World Of Warcraft: Dragonflight Will Add Playable Dragons, The Return Of Talent Trees, And A Whole Lot More
An emphasis on improving "evergreen systems," as well as new content in the form of the Dragon Isles and the new Dracthyr race, is the focus of the latest expansion for Blizzard's long-running MMORPG.
A new playable dragon race (that is also a class), customizable dragon mounts, and an enhanced flying mechanic called Dragonriding are all part of World of Warcraft's next expansion, the heavily dragon-themed Dragonflight. But while WoW's latest expansion will introduce new zones and all the new additions outlined above, it might be the attention Blizzard is paying to older systems like professions, talents, and even the game's aging user interface that will have longtime players most excited.
As was heavily rumored, Dragonflight will take players of Blizzard's flagship title to the fabled Dragon Isles, where they'll level to the new cap of 70 and help to rebuild the titular dragonflights so that they can serve as Azeroth's defenders once more. As players progress through each of the Dragon Isles four new leveling zones, each of which are associated with one of the dragonflights, they'll unlock customizable Dragon Isle Drakes that can be used to fly around the new region (no Pathfinder achievement required) via the expansion's new Dragonriding mechanic. Unlike the game's traditional flying mounts, Dragonriding on the new Dragon Isle Drakes will allow players to nosedive, dash, spin, and more. Dragonriding will, for now, only work in the new Dragon Isle zones. Of course, there will be new dungeons and a new raid to explore at launch as well.
Alongside the Dragon Isle leveling zones--the Waking Shores, Ohn'ahran Plains, Azure Span, and Thaldraszus--Dragonflight will also include a new starter area for the game's latest faction-neutral hero class, a class that marks a first in WoW history. This new class, the Evoker, is exclusively tied to the new Dracthyr race, human-esque bipedal dragons that, much like the Alliance's Worgens, also sport a separately customizable human form. Evoker is a ranged, mail-wearing class that channels the magic of the dragonflights to either deal damage as the Devastation specialization or heal allies as the Preservation specialization.
Why dragons? According to WoW game director Ion Hazzikostas in an interview with GameSpot, the Dragon Isles were one of the few remaining locations in Azeroth that have been teased or mentioned in-game for years that players have yet to visit. Once the Dragon Isles were settled upon, the team started to look at ways to incorporate a new dragon-like race, and it quickly became apparent that having players pick the Dracthyr as a traditional race that could be one of the game's numerous other classes, albeit with the added flavor of draconic racial abilities like breath attacks and the ability to fly, wouldn't work.
"When we came to the question, 'Are these racials we're talking about, are you a Dracthyr warrior, a Dracthyr rogue, who has some really cool racials that involve flight?' the more we started to realize this transcended just a couple of racial abilities," Hazzikostas said. "Having a breath weapon, having wings, those are unique gifts that would inevitably influence the way you fight. Then we also started thinking about representations of the power of our dragonflights we've seen in Warcraft but also in other games like Heroes of the Storm's take on Alexstrasza or Chromie, for example. That started to feel like, 'No, this is a different class.' There is the bronze, time-bending sand magic we've never seen wielded by mortals. The magic of the red and black dragonflights is different from the fire the fire mages call down. That started to come together to form the idea of a class that combined draconic magic with the draconic physical gifts like breath magic, wings, and so forth, and we were off to the races."
Many of the same philosophies that began manifesting themselves in the later patches for WoW's Shadowlands expansion will carry forward here. An evolution of the Threads of Fate system that allowed for players to level alternate characters in a non-linear fashion after having already completed the main storyline on a previous character will be returning, and Blizzard is looking to make more systems account-wide unlocks moving forward. When it comes to endgame, World Quests, Mythic+, a new raid, and rated PvP will all be returning, but Hazzikostas also promised more in-depth open world endgame systems in-line with what players have seen recently as part of patch 9.2's Zereth Mortis zone as well.
Customizable dragons, enhanced flying, a new region of Azeroth to explore, and the game's first combined class and race combo is exciting, but what will perk up the ears of many longtime players are the changes to what Hazzikostas described as the "evergreen systems" of WoW. Unlike the past several WoW expansions, which introduced numerous "one expansion and done" player-power focused systems, Dragonflight will instead be focused on systems that will persist for years to come, long after Dragonflight has come and gone.
