WoW Dragonflight has been out for a hot minute but is it good? Check out our review! With a twist!
New World (of Warcraft)
Dragonflight is the expansion that will either save or destroy the World of Warcraft. Apparently, Battle for Azeroth wasn't that good and the last expansion, Shadowlands wasn't so good either. I don't care about any of that because I have never played World of Warcraft in a meaningful capacity. Earlier this year, I finally caved in and gave World of Warcraft Classic a run for its money. And I enjoyed it way more than I expected but I also found it cryptic in all the wrong ways, probably I'm a lot more used to modern MMORPGs.
Guess what, I've been playing Final Fantasy XIV for the better (or worse) part of 12 years and I spend a reasonable amount of time before that playing Final Fantasy XI. I have also dabbled in various other MMORPGs but non managed to keep me around long after I rolled through all the content and did a little bit of the juicy endgame stuff. Will World of Warcraft's Dragonflight expansion finally win me over? Not sure yet, but I have played this first week for a good amount of time, hit the level cap, and almost geared my Evoker to pre-raid best in slot equipment.
So this is a review from a new player's perspective. So don't expect any deep insights into how this is better/worse than previous iterations of World of Warcraft; there are probably a whole lot of people out there that know all about that stuff. I will also try to avoid discussing any super mechanical things and keep the comparisons to Final Fantasy XIV to a minimum. So forgive me for any misconceptions; these are just my impressions after the few days I've spent in Azeroth and the Dragon Isles.
Evoking the Dragon
Initially, I was planning to continue my journey as a Demon Hunter all the way to level 70. I tried some of the other classes but non of them really managed to click with me. Coming from that other MMORPG, I was looking for something a little more crunchy and after playing a Death Knight as Tank and later DPS in Classic I decided that the melee life was just not for me anymore. And with the pre-patch came the new class and race, the Dracthyr Evoker. I have only played the Devastation Evoker and plan to start looking into that whole healing thing later.
First off, the intro is excellent. Especially for a new player, the Dracthyr start offers a fresh perspective into the story of World of Warcraft. Your character and their fellow Evokers had been sealed away by their master 20.000 years ago. And the first hour or so smoothly introduces you to what is going on and your place in the world (of warcraft). Compared to the rather dramatic and over-the-top intro of the Death Knight in Classic and the decent intro for the Demon Hunter, this is excellent stuff. But I also thought it was a little too short for its own sake, which will be a running theme in this review.
So after you get your bearings, you breeze through several quests introducing you to the story of Dragonflight and giving you a quick tutorial for your abilities. I just fear already that by the time the next expansion rolls around, this intro will age a bit poorly as it ties heavily into the story of the expansion. But let's talk about the gameplay instead.
I'm by no means an expert, but my knowledge of Final Fantasy XIV came in quite handy. See World of Warcraft's gameplay is mechanically simpler and combat relies heavily on applying your abilities to your current situation. That also means the average pull and or encounter is always chaotic. You'll have to interrupt spells, dodge a lot and solve mechanics. And Evoker feels really satisfying to play, same as my Death Knight in Classic as well as my Demon Hunter, WoW's combat is just snappy and every button is fun to press. My personal new favorite here is the Evoker's AoE damage spell, Pyre.
But I also have one big formal complaint. While Dragonflight introduces Dragonriding, the Evoker also gets a skill called Soar that'll allows them to take to the skies as well. Only that their ability is just a very stunted version of what Dragonriding is. So as soon as you get your dragon, it'll become absolutely useless, unless you want to divebomb full speed into buildings that'll automatically dismount you (which I try to do as often as possible).
Tour of the Islands
Can we just take a moment and talk about how beautiful the new zone is? While World of Warcraft always went to scale as far as I can tell, the Dragon Isles have vast vistas and are a sight to behold. Whoever designed these probably stood on every hilltop and ensured that the player was always looking at something majestic, especially with the fog creeping through the woods and valleys, making the land feel ancient. That paired with World of Warcraft's low-poly, pastel-colored look, you'll always get the feeling of running through a picture book.
I want to give Warcraft massive credit for making their world feel alive. This goes from dragons flying above you and critters you can accidentally step on. It is a world that puts even modern open-world titles to shame. Especially the verticality of everything, a verticality that finds great use in the new Dragonriding. Flying mounts are a given in MMORPGs these days, and so far, only Guild Wars 2 has managed to make them exciting. Now World of Warcraft borrowed their ideas to integrate it seemingly into their open world.
At first, Dragonriding will feel a little sluggish but as you collect tokens hidden away in hard-to-reach places, you can train your dragon to be its best self. Honestly, it baffles me that you can't name that dragon or summon it for combat. There are even some quests in that integrate it beautifully, and there is even a dungeon that makes excellent use of being able to divebomb into a group of enemies. It's fantastic. The races are also fun, especially once you unlock the time trials. I just wish there was a way to compete with your friends or a leaderboard that pits you against other players' times.
I also really enjoyed the world quests. They are fun little activities that tend to reward decent gear and other goodies. There is one where you do a full-on assault on a castle, which gets really good when you just steamroll it with an entire raid of players. Honestly, the little criticism here would be that they seem poorly balanced if there are more than 5 players around but it also gets players to team up for those tasks. But I do wish there was something like Final Fantasy XIV's engagements from the Bozja content, full-on boss fights players can dynamically opt into that are mechanically as dense as you'd expect.
