Dragonflight Announcement

I got to watch the new expansion announcement stream live on Tuesday evening because it actually happened at a convenient time for me. Sadly, all the "live experience" added was a scrolling chat full of the WoW community's worst dregs being juvenile and bigoted every time there were female devs on screen, which was distracting and not in a good way. One star, cannot recommend.

The expansion cinematic was a bit of a weird one. It was of course beautifully rendered as always, and I liked how people got really invested in Stony Tony's fate (or however the golem dude ended up being called in your circles) and were instantly meme-ing about him ("already a better character than the Jailer" etc.), which was quite fun to see. As Rohan also observed yesterday, players who meme affectionately are happy players.

However in terms of content and hype, the trailer felt like a bit of a nothing sandwich to me. Looking back at previous expansion cinematics, they always tended to include at least one of three things:

  • cool fight scenes
  • depictions of one or more of the expansion's new features
  • an iconic lore character

Dragonflight doesn't really deliver on any of those - we do see a bit of the Dragon Isles, but what we see is very barren and not really showing much other than the big beacon thing. And Alexstrasza is technically an important character in lore, but considering that we've been on a first-name basis with her since Wrath, never mind the commodification of dragons in WoW in general, just seeing her fly past and roar isn't really that awe-inspiring anymore, sorry.

The actual dev round-tables were interesting, though my first thought was simply: "God, does Ion look old and tired." The past few years clearly haven't been kind to him. The general presentation style was also somewhat stiff - not insincere, but like everything was heavily scripted, and even with that in mind the general vibe (as I perceived it anyway) was that of people who are a little timid and very aware that anything coming out the wrong way would lead to them being torn apart by the community later. I'm all too happy to acknowledge Blizzard's corporate failings, but it's also impossible for me to not feel compassion for the people who are still working there on the ground because they enjoy what they're doing and who've clearly been having a rough time.

Now for the actual expansion-related content reveals... like many, I was kind of surprised/impressed to see Ion actually admit that they'd heard the feedback about players being sick of all these temporary systems and that they want more long-lasting additions and improvements to the game. And to be fair, a lot of the feature bullet points seemed to indicate that Blizzard have listened!

First off, there's a new race and class, the "dracthyr evoker". This one was a big surprise to me because for all the speculation that had been going on about the dragon theme beforehand, the idea of playable dragons always seemed ludicrous to me. But no, Blizzard are actually doing it! Sorta.

Mechanically, everything about the new class sounds very sound and appealing. It's going to be another hero class with its own starting zone, and it will be a ranged dps/healer that wears mail, which seems like a sensible decision in terms of balance. (Did you know that until now, every single class that has been added to the game since launch has been melee?) The fact that the new race and class are a package deal, meaning that you can't have one without the other, is unusual by WoW standards but again, pretty reasonable under the circumstances and certainly not a novelty in the MMO space as a whole. (The most frequent parallel I've seen people draw here is to the Beorning in LOTRO.)

I have yet to see anyone comment that they really love the aesthetic of these new dragon people though. What's been shown of their animations reminded me of the Worgen (whose animations I used to loathe, though I got used to them over time) and overall the closest thing to these dracthyr that we've seen in WoW before is probably Maloriak, the raid boss from Cataclysm, who was created by Nefarian fusing the body of a young human with the corpse (!) of a dragonspawn. There's even a parallel in the origin story here as the dracthyr were apparently created by Neltharion wanting to combine the best humanoid and draconic traits. It's not a good look, is what I'm saying!

Then there is dragonriding, a new form of flying exclusive to the Dragon Isles, and the mechanics of which appear to be a wholesale copy and paste job from Guild Wars 2's Skyscale mount - honestly, I recognised that even as someone who's never played GW2. I see no shame in copying good features from other MMOs though - it's what WoW used to be good at, after all. I personally can't judge how fun this will be, but it does seem like a potentially neat idea and like it would offer a different kind of non-combat gameplay. The dragon mounts are also supposed to be super customisable. If this takes off (pun intended), we can only hope that it or something similar at least will also become an option for other mounts/in other expansions eventually.

There will be a long overdue revamp for professions, with crafting supposedly becoming more involved - I guess we'll see how that pans out in practice, because WoW's crafting has never been great even at the best of times, so I'm a bit sceptical of whether the team has the design chops to get this right... but I do appreciate them making the effort at least. There'll also be a new "work order" system where you can advertise that you want people to craft stuff for you, and they can even turn your soulbound materials into gear for you. This sounds great! Makes me wish we could have buy or sell orders for general goods as well though, instead of being stuck with an auction house where everything needs to be relisted every two days.

Talents are making a comeback! Now, having lived through times when Blizzard changed the way talents work every expansion, I can't fault people for being a bit wary of this, but the system introduced in MoP never grew on me, so personally I'm happy for them to revisit this. From my point of view almost anything they can do in that area can only be an improvement.

