Massively Overthinking: The WoW Dragonflight and Wrath Classic roundtable

    
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Blue-green complement!

So this week’s Massively Overthinking is going to cautiously stick a paw into the beehive of World of Warcraft, thanks to the reveal of Dragonflight and Wrath Classic on Tuesday. I’ve asked our writers to weigh in on what they thought about the event, their opinion on the promised features, whether it’ll bring them back, and whether they think it’ll restore the game to its former glory. Naturally, you’re welcome to chime in in the comments too.

Andrew Ross (@dengarsw): There’s so much to unpack here. Let me start with the simple and move from there: Nothing I saw in the reveal will bring me back to World of Warcraft, but I am happy for those who play it and want to continue playing. Crafting orders, better specialization, a dragon race, highly customizable character creation. Really, that seems so cool! Except, minus the new flight, I already had that in 2003 via Horizons/Istaria, and as readers noted, more recent games have done these as well. I literally was looking at the reveal and felt like Blizzard had just updated Istaria’s graphics but gutted its housing system and player economy. There’s no aging, but giving everyone a customizable dragon and stuff for them to find and grow is an interesting switch-out. I’m glad this stuff is making a comeback, but for me, it’s 20 years too late in a game my current circle of friends won’t be touching. I am wondering how my brother, a Classic WoW raider who liked the dragon ideas in Horizons, is going to handle it. He’s basically shrugged at the reveal, but maybe if enough of his group gravitates towards it, he will too. Or, you know, whenever it reaches the Classic servers, which feel like they’re being handled well enough, but I always think, “At what point does it stop being Classic and just becomes modern WoW with a few different tweaks?”

Now, let’s go back to the whole “20 years too late” bit for myself. This comes out a lot when I talk about Blizzard games, but it’s hard to hook me when I’m someone who leans towards innovative games. By the time they make it to mainstream, they’re old for me, but they hype other players. Look no further than Overwatch, where I had the exact same problem and only had it “click” by watching my mainstream gamer friends experience this stuff for the first time.

The difference here, though, is that WoW is not a new game nor new IP. The graphics still have a dated appearance, if a bit glossier. Blizzard’s reputation also is more troubled. I can’t imagine non-MMO players coming to this expansion unless they really love dragons. Old WoW players who took lore seriously might be turned off by all these prismatic dragons (seeing a red dragon using arcane magic felt wrong to me). And old veterans burned by WoW constantly changing just about everything every other expansion will avoid it.

And that’s the big downer for me. Even while I was enjoying things like the idea of the customizable dragons, my first thought was, “This is going to get dropped in the expansion after this.” I got the same feeling from the talents, which I barely understood because they too have been revamped a million and one times. I almost feel like Classic WoW should have been the opportunity to actually go with a sequel, but built on the idea of carrying over data from the last game. I mean, if you’re revamping everything like Blizzard has anyway, why not?

Which brings me to the last point: the reveal method. I always hate when people at the company “interview” people at the same company as if they don’t already know what’s up. However, it stood out even more to me knowing that, had Blizzard invited press or perhaps even influencers, the shadow of the recent Blizz/Activision climate would sour everything and anything. Even the most positive influencer would look like a sellout if they didn’t address the current events. It felt clear that Blizzard wanted to control the tone, and I get that, but it also shows how much they’ve taken a hit in the court of public opinion. The cinematic alone just didn’t feel like WoW; it felt generic, and that’s for a game that largely repurposes Tolkien/Lovecraft mythos. Again, I really like some of the features going into this expansion, but at this point, the big problem is WoW itself, with Blizzard sadly coming in as a close second.

Andy McAdams: For me, everything felt safe and a bit light. Nothing they revealed was particularly controversial. It was all very pretty, welcome changes that were safe. I said in chat after the event, if I put on my product manager fiesta hat, I would look at this and see a company that is well aware it needed to say something, but equally well aware it isn’t very far down a path. The pieces the devs showcased were deliberately picked to my eye: The race was mostly modelled, but we didn’t see a whole lot of in-game time with it. The crafting and talent screens were mostly screenshots/interactive mockups, and the dragonflight demo was just the same in-game video capture more or less played on loop.

All of the pieces they highlighted were easy to talk about and talk about the “vision” without having to show a lot of it actually working in-game yet. Keep in mind, this isn’t a criticism on my part; this was a smart move from a developer that desperately needs to move on from Shadowlands and the controversy of the last few years. It had to show something, had to show some vision, and it did that, and it was safe.

This presentation was notable to me for a few reasons, mostly dealing with what they didn’t talk about. Outside of a token reference to ancestral enemies of the dragons – some frost giant-y things – we have no idea who the big bad is here. It was glazed over. If I’m being honest, I think that’s good. We needed an expansion that wasn’t about the “the same bad guy as before, just +1 to scope.” They could have done a little more to talk about what the conflict within the expansion story was going to be; we have the general “Help the dragons take back their home!” which could be a compelling narrative in and of itself. But since they mentioned nothing beyond the soundbyte, we are left to speculate.

