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Saturday, February 4, 2023

WoW Dragonflight in test: the much-needed new beginning is the breakthrough we had hoped for

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Blizzard finally listens to the fans and promptly World of Warcraft becomes so good again that even the wife of our tester is playing again after a long break.

I had already finished with Blizzard and World of Warcraft. My guild fell apart in Battle for Azeroth and Shadowslands I only lasted a month. After 15 years, I was already out in the middle of an expansion for the first time. Just like my wife, who I raided with for eleven years, who swore at the time she wouldn”t touch World of Warcraft again.

The announcement of Dragonflight caused correspondingly little enthusiasm among us. I no longer trusted Blizzard to turn the tide and release an expansion with substance. But in the course of the beta and this test, I was pleasantly surprised.

Because instead of Blizzard simply slapping new features or grind onto the old MMO, they are shaking the foundations for the first time in a long time and reflecting on old strengths. In addition, Blizzard is returning to something that the company had lost in the last two add-ons: communication with the fans.

WoW is on such a good path with Dragonflight that even my wife wants to be back at the start for the release on 28 November 2022. Find out why she broke her vow in the test.

Skill tree with depth

The first pleasant shock for WoW connoisseurs comes when you log in with your existing character: Talent trees are back! These originally disappeared with Mists of Pandaria, giving way to a simplified system that lasted until Shadowlands.

This decision was always controversially discussed in the community. While some were happy that they didn”t have to spend five talent points for a lousy five percent increase in critical hit value until they finally got an interesting ability, others felt restricted in their freedom to experiment with a class. But everyone agreed on one thing: the current system was pretty boring.

(Dragonflight makes fundamental changes to WoW for the first time in a long time)
(Dragonflight makes fundamental changes to WoW for the first time in a long time)

Now the talent trees return, with Blizzard taking pains not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Instead of boring filler skills, the trees are stuffed to the top with all sorts of old set bonuses or effects from legendary items from the last three expansions. Even some of the most popular Pact abilities have found a place in at least one of the two sprawling trees.

(With the talent trees, you can finally customise your characters a bit more again.)
(With the talent trees, you can finally customise your characters a bit more again.)

Wait a minute, two talent trees? Yes, each specialisation gets two ways to improve. In a general talent tree, you develop basic skills that make your class what it is. Here, mages improve their blinking or learn to turn a whole horde of enemies into sheep. Or warriors improve their jump, which draws all enemies directly to you on impact.

In addition, you will receive a second, specialised tree. Fire mages learn here how to always critically hit phoenixes, or how to crash a meteor on unsuspecting murlocs every 30 fireballs. Bear druids gain the knowledge of how moonfire heals them, they can spread it on several enemies at once and boost it 300 percent. This makes for many combinations that even after a few weeks in beta, the community is still dabbling in.

redistribute, even in dungeons or raids. Different combinations can also be saved so that you have the right talents for the boss. If necessary, you can also import ready-made skill trees from sites like (Icy-Veins.com) simply by copying a string.

Thanks to the talent trees, World of Warcraft has definitely regained a lot of roleplay by allowing you to customize your character more again and, for example, have your elemental shaman throw lightning around while the other shaman in the raid relies almost entirely on fire spells.

(Finally be a dragon: Dragonflight makes it possible.)
(Finally be a dragon: Dragonflight makes it possible.)

Dragonflight support thanks to the new class

If you don”t fancy your old character at all, then perhaps the Drachyr Caller could be something for you. The chain armour-wearing callers have two specialisations, similar to the demon hunters from Legion: either ranged fighters (an announcement that should have made all raid leaders breathe a collective sigh of relief) or healers.

But the Drachyr are not only a new class, but also a people. As protectors created by Neltharion and Deathwing respectively, they are a smaller type of dragon that can also take on the form of mortals, similar to the Worgen.

The adaptability of the Dracthyr is impressive. Each of the two forms, dragon or mortal, each have more than twice as many customisation options as most other races in World of Warcraft. From the shape of the snout to the pattern of the scales and the type of spines to the strands of hair, you can create unique characters here. The only drawback is that Dracthyr can only become Callers and Callers have to be Dracthyr.

(Dracthyr have more customisation options than any other race in the game.)
(Dracthyr have more customisation options than any other race in the game.)

