With the second part of the Dragonflight pre-patch live, I have now been granted an ability I did not particularly want in World of Warcraft: the ability to create and play a Dracthyr Evoker. My reasons for not particularly wanting this have, of course, already been put front-and-center before, but the central problems have not really changed. Evokers do not look cool, and they lack one of my preferred play options, so they had an uphill battle from the start.
This is, however, not something that cannot be dealt with. Indeed, it’s kind of part of my job. Nowhere is it stated that I have to like everything based on premise to give a fair evaluation of it, and there’s an appreciable and material difference between “this isn’t something I particularly want” and “this is something I very specifically do not want.” Hey, if Evokers play really well and create a compelling experience, isn’t that more important than my first impressions of the class from hands-off previews? Yes.
So how do they actually stack up?
The first thing to note about Dracthyr – the thing you’re thrown into right away – is the fact that the lore around them doesn’t really work. I don’t want to make this the central feature of this column, and unfortunately it’s a simple idea that’s also really complicated to explain, but let me try just the same: The Dracthyr lore has the problem that all it does is justify the existence of Dracthyr. It doesn’t fit into existing lore; it just sits outside of it in a convenient bubble.
All of the storytelling around Dracthyr centers around explaining why it is that this race of dragon-people existed but was never seen or mentioned at any prior point of the game’s history. The problem is that it only works so long as you have to justify Dracthyr never being seen or mentioned prior. You can excise the entire thing and it makes no difference and has no impact on anything else. Instead of answering questions, filling in actual spaces of lore or myth, or creating a compelling and unique identity for the Dracthyr themselves, it’s just lore made to explain why they weren’t here that makes sense only tautologically.
That’s not to say the opening story is awful or anything; it’s just forgettable. But to a certain extent, that’s also whatever. If Blizzard is going to go out of its way to state that the game’s focus is on combat rather than storytelling, that’s maybe a bad flex (you can have both, they’re not in opposition), but it at least means that you should evaluate its additions on the basis of the former first.
And here do my troubles begin.
Much as I stated above, I have tried to put my own personal peccadilloes front and center, so if you think that I am a priori disqualified from having an opinion on Evokers that is worth anything to you… well, have a good day as there’s not much more that I can offer you here. Hope you’re having fun.
I don’t mean any of that to imply that Evokers are in some way broken or not functional. Quite the contrary. They make decent enough sense mechanically, have the usual WoW sort of ability lineup, and work more or less the same way you’d expect a build-and-spend caster in the game to work. But that is in and of itself the problem because there is no evidence I can find whatsoever of how Evokers are supposed to feel drastically different from any of the other casters in the game.
Empower spells, for examples, are theoretically a nice trick. I like the idea of holding down a spell button as long as you can before releasing the spell itself. But in practice, you have only a couple of them at most, and you pretty much always want to charge them up to the maximum level before releasing the spell. There’s no particular tradeoff between what you’re doing, which makes them… ultimately feel irrelevant.
Sure, I can see how it might make a difference in a heavy movement phase when you can only get a level one cast off, but that’s not going to make you feel like you made a clever tactical decision; it’s going to feel like you got screwed because you couldn’t stay put and fully power up your spells. This is why many specs have tricks to allow casting while moving, something Evokers can pointedly not do with Empower spells. So it’s not great! It doesn’t feel outstanding.
But all of those are balance concerns, and that’s not the biggest thing that gets to me. It’s not that Evokers do not feel like competent spellslingers in a familiar mold; it’s that they are competent spellslingers in a familiar mold. I did not play the class and find myself thinking that this was an interesting alternative playstyle that required a very different sort of priorities, or even that it was a meaningful change in terms of ranged gameplay. I just found myself… playing the class like basically any other caster, except it has slightly different flavor because it’s all draconic and such.
If what you wanted was a lizard wizard, it’s acceptable enough. But it sure doesn’t have the sort of distinct gameplay mechanics I at least half-expect from a new class, much less a hero class. It doesn’t feel substantially different from all of the game’s pre-existing ranged casters, and that in and of itself is kind of an issue in context.
There are a few positives here. I’m really fond of the fact that your utility talents allow you to focus in on your racial abilities, which is a welcome element of gameplay that I wish we got elsewhere. (Racial talent trees to make your racial abilities particularly useful could be an interesting idea for the future.) The fact that your “basic” spell is simultaneously a heal and a damage spell is a neat bit of convergent utility, especially insofar as many effect triggers don’t require you to be casting the spell in one mode or the other.
Hey, it’s nice that during difficult fights you can be healing yourself and get a proc on a damaging option.
You also do get a nice blend of group utility and benefits while still being fundamentally a damage class. I don’t necessarily think that the class needed a Heroism-alike ability as a foundational skill, but the uniqueness of that option had long since been removed, so that makes sense. And Soar is a fun trick in the open world, not quite powerful enough to remove the need for flying mounts but useful enough for your dracthyr to cover a lot of ground.
But ultimately, I found the Evoker to just be… bland. It’s a new class that checks off the There Is A New Class box without actually adding a new feel of play or anything. I genuinely believe there are more ways to make casters interesting beyond what WoW already has, but Evokers don’t seem to hit many of them. They’re fine, and you won’t hate them if you like spellcasting classes, but they aren’t going to feel all that different from playing existing spellcasters for better or for worse.
Does that mean that really what we should have gotten is some kind of dragon-related casting spec for Mages and let dracthyr have that as an option? I’m not saying yes, but yes.