Tied to this was the fact that raids were, for the first time, just a bullet item on a slide. There was no foreshadowing to the big raid, no reveals about the raid or what it could be. It was a weird and welcome change. It doesn’t outright say they might be considering other styles of gameplay other than the raid-or-gtfo crowd, but it leaves the door open for that interpretation, which I’ll gladly take.

The Horde/Alliance conflict was notably missing as well. One of the panels mentioned some light PvP on the “boats to the Dragon Isles” but made it clear that the Horde and the Alliance were working together. Every other expansion I can think of has had some nod to the Horde-Alliance conflict in the announcement, and I don’t see that here. Like the raid thing, Blizzard not mentioning anything overt about the conflict doesn’t mean that it is continuing down the path of the war being over, but its omission is noteworthy and leaves us open to speculate.

I do want to mention that the few things that Blizzard did announce definitely felt borrowed from other games. The Dragonflight mechanic looks a whole lot like flight from Guild Wars 2; the crafting overhaul looks a whole lot like FFXIV. Hell, the talent tree overhaul even looks a whole lot like EverQuest II to me. I don’t think any of that is bad either.

The last thing I want to call out was the diversity present on all the panels. There were men and women, multiple races and ethnicities, LGBTQ+ folks, and non-native English speakers. I can’t really tell whether it was all tokenism or Blizzard actually trying to change. But you know, I’ll be the optimist here and say it’s Blizzard trying to change.

Overall, the panel reveal was OK. I think it did what it needed it to: It showed some of the things they are thinking about doing, and moved the zeitgeist beyond Shadowlands. It was safe, it was inoffensive, and really light. I’m hoping they reveal more and that there’s a bigger (coughHOUSINGcough) reveal later in the development cycle. But yeah, it wasn’t particularly good, it wasn’t particularly bad, it was just OK. It could go a lot of directions from here, and for Blizzard, anything that they do that doesn’t result in a news-dominating controversy as a huge for them at this point.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): I thought this needed to be a reveal that demonstrated New Blizzard has the future of the game well in hand, and a reveal that justified the major delay in the announcement and (apparently) major delay in the release and break in the traditional launch cadence (which wasn’t addressed at all). We didn’t get that.

I saw Blizzard borrowing a lot of things from other games, which by itself is fine; Blizzard’s old reputation is for borrowing features and making them better. But Dragonflight’s borrowed features don’t look like improvements on the source material, and that concerns me. What concerns me even more is that I didn’t see anything unique or fresh or original from Blizzard at all. It doesn’t feel creative or innovative, even the zones, as pretty as they are. It feels like a small expansion in scope, one that isn’t bringing anything new to the MMORPG genre. That makes me sad.

For what it’s worth, unlike everyone I know, I did like the Dragonflight cinematic, right up until the dragons swooped in. Titans are cool.

Wrath Classic, on the other hand, is going to be a colossal trainwreck because of the LFD decision. As I’ve said elsewhere, I can only assume Blizzard has decided to pander to a specific subset of anti-LFD classic fans at the expense of all of folks who were waiting to try Classic specifically for the Wrath experience, which includes LFD. It’s hard to tell whether metrics back that up (I’m deeply skeptical) or Blizzard is being myopic. Either way, the move signals a major shift for WoW Classic, in that WoW Classic is not a progression server anymore; it’s an alternate ruleset server, and it’s definitely not what a huge crowd of WoW veterans wanted, meaning no reacquisition of those lost players for Blizz.

I spilled a lot more thoughts on last night’s bonus podcast.

Carlo Lacsina (@UltraMudkipEX, YouTube, Twitch): I’ve been pretty neutral about this whole thing. I’m glad the WoW players are getting their expansion pack and the release of Wrath of the Lich King Classic. I’m actually excited for Dragonflight, but I have a different reason. With the new expansion, I’m pretty sure I’ll get some powerful enough gear so I can run Torghast without having to play other content! So there’s that. I liked Torghast, but since I had to play other parts of the game to get to a decent gearscore, I stopped playing it. And even when this expansion comes out, there’s no evidence that I might even play more Torghast. So I might play it. But there’s a chance I might not.

The one thing I would like to put my two cents on is how Wrath Classic isn’t going to include a dungeon finder. I’m glad Blizzard made this change. There’s been plenty of weeping and gnashing of teeth about the announcement, but as someone who was hoping to see this exact divergence happen on Wrath Classic, I’m curious to see how WoW Classic can finally prove the age-old claim that “dungeon finder ruined the social experience.” I also feel that with more outside social tools like Discord available, maybe dungeon finder won’t be needed. Will it work? Maybe. And if it doesn’t work, I can tell my wife that it didn’t work.