In their ranged specialisation called Devastation, the Callers primarily use the power of the red and blue dragonflight. This allows you to blanket the battlefield with firestorms and arcane projectiles using a completely new mechanic: rechargeable attacks. Abilities such as fire breath become stronger the longer you hold down the button.

When you”re not standing around recharging your attacks, you”re incredibly mobile. Float lets you cast spells for ten seconds while moving, or Deep Breath lets you take off and cut a swathe of devastation until you land at your destination.

As a healer in the Preservation specialisation, you learn spells of the green and bronze dragonflight. With the power of the Emerald Dream, you quickly heal allies by doubling heals with Echo or distributing flowers that restore health when they explode. Time-based bronze spells, on the other hand, restore life over time or give shields to allies. You can even rewind time for the entire raid as if the damage of the last few seconds never happened.

(The difficulty below Mythic+ is still too easy for veterans.)
(The difficulty below Mythic+ is still too easy for veterans.)

Whichever of the two specialisations appeals to you more, you will be welcome in any group. Not only does Wrath of Aspects give you your own version of Battle Frenzy and Heroism respectively, but it also gives you a group buff that reduces the cooldown on all movement abilities, such as the Rogue”s Sprint.

The end of the world fails

Dracthyr also fit beautifully into the story. They awaken on the Dragon Isles, where they have lain hidden from the world for centuries in a kind of hibernation while the islands were surrounded by a shield. When this is deactivated, they have to find their way in a new world that is directly attacked by Primalists, followers of the dragon Galakrond who have an old score to settle with the Aspects.

This is where you come in. The Alliance and Horde want to help the dragons reclaim their ancient homeland, and in doing so, also reawaken the powers they lost in the battle against Deathwing. To do this, you will help dragon leader Alexstrasza defend the clutches of the red dragonflight, explore the old archives of the blue dragonflight with Kalecgos or settle the conflict between Furorion and his rival for the Sabellian throne.

Along the way, help mediate between the centaurs and the green dragonflight, who still mourn Ysera, or go on a crazy journey through time and alternate realities with Chromie. For example, what if the Alliance and Horde were made up of only Murlocs? The horror!

(You help the Dragon Aspects regain their powers.)
(You help the Dragon Aspects regain their powers.)

You notice, the story turns out a bit less apocalyptic this time than in the last expansions. No demon army that wants to conquer all universes. No all-out world war that bleeds the planet dry. And no Thanos ordered on Wish either, who wants to erase the existence of everything and has apparently been manipulating everything and everyone since the days of Warcraft 3 to do so.

Instead, the entire story focuses more on a local conflict again and now also seems to finally say goodbye to the war between the Horde and the Alliance (at least until the next warchief goes berserk).

Just in the last few years, the story of World of Warcraft has become more and more bogged down. Overcomplicated plots that were only really comprehensible if you had at least read the corresponding books. In addition, there was the rather mediocre attempt to bring all the storylines together in a kind of “Endgame” inspired by Marvel”s Avengers. It”s good that the story is now taking a step back and maybe even daring to make a real fresh start.

Dragonflight made easy

Dragonflight is another new start for World of Warcraft. Because instead of forcing you back to the ground with the start of the expansion, so that you have to earn flying again for what feels like the twentieth time in two patches, Blizzard lets you explore the skies above the Dragon Isles almost immediately with your wings spread.

In the very first hour of Dragonflight, Alexstrasza gives you a gift: your own dragon. Most players have around 100 of these in their pockets, but this one is something special. It allows you to fly a kite, which feels very different from the WoW flying you”re used to.

The kites are subject to real gravity. This means that you first have to flap your wings a few times to gain any height at all. If you then just fly upwards, your scaled friend will quickly run out of breath and you will slowly sail towards the ground. At the same time, however, you will also gain a lot of speed if you dive for a longer period of time. This feels unusual at first, but after a short while you will wonder how you ever got around in the game any other way.

