WoW Factor: Flights Rising, a speculative WoW expansion exercise

Yeah, this is a thing.

The Dragon Isles are quite the storied location in World of Warcraft in that it’s easy to pull them out and dust them off whenever you want a place for things to happen next in the game. What are the Dragon Isles? Well, they’re a place that supposedly exists because at one point they got mentioned, but otherwise they’re a long-abandoned raid concept that was never implemented that gets trotted out whenever people need an established spot that kind of relates to the rest of the game world and isn’t just being made up ad-hoc.

You might be surprised that I’m using this for a speculative exercise, but why not? Last week we went with something that was very down-to-Earth (or down-to-Azeroth if you prefer), this week we’re going for a premise that’s a little bit bigger. There are various little things that make people speculate about this one, too. So let’s use the Dragon Isles as a jumping-off point for another speculative exercise.

Lastly, for those of you who caught the joke in the name, congratulations.

Hidden to the north of Lordaeron lie the Dragon Isles, secreted away from prying eyes in a manner not dissimilar to Pandaria. While the exact mechanism is a little bit different, this archipelago has long been rumored as the ancestral home of the dragonflights and their ancestral dominion. The truth, however, is a bit more involved than that; the Dragon Isles are not simply the home of the dragons, but the place where the proto-dragons were shaped into the form they would ultimately take by the Titans.

In the wake of the demise of the Jailer in the Shadowlands, the Titan engines within are needed once again in the hopes of not simply stabilizing Azeroth but understanding the cosmological significance of everything that has happened. Thus do the three remaining aspects agree to open the path forward to the champions of Azeroth to explore the lands therein. But no sooner do they arrive than they find themselves confronted by the ramshackle civilizations of the shipwrecked and marooned who have already begun to claim the land as home.

People are already living here. More importantly, people of two different persuasions are living here – the Lost, people who were once wrecked upon these shores and have banded together in hopes of building a functional society, and the Exiled, expeditions chiefly from the former nation of Lordaeron who went looking for the region. But it quickly becomes clear that the Exiled have designs on being a power unto themselves as Titan machinery stirs once more, and these dragon-touched humans, elves, and dwarves seek to remove the Lost and take control of the power to create dragons anew.

Roast somebody.

So you’ve got proto-dragons, unfinished dragonflights of unfamiliar shades and hues, the Exiled, titan machinery, and Wrathion trying to pull together power and ally himself with whoever controls the island in the hopes of rebuilding the shattered Black Flight by his lonesome. There’s material for conflict for miles, although distinctions between “Horde” and “Alliance” hardly matter.

Of course, that’s not to say they don’t matter at all. Two major changes await in the wake of patch 9.2.5. The first is that both factions now speak the same language by default, with the default “Common” tongue being shared by all while Humans and Orcs get specific dialects other races don’t share. The second is that you can now advance your reputation in the other faction and eventually make your way to Friendly and even Honored status (no further than that, however). Once you reach Friendly you can even join guilds founded by the opposite faction.

Players are also introduce to the newest Hero class in the game, the Dragon Rider. The belief was that the ancient night elven Dragon Riders were slaughtered to a one during the War of the Ancients, but some of their number survived and were borne to the Dragon Isles as a new headquarters. Very quietly, they have expanded their numbers over the years, recruiting from those thought lost and those close to dragons, teaching a unique blend of martial disciplines and draconic magic to those who seek them out.

In practical terms, the Dragon Rider is a hero class with three specs once again. The Dragoon spec is a ranged DPS focused on a mix of ranged weaponry and spellcasting combined with some unique movement tricks. The Avenger spec is a hybrid caster that starts at range, moves into melee and then back out to range again. And the Nourisher spec is a dedicated healer with barrier effects.

The expansion also brings in what’s meant to be less of a borrowed power system and more of an expansion-specific mechanic in the form of Flight Building. None of the dragonflights are in a good place at this point in the story, with a variety of calamities and events breaking down their numbers. The effect is similar to the glyph system that had been in the game back in the day; as you advance through content, you unlock various Flight Powers, and you can slot them into your available spaces as you level up.


Players will also be able to dive into the vaults of the dragons for artifacts of power as represented by the new gearing paradigm. Dungeons, raids, and PvP matches all avoid various combinations of Valor Points and Diligence Points, with the former having a weekly cap and the latter having only a maximum number. These points can be spent on gear including tier sets as well as upgrades of the same, with Valor being the more limited and valuable gear while Diligence helps you fill in and tends to be more useful for buying optional enhancements like tertiary stat boosts.

How does this compare to raiding? Basically, high-end raiders with decent luck at drops will gear up far faster than people who are subsisting on lesser content, but it won’t be impossible for someone who prefers to just queue up for LFR and Heroics to mathematically catch up… eventually.

Last but not least, the expansion adds in new customization options for existing races as well as allied ones, continuing the one trend established in Shadowlands that people actually liked and looked forward to seeing more of. Hey, sometimes things can actually stick around that you like, it’s not all doom and gloom.

In many ways, this particular idea is a combination of business-as-usual for the game designers combined with an increased willingness to listen to what players have long asked for. Throwback ideas are definitely in the mix along the way, but it doesn’t fully divorce itself from borrowed power, just does so in a way that’s more subtle and hopefully less game-defining in unpleasant ways. A lot would come down to execution and how well it’s managed, but I think that just bringing in deterministic gear would do a lot to get this sort of thing a bump.

Again, though, there are flaws and places where things could be stronger. So let’s keep on rolling. Next time around, we’re going to go bigger and broader and weirder in ways that still bring the focus back to Azeroth proper. Hopefully that one will be fun, too.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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