And so, in the words of the Neutral President of Neutral Planet: “I have no strong feelings one way or the other.”

Chris Neal (@wolfyseyes, blog): I’m trying not to get too hung up on the presentation side of the expansion reveal, as I’d like to try to focus in on the features and reveals, but I have to first say that everything about the unveiling was so alarmingly bleached and carefully assembled that the whole thing felt off-putting. They managed to make real-life humans feel like uncanny simulacra, and the information was arranged as if it was run through about 5,000 AI subroutines to achieve maximum scrubbing and command of message. Even the cinematic, which generally has a sense of heart and trips something enjoyable and engaging for me, felt like it was crafted by a server farm and not artists enjoying their craft. It was iron painted to look like a warm campfire. A Twinkie masquerading as a homemade baked good.

Now, the mechanical stuff: The Dracthyr Evoker is an interesting-looking class, Dragonriding seems kind of mediocre (and will probably only work in the Isles), I’m not sure that the crafting tweaks are going to hit the lofty goals the devs want them to (especially if raiding is the primary final activity), and I’m not invested enough in the game to really have a great deal of takeaway from the talent tree revamp other than that presentation seemed to be a lot of talking without much substance.

And that, overall, seems to be the general sense I’m getting: lots of talk, not a lot of substance. I assume we’ll be getting more of that substance as the weeks move on and further granular previews are written, recorded, and shared, but as it stands now, there hasn’t been a lot in this showcase that leads me to think that this is going to change hearts and minds. If you’re in on WoW, then this is probably more of what you want, if you’ve moved on from WoW, then nothing here probably hooked you back. Basically, it’s effectively what Eliot wrote in his latest WoW Factor piece. It certainly wasn’t enough to make me care, but then I haven’t cared for many years now.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): I already wrote about this twice now. Short version: Dragonflight looks broadly all right pending more information and analysis. Good job ruining your Wrath reveal, guys, buddies, pals.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I wrote down a bunch of thoughts on this on my blog, but in the interest of summing up my thoughts, I’ll say this. Dragonflight’s positives are a warm vibe and some nice quality-of-life improvements, but dragons are so tired and played out to be the sole focal point of an entire expansion. The cinematic was dull, the story confusing, and the new race — let’s be honest — kind of ugly and messy.

But I’m far more rankled by Blizzard’s bizarre and stubborn position on not including the dungeon finder in Wrath Classic. They’re kowtowing to the hardcore elites instead of people who genuinely just love Wrath and liked how accessible it made the game for everyone. It’s a terrible move, absolutely awful, and was an instant dealbreaker for me. Spamming LFG chat for groups while the elite guilds fast-track their members to gear nirvana is not a way to “build community.” Blizzard read the room so wrong on this, and I viciously hope it pays for this decision.

Tyler Edwards (blog): The reveal earned a solid “meh” from me.

Cataclysm and its surrounding fiction made it very clear that dragons were finished as a major force in the world, and suddenly restoring them as guardians of Azeroth makes that all feel meaningless. I think it’s still possible to tell a story about dragons in WoW that is interesting, but this is not it. It’s also a bit awkward to be introducing the Dragon Isles as a kind of ancestral homeland to the dragons when they’ve spent so many years establishing Northrend as both their original homeland and the current heart of their culture. It feels sloppy.

You can really tell the difference since Metzen left the company. He may have had his share of bad ideas, but even at his worst, his stories felt grandiose and infused with passion. His flaw was never a lack of creativity or ambition. Since he left, everything feels so tired, like they’re just desperately trying to recapture the glory of yesteryear. It’s like the marketing department is running the stories.

The gameplay features seem equally underwhelming. I do think the new flight system looks pretty cool, but I’d be a lot more excited if I wasn’t 99.99% certain that it will never be used for anything outside of the Dragon Isles.

I’m not particularly interested in the Dracthyr. They have no prior lore, and there’s so many other cool things they could have added as a new playable race. As for their only choice of class, the Evoker, in principle I like that they are finally adding the first new ranged DPS spec since the game’s launch, but the particular concept of this one doesn’t seem all that interesting, and again, there’s just much cooler options they could have gone with. I would have much preferred another class that can use bows and guns, or a thrown weapon class.

And I am definitely not keen on the return of talent trees. It’s another shameless ploy to nostalgia that ignores the genuine progress the game has made. Whatever flaws the current talent system may have, it is a massive improvement over what came before. I am certainly not eager to go back to being harassed by every group I joined because I put five points into crit instead of haste or some such nonsense.

All in all, nothing about this particularly excites me. Shadowlands looked a lot more appealing when it was announced.

Every week, join the Massively OP staff for Massively Overthinking column, a multi-writer roundtable in which we discuss the MMO industry topics du jour – and then invite you to join the fray in the comments. Overthinking it is literally the whole point. Your turn!
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