Second Wind: The problem with World of Warcraft’s Dragonflight’s class design

Look how they massacred my girl


It’s time for part two of this four part Second Wind series on revisiting World of Warcraft after many years away. In the first piece, I gushed about the vastly more casual direction the game’s endgame and rewards have taken.

Today we’re going to be a bit less upbeat as we look at the direction class design has taken in my absence, including the revamped talent system and the Evoker class. My thoughts on these are not all negative, but they’re certainly more negative than positive.

Class changes

There have been times in WoW‘s history when the list of class specializations I found to be tolerable, let alone enjoyable, was quite short, but by the end of Legion, things had changed. I played every single spec as part of my goal to complete every class story, and I enjoyed all but two (Holy Paladin and Demonology Warlock, both of which were ironically former favourites).

The good news is that most specs I’ve tried since I came back haven’t changed much. The bad news is the ones that have changed did so mostly for the worse.

My Rogue has long been my most played character in WoW and became my mascot in the digital realm (she’s my avatar here on MOP, among other honours), but sadly, she now feels like a shadow of her former self.

This is quite shocking because back in Legion my longtime favourite spec, Outlaw, was better than ever. It had a tight, smooth rotation and great animations. Everything about it felt amazing.

Since then, however, the rotation has become severely bloated and now requires juggling no less than three maintenance buffs. You know, short duration stat buffs you need to constantly refresh throughout the fight, aka the most boring ability type there is. The type no one likes. The type that made Paladins riot back in Cataclysm when just one got added to their rotation.

This is “compensated” by a massive increase to combo point generation so we can pay for all these buffs, but those combo points mainly come from random procs, so it just further throws the pace of your rotation off.

Outlaw (or Combat as it was originally known) always felt like a dance. You got into a steady rhythm of builders and finishers that felt like a natural flow. Now I’m twisting my hands in knots using shift modifiers to access all the buttons I need, lurching from one finisher to another as I keep all my various balls in the air, and wrangling a totally unpredictable stream of combo points.

The current version of Outlaw exemplifies all the worst elements of old school MMO button bloat. It’s physically uncomfortable to play, I spend all my time looking at my action bar and buffs rather than the game world, and none of my abilities feels impactful because my damage is spread so thin between all of them.

Adding insult to injury, Blizzard even gutted our aesthetics. Our main builder and finisher, Saber Slash and Run Through, were replaced by Sinister Strike and Dispatch, which are mechanically identical but have much weaker visual and auditory effects. They’re barely distinguishable from auto-attacks.

I’m just flabbergasted. It’s like the devs did everything they possibly could to eliminate any possible sense of fun from the spec. I had to switch to Assassination, which has historically been my least favourite Rogue spec by far but has now had its energy starvation somewhat mitigated and is now… tolerable. But if I weren’t so invested in this character from our long history together, I’d have dropped my Rogue like a hot potato.

This isn’t even the first time this has happened. Things like poor animations, clunky rotations, and an over reliance on passive damage sources like maintenance buffs have been long-time complaints of the Rogue community through much of WoW‘s lifespan. In Legion, it seemed like those dark days were finally behind us, but now it’s like the clock got turned back on our class by a decade.

Most other classes have fared better, but there’s still issues, especially around ability bloat. In response to criticism over ability pruning, many have been added back, and when it comes to fun fluff abilities like the Hunter’s Eyes of the Beast, that’s welcome, but a lot are just bloat for bloat’s sake.

Take my Protection Warrior, for example. She has access to Whirlwind and Revenge, which are both rage-spenders that do AoE damage. But Revenge does better damage per rage spent, so there’s literally no reason to ever use Whirlwind. It’s just a trap choice.

At least they gave Holy Paladins holy power back. That’s something.

The Evoker

I played the new dracthyr Evoker race/class through the starting zone before losing interest. A dragon-themed class was nowhere near the top of my wishlist, but I do acknowledge it’s something a lot of people have wanted for a long time, so it’s not the worst idea, even if it doesn’t do a lot for me personally.

Mechanically, the class is fine, if a bit vanilla-feeling. There’s not a huge amount that distinguishes it from other caster classes, aside from its Augmentation specialization, which is the first “support” the game has had in many years. Focused on short buffs with automated targeting and still boasting some visually spectacular direct attacks, it’s a lot more exciting to play than the buff bots of yesteryear, and I’d like to see more specs in this mould going forward.

Ultimately my issue was less with the Evoker half of things and more the dracthyr part. I find their character model deeply off-putting, and they’re completely out of left field lore-wise. We already had multiple races of dragon-people in the lore; why did we need a new one? Adding salt to the wound, the new drakonid models in Dragonflight look fantastic, and it makes it sting all the more that we got these bizarre gecko people as a playable race instead.

If it were possible to play Evokers of other races, I’d probably sink some time into playing an Augmentation Evoker, but I find dracthyr so off-putting that the whole class is a non-starter for me.

The return of talent trees

When we first learned that WoW was going back to conventional talent trees, I was very harshly critical of the idea. Now that I’ve played with them, though, I do find them much less problematic than I expected. I would not go so far as to say it’s actually a good change, definitely not, but it’s much less bad than I feared.

Unlike WoW‘s original talent trees, these offer enough options to present some real choices. There’s not just a single build per spec. You’re not going to end up with wild variations between players of the same spec, but you do get some potential to customize your playstyle, at least if you don’t care about the meta, and the renewed focus on casual content certainly helps with that.

That said, it does still trigger some of my pet peeves around traditional skill trees. Filler nodes, for instance. You can’t convince me anyone notices the difference of having 1.5% more crit chance on a core ability without the aid of a DPS meter. Such things only provide the illusion of more choice by giving you more nodes to click on.

My bigger frustration with these kind of skill trees, though, is how they can arbitrarily gate options and force you to make choices you don’t want. Once again the best example comes from the poor, beleaguered Rogue class.

In the Assassination tree, I need to take Improved Shiv, which turns from Shiv from a utility skill to a rotational DPS button, in order to get Cut to the Chase, which effectively makes it so I only need to apply my Slice and Dice buff once per fight. I don’t want to take Improved Shiv; I think it’s a clunky ability that throws off the flow of the rotation. But Cut to the Chase is such a massive quality-of-life boon that I can’t live without it, and I can’t have one without the other.

There’s no reason these things should be connected. They’re completely unrelated abilities that do totally different things. The fact they’re connected is entirely arbitrary. And this is my big frustration with these old school linear talent trees: There isn’t the flexibility to pick and choose however I want the way there was with the Mists of Pandaria talent trees.

So by and large I do find the new talent system tolerable, and it’s much better than what existed in the earliest days of the game, but I’d still go back to the Mists talents in a heartbeat if I had the choice.

That covers the rocky road of class changes in Dragonflight, but buckle up because next time we’re getting to my biggest problem with the current state of the game: the story.

MMOs are constantly changing, and our opinions naturally change with them. That’s why we’re here to give some beloved (or not) games a second (or third) look. Has that game that was a wreck at launch finally pulled itself together? How do the hits of yesteryear hold up today? Let’s find out as MassivelyOP gets its Second Wind!
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