Second Wind: World of Warcraft’s Dragonflight story dragonflies right off a cliff


We come now to the third part of our four-part Second Wind series on revisiting World of Warcraft after quitting at the end of Legion. This will be the darkest chapter of our exploration of the state of the game, as we examine the absolute disaster that is Dragonflight’s story.

This column will contain extensive spoilers for the story to date. The warning has been given; your fate is now your own.

A lot of people like to hate on the stories of Blizzard games in general and WoW in particular, but I want to make clear that I’m not one of them; I play these games specifically for the story. I do think the stories are often inconsistent, and I think the team has made some major blunders over the years, but I also believe there have been some very high highs and that Blizzard’s stories do some clever things that the writers rarely if ever get credit for. More than anything else, I think the stories are just fun, and for all their faults, I still love them to death.

So when I say that Dragonflight‘s story is junk, I hope that carries more weight than it would coming from most people.

This is a story all about dragons that contradicts almost everything that has previously been established about dragon lore. Continuity has never been Blizzard’s strong suit, but usually its retcons add nuance or otherwise make the story better (with some notable exceptions, like the calamitous Draenei blunder). But Dragonflight‘s retcons only make the story less compelling.

I’d be here all day if I tried to list every continuity error in Dragonflight‘s story, so I’ll focus on the ones that most harm the story being told.

Prior to this expansion, the Dragonflights were in a very low place. The Aspects had given up much of their power to defeat Deathwing, leaving them “only” very powerful as opposed to being de facto gods. More importantly, the loss of their Aspect status had caused all of the Dragonflights to become sterile, and most whelps and eggs had been destroyed, leaving the dragons on a slow but inevitable road to extinction.

Dragonflight the expansion completely ignores this latter point. Suddenly whelps and eggs are everywhere. This completely removes the poignancy of the dragons’ struggle, makes the quest to regain the powers of the Aspects seem more like an exercise in vanity on their part, and ruins any chance of the villians’ motivations making any sense.

The bad guys in Dragonflight are the Incarnates, proto-drakes who oppose the gifts given to the dragons by the titans. We’re clearly meant to have at least some sympathy for their perspective, and if the sterility plotline had been left intact, that might have been possible. If the titans designed the dragons to just wither away and die once they’d served their purpose, that’d be pretty horrible!

But Dragonflight wants us to question the actions of the titans in regard to the dragons while simultaneously removing its only negative consequence. As is, the Incarnates’ argument seems to be, “The titans are evil because they offered to give us superpowers for free.”

The end result is the Incarnates are easily the weakest major villains in Warcraft‘s history. Yeah, I know everyone hates the Jailer, but he already displayed more personality in the little bit of Shadowlands leveling I’ve done than the Incarnates did all expansion long. I’m not saying he’s great; I’m just saying it’s really, really easy to be cooler than the Incarnates.

Near the end of the story, the writers even seem to start realizing this a bit, as in-universe the characters start acknowledging that Fyrakk is a mindless idiot whose plan doesn’t even make sense. “These people are dangerous not despite their stupidity but because of it” is not a bad angle and could have redeemed the story if that’s the direction the devs had gone from the start, but in practice it was too little too late.

While it’s less egregious, I’m also unhappy that the quest to restore the Aspects’ powers ultimately succeeds. It makes their sacrifice in Cataclysm feel meaningless, it contradicts the theme of mortals needing to take charge of their own destiny that has run through the franchise for decades, and it opens up endless opportunities for plot holes in the future. Now every future story needs to answer the question, “Why don’t the dragons just fix this?”

This was (I assume) the whole reason Blizzard depowered them in the first place; the Aspects are so powerful they should be able to fix every problem on their own. Again, they’re effectively gods.

This is the worst kind of story-telling blunder. It’s not dumb in isolation, like Warlords of Draenor. It’s dumb in ways that will negatively impact the story for years to come, like Burning Crusade.

I do understand the desire to do an expansion that’s more about healing and recovery after so many apocalypses of the week. It’s the direction I wanted the game to go after Legion. I don’t even think centering it on the dragons is the worst idea, but you can tell a story of healing and redemption without hitting the magic “fix everything” button.

You know what could have been really amazing? A story about the dragons finding new purpose and meaning despite everything they’ve lost. Don’t fix anything; just tell a story about their learning to live with their new reality and finding joy once more despite it all. What an incredibly powerful story that could have been for people dealing with grief, loss, and disability in reality.

And I haven’t even gotten to how they completely butchered the Infinite Dragonlight’s lore! I’m so angry, guys.

While it’s a much smaller complaint compared to the rest, can we also talk about how weirdly saccharine this expansion is? Again, I think getting a bit softer and more emotional with the story was a good idea, but in typical Blizzard fashion, the studio massively over-corrected. I think there’s more hugs — actual literal hugs — in Dragonflight alone than in the entire franchise to date.

On the plus side, there are still some decent side stories along the way. I quite enjoyed everything involving the Maruuk centaur. Here’s an example of retcons done right: Sure, a new tribe of pre-Sundering centaur contradicts what had previously been established about the race’s origins, but they’re a really cool new culture to explore, so I don’t care about the continuity issues. Wrathion also gets a lot of screentime, and he remains delightful as ever.

Also, how is grown-up Wrathion so incredibly hot? I’m not normally into dudes, but this guy is making me feel all kinds of funny ways. What dark alchemy did you work to make this NPC so sexy, Blizzard?

Speaking of gay stuff, I’ll also give Dragonflight some points for representation. One of the very first things you do upon arriving in the Dragon Isles is meet a new non-binary NPC, and you’ll also encounter multiple queer couples and a really well-executed deaf NPC over the course of your journeys.

But ultimately Dragonflight remains a disaster for the lore. It embodies all the worst characteristics of Blizzard’s story-telling — an aversion to lasting consequences and a lackadaisical approach to continuity — without any of the fun and creativity that usually redeems its stories.

Stay tuned for my final column in this series, where I’ll cover odds and ends like dragonriding as well as my final thoughts on returning to WoW.

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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