And finally, while I'm sure that a lot of addon lovers won't care about this, as someone who's been playing with the default UI for most of my time in WoW and who generally wants to avoid dealing with addons as much as possible, I was very pleased to hear that they're planning to upgrade the default UI. While they've made some tweaks to things like raid frames over the years, I've generally been quite astounded by how little they seemed to care about the UI, seemingly because they assumed that if you didn't like it, you could always download an addon. Which is an approach that's fine for some things in my opinion, but not so much for the basic window through which the player interacts with your game.

I've been trying to get an idea of how to characterise the community response to Dragonflight, and it's been somewhat difficult, because the reactions have honestly been all over the place, with most of the ones I've seen sitting somewhere in the middle. I guess in a way that's telling in itself, seeing how I used to joke that it was typical of the WoW player base in general to always be hyped for every expansion when it's announced and then hate it two weeks after launch. So things have definitely changed... then again, maybe that will give Dragonflight a chance to prove itself on its own merits instead of having to live up to made-up hype. I don't think it's a coincidence that Mists of Pandaria is now remembered so fondly by many while also having been the expansion that probably had the coolest reception at the start.

I'm also in a strange position myself since I have little interest in classic Wrath of the Lich King at this point (which was also confirmed during the announcement by the way), and it's the first time since Cataclysm that I'm actually an active (if casual) retail player at the time of an expansion announcement and could potentially see myself playing it when it comes out. From that point of view I've got to say that I like what I've seen, even if I'm not "hyped". Things like a new race/class, updating the UI, re-thinking talents and revamping professions are long-term investments in the game - and dragonriding could potentially be developed beyond this expansion (though I'll be honest and admit that I kind of doubt it will be), which to me is a better way of managing the game than the modus operandi of recent years where stuff gets added and then trashed again pretty much on a schedule.


  1. For me, one thing is certain: what I find enjoyable about the game is not what the most vocal players/raiders find enjoyable. When people ask "Who's the Big Bad?" because the trailer didn't have one, well... Neither did Mists. (Mists had the Alliance/Horde conflict, as did Battle for Azeroth.) And the Warlords trailer did a bait and switch, where everybody thought Garrosh was going to be the Big Bad, and he didn't even last before the first content patch. The Dragonflight trailer had a laser focus on the old things around Azeroth: the Titan Watchers, the Dragons, the Great Sundering.

    Remember what Uldum was supposed to be like? The ancient Titan city, with the gates patrolled by giants and barricaded by the Watchers? The Uldum we finally got in Cataclysm was so totally different than that original imagining that it's amazing the two have the same name. I expect that the Dragon Isles we're going to get has something totally unexpected, and a Big Bad that is totally out of nowhere (although I'd not be shocked if it's an Old God who is trying to disrupt all of creation by creating an elemental problem that lures the dragons back home to then destroy/corrupt them all).

    I watched the trailer with my Oldest, and she immediately noticed the piano theme from Dragonblight. (It helps having the Soundtrack on CD, I suppose.) That brought a smile to her face, so she kind of knew it was going to be about dragons even before she saw the name.

    1. Seeing so many people raise the "Big Bad" question was honestly surprising to me too, because it's something I care so little about that it wasn't even on my radar as "something to want from an expansion trailer". Though I'm not sure citing MoP and WoD as examples that supposedly did just fine without one is really supporting your case!

      And yeah, I instantly noticed the "Dragonblight tinkle" too, that was a nice touch.

    2. Oh, I didn't mean that they were "fine" per se, but MoP and WoD were on the two ends on the commonly agreed upon good expac/bad expac scale, and yet their trailers were pretty good.

  2. He's Stony Danza, that's just the way it is.

    Ion is probably being subjected to the same sort of stress that afflicts US presidents - they go in with hair, they come out with grey hair. That kind of stress really seems to age you. (and no, Reagan doesn't count, we all know he had "Just for Men" on speed-dial). And let's face it, there is a LOT of stress there right now. All eyes are on them right now. How are they going to make things right? Because they need to make things right. That's some real pressure.

    That's an astute observation about the dragon peoples, I hadn't made the connection between them and Maloriak, but there sure is a lot of there, there.

    Professions and talents are where my excitement is right now, and I'm so glad they're getting rid of that silly tier'd system of theirs. I want to go mouse over those things though, see the tooltips!

    I do use a lot of addons, and so I am actually quite pleased if I can get rid of them. Though I must point out, usually when Blizz tries to emulate an addon with built-in features, it is inadequate compared to the addon itself, so I end up using an addon anyway. A good example is random mounts - it is sooooo inadequate for what I want out of it, that I'm still using GupPet, which is no longer maintained by the author (I've been hacking on it to keep it breathing but I'm sure some day my skills will no longer be adequate. But maybe BeStride will still be with us at that point)

    1. Hmm... I guess if he's Stony Danza we're looking at Taxi being reincarnated as Dragonflight.

  3. If the good impressions continue through beta, I'm tempted to return as a casual player. If I feel like I can pursue my filthy casual goals without having to dedicate a serious amount of time overcoming any gatekeeping then that would be a definite temptation.

    I'm liking the UI revamp. If I go back I want to have as few addons as possible. A few, such as Altoholic or an auction addon are useful enough to keep, but if I can do my play without needing to worry about maintaining a stack of raid/mythic+ addons to be functional in dungeons / world bosses I'll be quite happy.