Dragonflight has been out for a bit, we've spent some time on the Dragon Isles and would like to share our novice's impressions!
Now that most of the content has been out, it's time to rip off the band-aid and declare once and for all if Dragonflight is actually good or not.
Before Taking Flight
If you're looking for the opinion of someone who has played World of Warcraft forever and can give you a detailed breakdown of why things are good or bad, we will have to disappoint you. Because this piece is written by a relatively new player who has put some considerable hours into both Dragonflight and Wrath of the Lich King Classic just to form a somewhat educated opinion on the two.
We will try to refrain from referencing other MMOs and making nonsense comparisons with biased viewpoints (for now), as we here at ESTNN believe a game should be judged on its own merit.
Is Dragonflight the Expansion I should start with?
If you are new to World of Warcraft and or have never touched an MMORPG this is gonna be a very difficult conversation to have. While World of Warcraft is really good at funneling you into the current content despite having an 18-year-long history. The new player experience is awful. The tutorial in Exiles Reach is quite nice and serves to ease you into the very basics of World of Warcraft and how your class works. But after leaving if you're imminently confronted with a mountain's worth of choices and options.
While this is great for the returning player, being funneled into an expansion building off years and years of faction conflict (that is now obsolete apparently…) isn't exactly a smooth experience. And while having most of the basic skills of your class from the start is also nice, being confronted with a skill tree that is about as self-explanatory as quantum physics isn't exactly what I'd call accessible.
Now some World of Warcraft veterans might scoff at this, but having one of your loading screen tips something along the lines of “If you ever don't know what to do, just google it :^)” isn't exactly accessibility at it's prime. That goes for a lot of World of Warcraft's design. A lot of these concepts aren't hard to grasp, but not telling your players (whether purposefully or probably accidentally) what spell interruption is or why buffing other players is generally a good idea, constitutes more than just a skill issue. It's a breeding ground for future disasters.
The leveling process can be similarly frustrating, you'll follow the ‘intended experience' and be railroaded into doing Battle for Azeroth. As mentioned above, you'll be lost in all the jargon the game likes to throw around and you have no idea who all those people are and what is going on. Sure you get the gist of it all but it feels like you're missing a whole lot of critical information. If I had no experience with other MMORPGs this would've probably been the moment in which I quit. The game was fun to play but trying to wrap your head around everything is more frustrating than enjoyable.
So as a new player, unless you'd love to spend half of your time playing on websites like WoWhead just to get a basic understanding of how to play your class I can't really recommend it. This is a shame because Dragonflight's opening hours are way more accessible, the story is easy to follow and the quests tend to be simple and fun. But you first have to climb the 1-60 leveling barrier.
The only saving grace here is that World of Warcraft might be one of the best-documented and most-solved video games of all time. Any question you might have has an answer or an addon that is just a quick search away. And I can't shake the feeling that the developers have long given up on their own efforts and leave that aspect to the community. The newcomer chat is in theory a good idea, but you're going to level it very fast, and joining a guild, especially as a new player is still more of a process than it has to be. As most guilds have little to no reason to recruit new players.
So my answer is that Dragonflight is far from the worst start you could have in a video game, but it makes a very bad impression the moment you get out of the tutorial zone. It would be nice for Blizzard to just let players access the Dragon Isles right from the start, since the monsters can, like everywhere else just sync to your level, and rewards are scaled everywhere as well. There is no reason why this isn't the case. At least in the current content, you'll have way more opportunities to meet other players and ask questions.
Extensive complaining aside, there is still a whole lot to love about World of Warcraft and its new expansion. You get into the new content and suddenly everything is way easier to follow. While all the involved characters have been around for ages, they are easy to understand. Probably because Dragonflight seems to tell a way more contained story. So even if the xpac is making tasteful callbacks (some were sadly lost on me) they are still very easy to follow.
And the best and worst thing I can say about Dragonflight and maybe World of Warcraft as a whole is that it just doesn't get in your way. If you just want to have at it and grind out everything there is to grind, the game lets you do this. You can enter most if not all of its content from the moment you set foot on the Dragon Isles and you can shape your experience however you may see fit.
It is however recommended to play through most, if not all of the basic campaign to unlock the big new feature — dragon-riding with all its bells and whistles. The campaign will also give you a tour throughout the entirety of the Isles and introduce you to all the major players. Overall there's nothing wrong here, the campaign has a decent pace to it and there is never a moment in which you just stand around.
But that's also my complaint here. As much as I enjoyed the campaign and learning about all the dragon flights. Many of the questlines end with a big “To be Continued” as characters wistfully gaze into the sky and the music swells. Sometimes it also feels like the game just wants you to be done with one section so we can get to a new one. Even if all those sidequests start popping up.
It's just that it's really hard to care about heroic sacrifices and the number of tragedies you'll encounter if they fly past you at a very brisk pace. Some of those scenarios should play out throughout the already short campaign, but if you lay on the drama short and fast every couple of quests it'll start feeling cheap.
But outside of that, learning about the Dragon Isles and the people there is a very fun exercise. I think World of Warcraft is at its best when it has fun with itself, the questlines Valdrakken's (the new city) wellness resort and gardens are hilarious and I adored everything that had to do with the academy further north. The only thing I'd appreciate was an in-game glossary so I don't have to cross-reference the Wiki every now and then to know what a titan is and what the deal is with some of the finer details.