But I also haven't really engaged with all the reputation grinds yet, so far while the various groups of the Dragon Isles seem engaging, only the Valdrakken Accord has actually managed to capture my focus. But these reputation grinds will probably be around for a while and will complete themselves organically. I just miss the tabards from Wrath of the Lich king that allowed you to farm reputation from doing dungeons. Here you have to go out of your way and complete quests that, to their credit, are usually varied enough with fun little stories.
In my opinion, the only thing that holds World of Warcraft back is how the world is laid out. It is beautiful, no doubt but you'll still often run into areas that exist only for the few quests that happen there. This makes the world feel somewhat staged, as if these corners of the map are trapped in that one situation which makes your contribution feel a little pointless. You know, killing all the leaders of a pack of gnolls taking over a village should liberate the village, right? Instead, it remains conquered and its inhabitants will be tortured until the servers go down one day.
I was actually invested in the story, the intro of the Dracthyr was enough to get me hooked, and as a new player who knows some of the characters, Dragonflight does a great job in telling its story without being overbearing. You only need to know that the dragons are coming home and there is trouble. It is as easy as it can get and as soon as you arrive you'll be set on the path of the campaign, which will last you for 7-10 hours and show you around a little.
And overall, these stories are engaging, they just feel kinda rushed. It's hard to explain but World of Warcraft has a little issue that I can only jot down as being afraid of telling its story in full. What I mean is that issues tend to be resolved really fast and there is no room for those stories to breathe. Again coming from Final Fantasy XIV, I'm more used to the leg work being done in the campaign and maybe the sidequests will flesh out the locations and people of the Dragon Isles more.
Not sure if there is anything I can spoil, so I will refrain from it but I really want to be told more of the story. I infamously said about one of the very early quests that “I wish the game could make me care about killing dragon babies.” and that line of thought goes through the entire campaign. It is easily digestible and never gets in the way of actually playing the game. But that also sacrifices and cheapens a lot of the impact that this story can have. I know World of Warcraft tells its story on a very large scale and you're just around while the important bits happen but that makes it hard to be invested.
This upsets me because I actually liked the fantasy fluff World of Warcraft was laying down. Dragons coming to terms with their immortal life span while figuring out their complicated legacies and my Dracthyrs fellow Evolkers trying to find their place in the world. This is a drama I want to be milked more and I really hope that there's gonna be more out there somewhere about these things. There is a later quest that is such an elaborate, self-indulgent joke while ending on a great cutscene that I want the entire story to have that kind of love and care put into it.
That being said, I care enough about the core conflict to want to raid and see this story come to an end. Honestly, I don't really care about the gear. I just want the experience of doing that raid and seeing that story continue. That is why we'll talk about this game again in a few weeks when all the content is actually available and check if any of the cracks start to show!
Dungeons and Dragons
Let's talk about the dungeons a little because there are 8 of them and for the most part, they are really fun. I like that World of Warcraft has these big dungeons, some of which are staged in the open world. They all look pretty, even if some of them seem a bit recycled from Wrath of the Lich King but that might just be my impression. I love dungeons in which stuff is happening, raiding tombs is fun and all but it's excellent if there is a little story that plays out throughout.
Some of the dungeons have nice little gimmicks that bring some variety, and I love the Azure Vault's little stealth sections and the random spell effects or the Academy's upbeat tone. It's honestly a bit of a shame that most of these dungeons are optional and I'm just annoyed that I have actually to go to the dungeon when doing Mythic runs. It's just an annoyance.
Then there is the difficulty. Coming from Final Fantasy, both the normal and heroic difficulties are painfully easy. Now I understand that due to World of Warcraft's open nature, you can't just randomly stack several mechanics on top of each other and expect the player to know how to handle them. But I do believe that the normal difficulty could've been cut because the heroic versions are also barely punishing.
It's when we get to Mythic that your actions actually start having consequences. I did not use any Addons like DBM or Weak Auras because I'd like to think I'm pretty decent at figuring out mechanics on the spot. By the time you actually do Mythic dungeons, you're probably aware of the mechanics of individual boss fights. They tend to revolve around very few mechanics and their difficulty varies greatly from boss to boss. Sometimes you can nuke them down before they manage to finish their first cast and sometimes, it becomes a battle of attrition.
I honestly like most of them. They tend to be very easy to figure out on the spot if you know your way around MMOs. Mechanics coming in at random intervals makes fights a great deal more chaotic, which I like and on Mythic, they are actually punishing enough to be engaging. And I prefer a fight that is fun over one that is just needlessly difficult, which is probably why I won't go super hard into the Mythic+ dungeons once they arrive a little later.
Summing up first Impressions
So far, I'm really enjoying Dragonflight. No idea if this is just a honeymoon phase or if my brain craves some variety from years of Final Fantasy XIV. Honestly, I wanted to get this piece done a few days ago but I got a little too addicted to gearing up in World of Warcraft.
Take it from me, then. If you have never played World of Warcraft before, I think Dragonflight is a great place to start. The leveling process of a new character will not take too long and the new content is very beginner friendly. My only complaint is that while there is lots of stuff to do, most of your tasks will revolve around fighting things and getting gear to be better at fighting things. It makes me yearn for something like a fishing minigame or some other casual content like it.
Luckily, I chose to play on a roleplay server and the Dragon Isles struck me as a great sandbox and playground for any kind of roleplaying. Just gotta wait till everyone is done leveling and gearing their characters so the world will feel a little more lived in.
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