We were able to play the alpha of Dragonflight and after seven hours we come back in a more positive mood than we thought.
It”s Wednesday morning, half past six in the morning. Colleague Benedict from MeinMMO and I have arranged to play WoW. The whole thing feels a bit like in the old days, when I used to meet up with friends at my place and everyone brought their PC and then spent hours together running quests or dungeons. Only it wasn”t so early in the morning, didn”t count as working hours and wasn”t an alpha version of the new WoW add-on.
To be honest, I would not have expected an alpha, but a beta invitation in the course of the coming weeks and months. After all, WoW Dragonflight is due out later this year and so far there has been little info and blog postings on the development progress. With less than five and a half months until the latest release date, it looked like it was knitted with a hot needle on paper. So I understand why I initially approached the whole thing with a queasy gut feeling.
We were able to play the third zone of the Dragon Isles called Azure Span and the new race and class combination Dracthyr-Caller. At level 65 we were simply ported into the zone and were able to play part of the campaign as well as a variety of side quests to get a feel for the new class and region. First impressions of new features like dragon flying or the profession and talent system were also given – albeit rather rudimentary.
For an alpha build, this was already quite extensive. Basically, the version – apart from its usual problems and bugs for an alpha – played quite smoothly and made the hours fly by. I haven”t had this feeling with WoW in a long time.
May there be some more horn on your face?
The Dracthyr have caused a medium discussion in the WoW community: Are the dragonmen really cool and exciting or do they look kind of weird because they are long dragons on two legs? Feel free to write your opinion about the dragons in the comments.
Regardless of whether you like the dragon people or not, the character editor is a real eye-catcher. Never before have there been so many options to customise your character right from the start. From the horns and the dragon crest on the face to scale drawings and the colour of the underwear, everything is there.
By the way, this extensive customisation option is only available for the Dracthyr and not for the other races. Nothing will change until release, as Game Director Ion Hazzikostas told me in an interview. Too bad – but that doesn”t make the effort that goes into creating the Dracthyr any less impressive.
Also already in the game: A whole handful of new mounts that you can get hold of in Dragonflight:
Dracthyr: The Healing Glass Cannon
Regardless of the Dracthyr”s appearance, they really make a difference as a caller (you can”t currently play any other class as a dragonman). You can choose between two specialisations: Healing (with a focus on spells of the green dragon aspect) and damage dealing.
With the Damage Dealer specialisation, you can also decide whether you trust in the explosive abilities of the red aspect or whether you want to subdue your opponents like a frost mage with the spells of the blue aspect. Regardless of which of the two damage aspects you prefer, there are three really exciting special features:
- Some spells you can cast while hovering, which gives you a lot of room to move and an advantage over other spellcasting classes.
- Spells such as Living Flame can either damage enemies or heal you depending on whether you have an ally or enemy selected.
- You have empowered abilities that require you to hold down a button and release it. The longer you hold it down, the more or longer damage you do.
All three special features make the Dracthyr Caller not only immensely powerful, but also almost invincible in a team and unique in the WoW class pool, which will probably make them quickly gain popularity especially in dungeons and raids.
My personal highlight: kite riding
I had actually expected the dragon riding to be just another one of those ideas that sounds quite entertaining on paper, but in the end is just annoying. But when I took to the skies for the first time and chased around the grounds at breakneck speed, it was a hell of a lot of fun.
But the dragon riding isn”t just a nice gimmick, according to the developers it”s meant to serve as a kind of progression system: The further you play, the more abilities and stamina your dragon gets and you can reach new places. In the alpha, we only got the flight roll as an additional ability so far, but it didn”t reveal any new paths to us for the moment.
There were already some mini-game-like races in which we flew down a course and set best times. This is quite fun and in later areas it will even be possible in multiplayer so that you can compete against your friends. But until that happens, the balancing still needs a bit of tweaking. If you run out of breath on your dragon, you will be forced to land and have to recharge your energy on the ground. Currently, we were still too often forced to take the land route instead of the air route.
As soon as the balancing is right, however, hang gliding will probably be one of my absolute highlights in the expansion and I will ask myself with every other flight mount where the turbo button is here.
The new profession system: between explosive fun and grind anxiety
Unfortunately, I can”t say too much about the new profession system yet. In our alpha version, we were able to test the two professions of alchemy and blacksmithing by cracking away a little. Conveniently, all the necessary reagents were available for purchase from the friendly assistant tauren, so there was no need to collect them.
At first glance, the new menu seems really overwhelming. There are reagents in different quality levels, values such as recipe difficulty, crafting ability and inspiration play a role and everywhere there is something to optimise. In short: Yes, the new profession system really does seem more complex than its predecessor at first glance.
As an alchemist, for example, you can not only make potions and create transmutations, but also experiment: Here, chance determines whether you discover a new recipe or a new potion or, if you don”t succeed, you blow up and have to wait about 20 hours before you dare to experiment again. This finally gives the professions a little more depth than just the blunt “collect X and do Y”.
There”s one question I can”t answer yet, though: How fun is the whole concept in the end and how much does it degenerate into a grind and collecting mania? In the alpha, I could buy my reagents for 20 copper pieces, but that won”t be the case in the final game. I really hope that the balance between challenging crafting processes and annoying grind is kept. We”ll see.
A step in the right direction
All in all, the announced changes and playable implementations so far seem really well thought out without being too out of line. The individual quests in the area are varied and strongly reminiscent of the humour and light-heartedness that I already loved so much in Classic.
If Dragonflight learns from the mistakes of Shadowlands in terms of end-game content, grind and storytelling, the new addon could really be the step up that World of Warcraft so desperately needs right now.
So for now, I”m hopeful – but a lot still hangs in the balance. The balancing of the professions and dragon flying, the dungeons and raids we haven”t seen any of yet, the update cycle that so hurt Shadowlands – all of these are still unknown variables.
Generally, I was positively surprised at how much fun I had with the individual mechanics now in the alpha. On paper or in the first descriptions by the developers, dragon riding or the new profession system didn”t sound as refreshing as it felt when playing.
I was never the big profession enthusiast and mostly just collected reagents to earn a little gold in the auction house. But that could change with Dragonflight, as long as the grind doesn”t get out of hand. I probably won”t become a Dracthyr-Main either, I love my huntress and rogue too much for that – nevertheless, I would like to see exactly the kind of individual gameplay of the callers for other classes as well.
Despite all my alpha euphoria, that queasy gut feeling from the beginning still hasn”t completely gone away. There is still a lot to do before Dragonflight really grows into the expansion it wants to be. The real acid test, in my eyes, also comes after release, when the question arises as to how Blizzard will learn from its Shadowlands mistakes and bridge the time between the individual major content patches.