Dragonflight Has Been a Banger of an Expansion

With the War Within alpha launching the other day and the internet being awash with news about everything we get to look forward to in the next expansion, I thought it would be a good time to look back on Dragonflight and give it a bit of a review. Technically we still have a few months of this expansion left, but I feel that regardless of how the Pandaria Remix thing goes, it's not going to move the needle on how people see Dragonflight as a whole in a major way at this point.

Shadowlands seems to be considered one of the worst expansions ever now, but for me it was the first retail expansion since Wrath of the Lich King for which I was subscribed during its entirety, and I honestly thought it was pretty alright. I was only approaching it casually, and since I was focused on Classic, I kind of viewed it as the "inferior" version of WoW that "came free" with my subscription. I ignored pretty much everything power-related and had a good time with the content I did choose to interact with. It was fine.

Ironically, Dragonflight made it clearer to me why so many people hated Shadowlands, because it was just so much better in every way, even I could see that as someone who wasn't entirely "fluent" in retail. The zones were huge and gorgeous, with Ohn'ahran Plains stirring memories of Nagrand, and the Azure Span being vaguely reminiscent of Grizzly Hills, without either of them being straight-up copies. Even what I would consider the "weakest" of the zones, Zaralek Cavern, had its charms and impressed with its seamless integration into the overland world map.

Dragonriding was a smashing success as a new feature (even if it took a little bit of getting used to) and it's great to see it getting carried forward and expanded upon in the next expansion, something that we haven't seen Blizzard do with an entirely new type of gameplay/major expansion feature since Mist of Pandaria's pet battles. (You could make an argument for Legion's world quests and Mythic Plus I suppose, but I feel like those were more tweaks to an existing formula than entirely new features. Either way, it's been a while.)

While this was also the expansion that ended up getting me to try M+ for the first time, I'd like to disregard that for the purposes of this post, since it feels like something that also could've happened in another expansion if things had lined up with my guildies previously the way they did in Dragonflight. Maybe Dragonflight's appeal was a factor in finally getting several of them to the level cap in a timely manner, but I don't feel like I really know that.

However, even leaving our weekly excursions into M+ aside, Dragonflight was just so much more engaging on a casual level. I kind of swore off grinding for gear back in Cataclysm, since the rate at which Blizzard was making gear obsolete every tier was too fast for my liking and made everything feel like a pointless hamster wheel. Dragonflight was the first expansion that managed to make me care about gear again to some degree simply because they actually made it the focus of power progression again after several expansions of temporary systems overshadowing everything else, but also by simply making it so much more accessible to the masses. I think I've done the "Valdrakken weekly" during more weeks than not, simply because it managed to hit a sweet spot between fun content and being rewarding. I didn't care about the exact item level of the gear coming out of the box, I just knew it was almost always a bit of an upgrade for me for doing a little bit of open world content that was also enjoyable, so I often did it not just on one but on multiple characters.

I generally loved all those open world events they kept adding with each patch. Yes, they became a bit of a meme after a while and weren't entirely without issues either, but again, overall they were just simple and fun.

I wasn't too enamoured with the dracthyr when they were first announced, but I mained one all expansion and enjoyed it, so the devs must've done something right there in the end.

The UI revamp and new talent system were a bit overwhelming at first but I think both came out as a net positive in the end as well. (I actively dislike fiddling with talents, but when I finally made some changes to my build for M+, not based on some guide but based on which abilities I'd actually ended up using most runs, the resulting improvement in my gameplay was a very satisfying experience.)

If I had to mark anything down as a bit disappointing it was the profession revamp, which I thought sounded kind of cool in theory but in practice was just kind of off-putting to me. I did the weekly profession quests most weeks, but I never saw a public work order I could actually do (without effectively paying someone else to be allowed to craft something for them) and felt kind of frustrated by how awkward it was to max out crafting skills. It was all just too complicated and grindy and not in a fun way. Oh well.

The story I actually liked overall. I'm not saying it was amazing, and there are plenty of valid criticisms you can throw at it (this T&E video sums up just a few of them) but ultimately most of these didn't bother me that much and I think they got kind of overblown by the community at large because people couldn't really find much else to complain about this expansion (which is telling in itself). Personally I liked that it had a lot of positive moments, where characters got to enjoy a little bit of happiness (even if there were also deaths and bad things happening as always), and it felt like just the right mix of old lore and trying to take things into a fresh new direction. The Primal Incarnates were a brand-new and yet fantastic set of villains for example, which really stood out to me after so many expansions with a lot of utterly rubbish antagonists.

I feel like Dragonflight will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the "great" expansions, the ones where you're not at all surprised if someone says it was their favourite (even if your own preferences might be different). It certainly has been for me, and combined with Classic increasingly going into directions that were not for me, I wouldn't be surprised if I actually spent more time in retail over the past two years than in Classic. (Edit: I belatedly remembered that I still have ManicTime installed so that I could actually check the data for this. Looking at the period from the Dragonflight pre-patch to today, Classic still comes out ahead, but in the past year, I've actually played a bit more retail than Classic.)

If anything, I've got to admit I'm a bit concerned that Dragonflight has given War Within a lot to live up to. I'll undoubtedly play War Within when it comes out and I'm sure it will have some features that will be a lot of fun, but I've got to admit I'm not hopeful that it will manage to be as good as Dragonflight, for a number of reasons that I'll explain in another post some time.

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