As is always the case with these World of Warcraft impressions, there was no way to stop with just part one. There’s other stuff to talk about, after all. And the first other thing to talk about is one of the big features on the back of the box: dragonriding.
Well, at least it would have been one of the big features on the back of the box if I bought these things in a box any more. I do kind of miss that, but not as much as I enjoy not having superfluous boxes in my house. That’s space I could devote to little plastic robots.
Sorry, that’s getting off-topic. The point is that after several expansions of holding back flying as if it were kept in a little Break In Case Of Emergency box, Dragonflight has decided that players should be able to sort of fly right out of the gate. It’s not quite as soon as you land on the Dragon Isles, but it is very close to the start when you get the ability to look at gravity and say “lol, no.” To an extent, anyhow.
Let’s start with the negatives first. Dragonriding in Dragonflight suffers from a problem that you can kind of guess at just from how it’s structured: If you’re trying to get from a low place to a high place, the mechanics are set up to make it a tedious, irritating process as you struggle to get up to significant height and then wait for vigor to regenerate. There are boosts to help you gain height, but they are few and far between, and often of middling use at best. This is by design, but that does not make it actually fun.
Similarly, anyone who is accustomed to how flight works in WoW traditionally will find themselves tripped up by the forward momentum of the drakes you ride, and that makes several precise maneuvers basically impossible. It’s not the worst thing in history, but it does wind up feeling kind of bad when you’re trying to get to point A and have to go all the way back to point B and still overshoot your target. That’s not great!
Also, some of the customization locks are just annoying to no real benefit. That’s not awesome.
None of these things changes the fact that this is the first expansion since Cataclysm where flight has been not just something available without tedious achievement farming but available more or less immediately. Usually a new expansion makes you feel like you aren’t just weaker; you’ve literally lost a primary means of interacting with the world around you until some undetermined point in the future, and that leads to… well, not great experiences. It’s not fun to walk through a map and think, “Gosh, this will be so much better when I can fly in the future.”
That doesn’t happen here.
You definitely have to deal with more limited flight than you got used to in Shadowlands, but it does feel like the situation is under your control and not arbitrarily gated behind waiting. And the map is generally designed to take advantage of that, giving you opportunities to get height. Even better is the fact that as you get good at it and find good vantage point, your mount moves fast; far faster than any other flying mount, you’ll zip across the sky at a speed that’ll make flight masters wave at you and ask you to slow down.
Then you’ll say “NO!” and kick them in the face with your energy legs.
While I wish there were more robust customization out of the gate, there are a lot of customization options, so while you are probably going to be using one of the four basic dragon types for most of the expansion it does feel like there are lots of cosmetic choices available just the same. And since the unlocks for both talent points and customization are account-wide, some of those problems are just ones you’ll encounter on your first trip onto the Dragon Isles.
It’s a good compromise. There’s enough meat to make dragonriding worthwhile and fun even while it’s not full unlimited flight, and that is definitely to the game’s credit. While I would have liked more options for ways to spend dragon glyphs and the like, ultimately the system is just meaty enough that it works, and I would not be upset to see it make returns in future expansions, even if yes, I do look forward to actual straightforward flight in the future.
Of course, there is another system that has been stretched out and expanded a lot in this expansion. And that is… uh… well, there are fewer positive things to say about WoW’s crafting. Yes, even now that the designers have worked very hard to make crafting more relevant and in-depth.
I am sympathetic, to some extent, to the goals of the designers who were tasked with overhauling crafting in Dragonflight. Crafting has been a quagmire for WoW for years now, and it’s consistently remained a system that’s important enough that it needs to be there but not something the designers want to make important enough to really be a central focus. And it is very clear that with this expansion’s design that the team is trying to ape elements of other MMORPGs with crafting systems that are at least more complex if not central endgame pillars.
But this attempt still does not work.
The crafting revision has, at this point, brought all of the worst aspects of more elaborate crafting systems without substantially adding anything to make the crafting experience feel fun. You have a whole mess of new stats and systems, but you don’t get any decent in-game explanation for how these stats work, much less what you should be going for or why based on your goals. You can specialize, but again, you’re never told what specialization is good for doing what in more than the vaguest terms.
A lot of extra complexity has been layered on top of the game’s existing crafting mechanics, but it doesn’t really seem to add much to the reasons most people were actually taking specific crafting professions. On top of that, there are some weird edge cases. You can deck yourself out in profession-specific gear, and that’s nice… but why doesn’t that become a customization option? Why is it only visible while crafting or gathering, often to the detriment of existing gear? Why not let it just be an option for that profession?
It also suffers even more substantially from the problem of “is this going to stick around?” You’ll no doubt recall that this is an open question of every system in this game, and it goes doubly so here. I do not really look forward to spending this expansion figuring out Crafting 2.0 (or 3.0 or 4.0 or whatever you want to call it) just to watch it all get binned when the next expansion rolls around. The specter of borrowed power is still here; it just comes with little quality pips next to crafting reagents.
So that’s one solid hit and one solid whiff, but at least the whiff comes on something that Blizzard has been consistently whiffing for 18 years now. Let’s wrap this up tomorrow with a look at combat, content, and a final evaluation of the expansion out of the gate.