Once you wrapped the campaign, the sense of urgency is lost. You're left to grind up the various reputations by either completing quests, turning in special items, or participating in World Events. Many of the World Quests are quite fun, for a while at least. Personally, I feel like they're a little too short and don't stand out too much. Most of the time you'll just end up rushing through them in 5 to 10 minutes until they come back two hours later. Got some good gear though.
Speaking of gearing up, the Primal Storms from the pre-patch event also return in baffling fashion. These events which you can complete once a week (that means four Primal Storms of different elements) consist of slaying monsters for two kinds of currency which can then be exchanged for gear. In theory, that's pretty cool but it's awfully time-gated especially when you compare the gear against the current stuff that drops in raids. I might be out of my element here, but shouldn't that gear be good enough to skip the normal raid tier?
Especially the way it is time-gated with only 8 tokens you can get per week and you need 70 of them for a complete set. It feels a little cheap. It's probably great to gear up an off-spec and or fill in some slots, but the value compared to even normal mode raid rewards seems a little off. And this is just the perspective of someone who only kinda has a grasp on these things. This brings us to the next topic: Raids and Mythic Dungeons.
Raiding and Despair
For reference, I have completed almost two wings of the current raid tier on the normal difficulty. Vault of the Incarnates is a cool raid all and all, but as a new player, the hoops you have to jump through just to get into it are very frustrating. Especially if you're not in a guild that actively raids. Using the group finder isn't really an option in the first week. I don't even know if it is ever an option. Now part of that is on me because I'm not the kind of person that can commit to a raid schedule, but you'd assume that the normal difficulty would be the most accessible.
It was not.
I have no idea why Blizzard decided to lock the raid finder for the first few weeks. You could just dial down the loot and give players the option to practice these raids in a more accessible way. Instead, you have to find a group which took upwards of 1-2 hours sometimes. Then you just go in there and well.. what can I say? The encounters all in all are fun on the normal difficulty, but they always seem to last a little longer than they have to. This is mostly because there is not that much more to those individual bosses (at least from the ones I've done so far).
Progress was slow because obviously it is the first week and you can't expect people to know everything from the get-go. And a theme I noticed, especially compared to my Mythic Dungeon experience is that those fights aren't mechanically complex or hard to learn. They are just incredibly punishing for no good reason.
Some readers will scoff at that, but it is my inherent belief that a good encounter is fun to learn and progress and not needlessly frustrating. Especially when you'll often die to something that you had no control over. I compare this to the Mythic bosses I've done so far because they are just way better-paced and have less potential to wipe the raid because someone wasn't paying attention.
And I know this might come off as complaining from a new player that is most likely out of his element. But we're talking about normal difficulty here. Both the normal and the heroic dungeons are perfectly fine, cozy experiences. This implies that the raids are similar but just bigger. And from my perspective, these encounters in the raid aren't even that hard they just come off as needlessly punishing. Maybe the raid finder will give me the watered-down version I desire. I don't care for the gear, I just want to fight some fun bosses.
So are you gonna keep playing?
My last week in Dragonflight left me a little sour. I still want to enjoy World of Warcraft, but after I finished most of the content that was interesting to me (the campaign) suddenly everything is locked behind one grind or another and the only way forward is gear progression.
It will sound weird to say, but there is not really that much to do if you don't care about making your numbers bigger. I haven't even touched PvP because I know from other experiences that going in as a solo player into that is not a good time. The first 40 hours were great, I really enjoyed progressing through the zones and grinding up my gear with heroic and mythic dungeons but after that, it feels like you hit just another wall.
Some extra story quests are locked behind reputation grinds and can't really motivate myself to do most of them. Yes, the story bits might be really cool, but the quests that lead there are not interesting enough. If you're already into World of Warcraft, you know what to expect and you probably love logging in and doing your daily quests and dungeon runs. To me, it quickly turned into a chore, at some point I had to force myself to just log in and do stuff even kick myself to raid.
This is probably one of the downsides of playing an MMO alone, but try to find a sizeable group of people to play with that is around from 11 pm to 4 am European time. I couldn't. My problem with the reputation grinds could be mitigated by introducing account-wide reputation gain, so I'm more encouraged to try out other classes. You already let me skip the campaign and relearn dragon-riding, why not that as well? Two birds, one stone. Or at least give me that tabard reputation grinds from Wrath of the Lich King, that way I can at least progress two things at once.
For a game that puts such an emphasis on playing it your way, there's a whole lot of whiplash going around. It quickly turns into logging in, checking off stuff from your checklist before the weekly reset, and being angry that the one piece of loot you want never drops. The only thing I ask for is more freedom in terms of upgrade paths, Wrath of the Lich King had those badges and you could easily bring those back and make them a reward for any endgame activity. Or at least make crafting more viable instead of time-gating it so much.
So my final verdict is the following: World of Warcraft Dragonflight is fun if you want to dip your toes in and enjoy the content for what it's worth. But unless you have any grand ambitions to clear all the raids and dungeons on the highest difficulty, content becomes quickly very sparse. Exploring the Dragon Isles is fun for a while, but sooner or later you'll start looking up a checklist for anything anyway.
And I would like to know what Blizzard has actually planned for the rest of the expansion. The content out now will have to last at least half a year and I would like to know what content I can look forward to besides a new raid and maybe a new zone. But I don't think that vague promise will keep me around. But for now, I'm going to bow out of my Azeroth adventures and come back in a few months to check in again.
To follow me on this wild journey and to keep up with anything gaming or esports, check us out here at ESTNN