Against my better judgment, World of Warcraft: Dragonflight will make me return to Azeroth

World of Warcraft: Dragonflight is leading me down a perilous path. The ninth World of Warcraft expansion was announced yesterday without a release date, but that didn’t stop me from spending my entire evening looking at subscription options. I hate Blizzard for that. 

You have to understand, I have been burned out and come back again more times that I can remember on the best MMO games out there. Hundreds of hours have been sunk into the likes of Phantasy Star Universe and Guild Wars 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Elder Scrolls Online, and Final Fantasy 14 – the less said about the others, the better. But my time in these perpetually online worlds is nothing compared to the thousands of hours that have been spent exploring Azeroth over the past 18 years. I took one look at World of Warcraft: Dragonflight and can feel it calling out to me, but why has it so thoroughly piqued my interest?

The Dracthyr Evoker calls to me

World of Warcraft Dragonflight

(Image credit: Blizzard)

After 2018’s Battle for Azeroth failed to really capture my attention, and when I didn’t feel any great urge to return for Shadowlands in 2020, I figured that was it. My enduring love/hate relationship with World of Warcraft had finally drawn to an unceremonious end – it’s okay, nothing good lasts forever. I even ignored the siren call of World of Warcraft Classic and Burning Crusade (my favorite expansion), as I came to the realization that I needn’t indulge in every twinge of nostalgia for a time that can’t be replicated. 

That was it, I moved on with my life and prepared for an MMO-less existence. I’m in my 30s now, and there are battle royales to play. If I were to say World of Warcraft: Dragonflight has ‘good vibes’, would that be enough to justify my renewed interest? Probably not. So let’s put it this way: it appears that Blizzard is returning to the aspects of WoW that the studio had long left behind – exploration, player-choice, and a wicked new class and race that will be the envy of your entire raiding party.

Admittedly, I’m an easy mark when it comes to the Dracthyr Evoker. That’s World of Warcraft’s first playable race-and-class combo. The new hero class will let us play in both dragon form and in their humanoid visage, both of which are widely customisable; available at level 58 from a brand new starting area, the Dracthyr Evoker can align with either Alliance or Horde, and is able to wield magic reminiscent to that of all five Dragonflights.

World of Warcraft Dragonflight

(Image credit: Blizzard)

No, no, don’t worry – I’m not going to bore you with World of Warcraft lore here. Effectively what this means is that the game is finally getting a new style of spellcasting. As a devout Mage and Priest over the last 18 years, the Dracthyr Evoker speaks to me. The class can specialize across two disciplines, focused across DPS (Devastation) or healing (Preservation). Blizzard is even introducing a new spell, Empower, which will allow spellcasters to power-up spells before unleashing them, with the damage and AOE potential changing depending on charge time. How this will impact both new and legacy dungeons and raids remains to be seen, but I can’t wait to find out for myself. 

I can’t wait to find out for myself – do you see? It’s already happening, Blizzard is pulling me in! Aside from a hero class that speaks directly to the way I liked to play World of Warcraft, before I got bored with the existing spellcasting options, there are other elements that have caught my attention too. The Dragonriding skill is near the top of the list, which will introduce degrees of momentum and maneuverability to mounted flying. It looks like an exciting new way to explore a familiar world, and that we’ll be able to do it on the back of drake mounts that reportedly have “millions of possible combinations” in terms of customisation only adds to the excitement.

It’s been a long time since World of Warcraft has felt fresh. That’s understandable. It has been played from every corner of the globe for almost two decades, maintaining a healthy playerbase in the millions across a truly wild span of age groups. Blizzard can’t and won’t ever please everybody – it’s an impossible undertaking. That said, I think the steps Blizzard is taking here to meet legacy players – many of whom are still upset at the softening of many of Warcraft’s roughest edges – in the middle. 

The spell is unbroken

World of Warcraft Dragonflight

(Image credit: Blizzard)

The Dracthyr Evoker has certainly caught my attention then, but it might be the revamp to the UI (now more flexible) and Talent system that has sealed the deal. Blizzard says it is working to “find ways to provide players with more choice in shaping their character’s abilities”, which will come in the form of a revised Talent system that runs across two trees. The first focuses on class utility and the second on specialization, a massive shift from the pretty rote approach to progression that Warcraft has undertaken in the modern era. 

Obviously, the community will need to get its hands on this system to see whether this shift will make meaningful changes to damage, healing, and tanking class structures, or whether the change will truly pump fresh life into tired old classes and allow for combinations of spells and abilities that may not have been possible in the game before. But right now is a time to let the imagination run wild, and when the World of Warcraft: Dragonlands beta launches (TBC) will be the venue for a little strict scrutiny.  

It’s also worth quickly reflecting on the Dragon Isles, which is the brand new setting for World of Warcraft: Dragonflight. You should read this deep-dive on the expansion (opens in new tab) from Blizzard for an extensively detailed overview of the four new zones, but it’s worth highlighting the promise to make “exploration a key theme” of the expansion. Say what you will about Mists of Pandaria or Warlords of Draenor, but I have fond memories of wasting hours away just exploring these beautiful, ancient areas with friends. They were awesome locations to dive into, with some of my favorite art direction from Blizzard since the earliest days of Azeroth. 

World of Warcraft Dragonflight

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Between Walking Shores, Ohn’ahran Plains, Azure Span, and Thaldraszus (home to the new main city hub of Valdrakken), Blizzard looks like it is really trying to push the underlying Warcraft systems to deliver fresh environments with a new scale of wonder and far larger points of elevation and diversification. The zones are colorful and extravagant, natural and twisted – perfect for long nights spent exploring and, let’s be honest, warring with rival factions in any neutral areas. 

I said my goodbyes to World of Warcraft long ago. My guilds have scattered, my characters lost to accounts I can no longer recall the passwords to, and my knowledge of intricate Azeroth history slowly fading. But I can already feel World of Warcraft: Dragonflight rekindling a flame I had long thought was extinguished. With World of Warcraft Dragonflight release date theories pointing towards a 2023 launch, let’s see if Blizzard can maintain this momentum and deliver in a way the MMOs expansions haven’t in quite some time. Either way, I’ll probably be there day one, waiting in Stormwind to board a boat that will take me into the ancient ruins of the Walking Shores. What about you?

WoW Classic is getting some new content as well, with the Wrath of the Lich King Classic release date is set for 2022.

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