini-zones and more dragon customization options as well!
If you've played before, I can easily recommend coming back just for a month to try it out. If you're a brand new player, take on the free trial and if you like it, give the game a spin.
Maybe I'll run across you on my herb-picking, ice-fishing, dungeon-ripping escapades.
- A World of Warcraft subscription will run you $15 per month and comes with all past content for the game from levels 1-60
- Dragonflight is sold separately, starting at $49.99 for the base edition