"We really wanted to pour a lot of the energy we previously poured into so-called 'borrowed power systems' or things that felt like they lived in a single expansion into instead improving the evergreen foundations of World of Warcraft," Hazzikostas said. "That's what led us to talents, UI, and professions."
Talents for each class are getting the most dramatic overhaul since the game's 2012 Mists of Pandaria expansion, which did away with the one talent point per level system and the iconic skill trees of old-school WoW and replaced them with a less granular but more impactful system that saw players selecting one key ability from a choice of three every 5-10 levels. With Dragonflight, something more akin to the talent trees of classic WoW are making a return, albeit with some modern day enhancements that won't force players to choose between improving their core class abilities or useful, but optional, utility.
Each specialization for each class will have two talent trees, one for that specific specialization and one for the class as a whole. When players level up, they'll talent points for both trees that can be invested as they see fit. The specialization specific tree will be geared towards improving core abilities of the class, like increasing the damage of certain spells. The class-specific tree, meanwhile, will be for added benefits that, while not essential to improving that specialization's core role, give players more options on how to customize their character to their playstyle. Players will be able to save specific talent loadouts for specific situations, and there won't be a cost or penalty associated with modifying talents or swapping loadouts on the fly.
"We realized in recent years we have been turning to ancillary systems to fill the void that removing that one talent point every level left," Hazzikostas said. "Things like Artifact Power, the Heart of Azeroth and so forth. Really we just wanted to take a fundamental look at the building blocks of character customization and player progression. The release of WoW Classic a few years ago also provided a fresh lesson on how systems like that play out in the modern day. A lot of the strengths are still there. A lot of the customization, the granularity, is still there. But I think we also saw modern players, regardless of what game they are playing, are looking to optimize, looking to problem solve with information for specific situations. They want the flexibility to change between specs. The system we are introducing in Dragonflight I really see as a best of all worlds. It's returning to the customization and depth and nuance of the talent tree system we had originally and solving for some of the challenges we found."
Alongside a revamp of class talents, WoW's entire user interface is getting a major facelift for the first time since the game's release almost two decades ago, a revamp that seeks to be highly customizable and made with modern displays in mind. Blizzard doesn't want players to feel like they have to resort to player made add-ons to have a UI that works for them, though that will still be an option should players want it.
"We want to make sure if you are a new player sitting down to play World of Warcraft for the first time, you are seeing an aesthetic that looks still grounded in World of Warcraft traditions but crisp and modern and not like it's something inspired by the old-school, heavy-Diablo II and Baldur's Gate UIs of 20 plus years ago," Hazzikostas said.
Professions, too, will see major changes with the arrival of Dragonflight. They are something that have been an integral part of WoW from the game's launch back in 2004, and in Hazzikostas' mind may have peaked around that same time, when a player could become known on their server as a master blacksmith or enchanter who had all the best recipes.
"That was part of your identity, as much as you could say I'm a Night Elf, or I'm an Orc, or I'm a warrior," Hazzikostas said. "If you were that enchanter who had everything, you were an enchanter, that was part of who your character was that you were proud of. That's part of what we would like to chase again for those who want it."
Part of the profession revamp will revolve around a new work order system that will allow players to commission gear and items from other players. Professions will also be receiving profession-specific equipment to help players lean into the fantasy of their professions, as well as a new profession specialization system so that players can distinguish themselves from their fellow crafters.
A key question on every player's minds will be when they can get their hands on Dragonflight, and that's still unclear. The expansion does not have a release date, and Hazzikostas made clear that Blizzard is taking a "when it's ready" approach, having learned from the player feedback received following the launch of Shadowlands in 2020. Given the lukewarm reception to not only Shadowlands but the game's previous expansion, Battle for Azeroth, there's a lot riding on Dragonflight, at a time when Blizzard is still dealing with multiple sexual harassment investigations and lawsuits, an acquisition by Microsoft, and more competition in the MMORPG space than ever before.
"At the end of the day, everyone is hungry for new content and hungry for the next adventure," Hazzikostas said. "We don't want to keep people waiting for too long. But it needs to be great."
In addition to the announcement of Dragonflight, Blizzard also announced a "Classic" version of the game's Wrath of the Lich King expansion will be coming later this year.
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