For me, writing this WoW Dragonflight review has been a long time coming. Throughout the past few months I’ve set aside some of the best PC games in order to plunge myself into the mysterious world of the Dragon Isles, combing through every zone and completing every quest in an attempt to bring the MMO’s newest antagonists, the Primalists, to their knees.
One of my first articles at PCGamesN was my WoW Dragonflight alpha preview, in which I claimed that the expansion was the new lease on life that World of Warcraft needed after a couple of sub-par instalments. Having got stuck into the expansion proper, I’m going to double down on that statement in terms of the overarching narrative: Dragonflight achieves Blizzard’s goal of harkening back to WoW’s roots. In terms of the endgame, however, everything feels a little rough around the edges, leaving me little reason to continue exploring the spectacular Dragon Isles until more content drops.
A brave new world, a stunning new class
One of the issues I had when I first played Dragonflight was tackling the Dracthyr Evoker. The class is an amazing addition to the game, with swathes of customisation options, unique ability mechanics, and the ability to switch between human and Dracthyr forms. While I was excited to take them for a spin, I’d be a liar if I said that excitement wasn’t dampened immediately, as I absolutely sucked at all things mid-range.
Throughout my playthrough, however, I have truly fallen in love with these scaly spellcasters. The Dracthyr come with a handful of new mechanics, including charged spellcasting and flight. Each of these is explained bit by bit using user-friendly UI and NPC direction. Flying through misty circles in the sky reminded me of the good ol’ Harry Potter games where you had to fly through each ring during Quidditch practice, and that filled me with a nostalgic joy that made me fall in love with the class even more.
The Forbidden Reach, the new Dracthyr starting zone, is characterised by dramatic battles, gorgeous scenery, and a story that’s absolutely to die for. The Dracthyr’s new Soar ability allows you to take to the skies without a mount, providing a new aerial perspective on the terrain which Blizzard has embraced in crafting the Reach’s beautiful vistas. Having ploughed through many a starting zone, this is easily one of the best to date – and there’s no comparison to spending literal hours grinding through the doom and gloom of the Tirisfal Glades, in particular.
Upon embarking to Orgrimmar – yes, I’m still a Horde player after Shadowlands, sue me – the locals greet me with entertaining confusion. One NPC asks whether or not my tail would grow back if it were cut off, while another asks if they can borrow one of my scales – for scientific purposes, of course. Playing as a Dracthyr makes you feel special, almost regal, and that’s exactly what I expected running around as a humanoid dragon to feel like.
Again, the Soar ability is a big part of that specialness. You can use it in both old and new zones, giving you a bird’s-eye-view of the vast expanse of the Dragon Isles while rejuvenating the areas we know and love – Pandaria and Kalimdor are especially gorgeous from the air.
When I’m not soaring around, I’m Dragonriding. While initially I was sceptical about Blizzard’s claim that this would be a major new feature, I am happy to have been proven wrong. As much as I enjoy zipping through all of the different cloudy rings to arrive at the various sky outposts, I love roaming freely through the skies, collecting glyphs without a care in the world, even more.
The in-game tutorial makes this feature easy to understand for veteran players and newcomers alike, and the dialogue associated with your first few flights also prompts the odd little giggle (those How to Train Your Dragon references are a delight). All of this makes it really feel like you’re making memories as your character, and in turn as a player.
And to top it off, you can also customise your mount. This is a first in World of Warcraft, and indeed I can think of few competitors that allow this much customisation. I decked out my beast in curled, bull-like horns and fin-like spines (I like Murlocs), and have made it my personal mission to collect all of the different looks for my Proto-Drake. It’s a small feature, sure, but it’s more engaging than simply collecting mounts because of that personal touch.
Overall, there’s just a general sense of wonder – something that’s very much been absent in the last few expansions.
Another thing that’s been lacking in both Battle For Azeroth and Shadowlands is a meaty, interesting storyline, and Dragonflight has that in droves. For fear of spoilers I’m not going to go into too much detail, but it’s safe to say that the sins of Shadowlands are very much a thing of the past. Gone are the confusing retcons and perplexing otherworldly themes – Dragonflight returns to the high fantasy style that made WoW’s early expansions so great.
This is especially true of the Murloc-specific quests in Valdrakken. I love those pesky little fish monsters, so Temporal Two-ning, Murloc Motes, and Mugurlglrlgl! are easily my three favourite quests to date. Production director Pat Dawson and principal game designer (professions) Eric Holmberg-Weidler promised us Murlocs, and boy, did they deliver.
Unfortunately, when you complete the main campaign that’s where things start to get a little, well, uninspired. There’s a lot to love about the spectacle of the Dragon Isles, but the endgame content feels untuned.
Having taken on most of the dungeons so far, I’ve found huge discrepancies in power level, specifically on my Holy and Shadow Priests. I can’t heal my tank enough because some bosses effectively one-shot, while my Shadow Priest’s plaguelike damage over time does little to dent enemy health bars.
Aside from dungeons there’s simply not much else to keep me entertained. Where Battle for Azeroth and Shadowlands felt too grindy with their overly complex endgame systems, Dragonflight feels like it’s lacking a reason to log in. The plus here is that I’m not really in danger of falling behind, but the flip side is that I feel like I’m wandering around somewhat aimlessly.
All in all Dragonflight is a step in the right direction. It adds innovative new systems like Dragonriding, a fun new class/race combo in the Dracthyr, and a soaring storyline reminiscent of the good old days of WoW.
What it lacks, however, is a reason to keep playing. Endgame content seems unbalanced and grows stale relatively quickly, and despite recent tuning everything still feels a little ‘out of whack’ as the kids say these days (do they?).
If you abandoned WoW because of Shadowlands, I’d urge you to dive in and give Dragonflight a shot for the story alone. If you’re a hardened raider or dungeon crawler, though, the Dragon Isles doesn’t launch with the strongest endgame content. You might want to wait and see what future patches bring.
World of Warcraft: Dragonflight
WoW Dragonflight returns to the Warcraft’s roots as promised, while adding some exciting new features to modernise the iconic MMORPG. Its endgame content, however, ultimately fails to fill the void.