For most of 2022, World of Warcraft: Dragonflight was so far down my list of “most anticipated releases” as to be falling off the page entirely. I figured there’d be the usual undertow of hype that’d pull at me, but the focus on (sigh) dragons and the lack of a “must have” feature kept my attention diverted elsewhere.
But a funny thing happened on the way to closing out the year: Dragonflight not only brought me back to retail WoW but kind of made me love it after years of feeling ambivalent about my former MMO stomping ground. And it doesn’t seem to be just me; I’ve been encountering a lot of folks who find that Blizzard’s new (yet old) approach to this expansion has chiseled through a stony layer of cynicism to find a beating heart once more.
As my friend Neri wrote, “I may only be level 62, but so far I feel like Dragonflight is a mix of all the best parts of previous expansions and I’m here for it.” It may be the “expansion endorphins,” as I’ve heard it said, but I am oh-so-cautiously echoing her statement. Could I be having fun in WoW once more? ‘Tis true, and here are five early reasons for it.
A fresh angle on storytelling
If we’re all being honest here, storytelling and narrative was, is, and probably never will be WoW’s strong suit. The huge arcs of the last couple expansions were not just forgettable — they were roundly loathed and rejected by the playerbase.
Blizz needed to do something different for Dragonflight, and as I make my way through the field of quest density in these four zones, I’m seeing just that. The MMO’s throttled back from the massive, cataclysmic (sorry) sagas to something more intimate and relatable. I agreed with a sentiment that I saw posted this past week that said, “For the first time in a while we aren’t the chosen ones or the champions, we’re just adventures exploring a new land. And it feels so nice.”
I’m also glad to see the whole “Horde and Alliance hate each other until they have to work together” trope put to bed (hopefully for good). Everyone from both factions are on the same page, and that works just fine.
MMOs always benefit narratively when they stop trying to be huge and start being real. There’s a lot of great quest text and scripted events that keep me interested in the ongoing tales of this wild land. I like that the writers have included a lot of (probably non-impactful) dialogue responses that let me roleplay a bit.
And can we give a shoutout to the brilliance that is the quiet, meditative quest where you sat with Veritistrasz and listened to a very old dragon tell a wistful and sorrowful tale while you were encouraged to look out at the landscape and simply listen? The writers here stepped up to bat and swung with all their might.
No confusing systems
In the past, Blizzard kept introducing all of these temporary borrowed-power systems that were not only limited in duration but confusing without external websites guiding you through it. It always came off as the devs trying to be clever and “fresh” — and failing miserably while people like me bumbled around lost.
That’s certainly not the case with Dragonflight. Every one of the new systems is easy to parse and access. Talent trees make sense and are a cinch to set up. Customizing my dragon’s looks? As simple as the barber shop. Gear’s gone back to the old days of being straight-forward and not revolving around some sort of grindy concept (Heart of Azeroth and Covenants, I’m looking at you).
I especially like the expansion tracker screen, which gives you instant access to your progress in the four reputations as well as the dragonriding talent tree. Right from the start, I’m able to see my goals and objectives and start working toward them. I love it.
Dragonriding may be a tad overrated but it’s still a blast
Sure, Blizzard is acting like it invented MMO flying in 2022 and being way too self-congratulatory about it, but that almost doesn’t matter. What matters is whether this much-ballyhooed system works and is fun, and I can say definitely “yes” to both.
It certainly takes more effort and even skill to fly a dragon, but the payoff seems worth it for the more natural “feel” of it and the faster speeds. I spent the second day of the expansion cruising around to get all of the glyphs (for the talent tree), which ended up being a great tour of the zones and a way to get used to handling this mount. There’s even an early dungeon where you’re encouraged to mount up and zoom across an entire zone with your party, which was nuts but in a good way.
And I’m not complaining that we’re getting flying in this expansion from Day One rather than a year-plus into the cycle. Yes, I will probably miss my normal flying mount at times, but dragonriding is a great way to get around and even encourage people to explore.
The customization unlocks is a bit of icing on that whole cake, too. It’s a great avenue to add more rewards for quests and other content, and I hope that Blizzard sees this and thinks “housing” as a way to reward future players with cosmetic unlocks.
It’s a return to home
In a year that WoW Classic went back to one of the most lauded and nostalgia-laden expansions of them all, Dragonflight is harnessing all sorts of old-school feels with a new package. Coming back to Azeroth after two years of a discombobulated afterlife is refreshing, but coming back to zones that deliberately pay homage to some of our favorite places of the past is even better.
It simply feels like we’re more grounded in this expansion’s game world. It’s an uncomplicated World of Warcraft realm that includes all of the fantastic art and music and design that you’d expect… just with more dragons.
This is what WoW needed to be right now to build bridges and call jaded ex-pats back to the fold: Not experimental, not crazy, not off-putting, but instead cozy, comfortable, and familiar.
It’s an expansion that opens up quickly
I’m a “slow down and smell the flowers” kind of gamer, so finishing the zones and campaign storyline will take a while for me. And that’s OK, because I really don’t feel a push from this expansion to blitz by it for the “real” stuff to come. If anything, Dragonflight opens up more options early on rather than holding off until later.
I’ve already mentioned how we get flying from the start, but that’s just the beginning of the content buffet. There’s the revamped crafting system (and how cool is it to have reagent bags and specialized gear?), which is another evergreen system that feels relevant once more. Dragonriding races are offered as fun diversions if you want to take a break from pushing forward your reputation reward tracks. There is treasure hunting, dungeons, exploration, dragon customization, new toys, and more.
Blizzard proclaimed this expansion to be quite alt-friendly, which is something I’m discovering as well. Finding all of those dragonriding glyphs unlocks the full talent trees on all of my alts, so I never have to do that again. My alts will be able to come into this expansion with the world quests unlocked from their first day, as well. And I’ve heard good things about the renown catch-up system that’ll benefit my other characters.
We are still in the early days of this expansion, so while positive first impressions give me hope, what’ll keep that enthusiasm going are systems that work for the long haul and a future release cadence that doesn’t leave us hanging forever. If Blizzard can nail those, it might have just broken the streak of lackluster expansions.