Abilities like the wing flap or a speed boost to keep you in the air cost momentum. You only have three meagre points of it at the beginning when you climb onto your dragon. Elan regenerates slowly while you remain on the ground. While you will only be able to cover a short distance at the beginning, your flying abilities will improve over time. Glyphs are hidden all over the islands, which your dragon can use to unlock more abilities in its own little talent tree. So you get more verve, learn to regenerate verve when you fly particularly fast, or push other players off the dragon in PvP with a clever roll at the right time.

(Use glyphs to improve your riding skills.)
(Use glyphs to improve your riding skills.)

You”ll gradually learn to stay in the air longer with the right manoeuvres, getting from one side of the islands to the other in just a few minutes. If you still haven”t had enough, you can challenge your friends in races, complete challenges or throw balls through hoops in a kind of Quidditch game in world quests as you hurtle towards the ground at over 800 per cent flying speed.

Later on, you”ll even get three more dragons, which you can customise just like the first one, whether it”s a different snout, colour, scales or new spikes. After some time, your dragon will differ greatly from those of the other players, depending on how many new visual gadgets you unlock. These can, for example, come from factions, drop in dungeons or be produced by one of the crafting professions.

All in all, Blizzard is fulfilling two big fan wishes that have been circulating the forums for years: flying as an active part of the gameplay and customisable mounts.

(Dragons can be visually customised in a menu.)
(Dragons can be visually customised in a menu.)

Sensible Crafting

But that”s not the only wish of the community that comes true in this addon. For the first time since vanilla World of Warcraft, Blizzard is tackling the game”s professions. While two crafting professions have been added and recipes updated over the years, there have never been any fundamental improvements.

On the contrary: professions lost more and more importance until recently. That”s over now. Dragonflight changes everything about professions and makes them an integral part of your character.

The first new feature you”ll notice right away is quality levels. Almost all producible objects now have better values if you produce them in higher quality. You can achieve this either by using higher quality materials, improving the stats of your professional equipment or adding more points to your professional talent trees. If you”re rubbing your eyes in disbelief, you”re not alone.

Let”s start with equipment. All professions, whether collecting or crafting, now have three slots for equipment: two pieces of armour and one tool. You create these in your profession window. They not only increase your stats, but can also be seen when you are practising the profession.

(Craftsmen now have their own equipment. Jewel cutters, for example, have special glasses for a clean cut.)
(Craftsmen now have their own equipment. Jewel cutters, for example, have special glasses for a clean cut.)

Values like “Skill” increase the quality of all manufactured items, while “Resourcefulness” lets you save resources every now and then. Collectors, on the other hand, need perception to find rare materials.

You can also get better values through skill points. If you make an item for the first time, collect particularly rare resources or complete certain quests, you can specialise further in talent trees. For example, as a blacksmith you can put points into weaponsmithing, then a few more into bladesmithing and then into swords. With enough points you can then make a sword that is not only equivalent to mythical loot, but also has the right stats and a special effect. This way you can really specialise and become the best swordsmith on your server.

The gathering professions have similar specialisations, but with different effects. Herbalists overload plants with certain elements and thus get buffs, while furriers can make lures from meat with which they attract legendary creatures.

(Here we specialise our caller in making chain armour.)
(Here we specialise our caller in making chain armour.)

Your goods do not necessarily end up in the auction house. Instead, you accept orders from the craft guild. These orders come from other players who provide you with materials and place orders for crafting goods. You will receive a tip in return and a bonus from the guild if you place enough orders. Or you can place an order yourself. Because if you are the best swordsmith on the server, you might need the right enchantment to go with it.

(Exploring the world of Dragonflight on the back of a dragon is pure joy.)
(Exploring the world of Dragonflight on the back of a dragon is pure joy.)

Fractions with character

If you need new recipes for your professions, you should get in good with the factions of the Dragon Islands. They work significantly differently than before, though. Blizzard has taken the fame system of the pacts from Shadowlands and developed it further. With each level you receive interesting rewards. On the one hand, the usual mounts, pets and equipment. On the other hand, you unlock new quest series or complete gameplay activities.

(Factions now reward you with cool new rewards at multiple levels.)
(Factions now reward you with cool new rewards at multiple levels.)

With the Dragon Scale Expedition, for example, you”ll go on regular treasure hunts, learn to climb rock faces at higher levels, or get dynamite in your hand so you can blast open treasure caves. The Iskaara Tuskarr teach you to fish anywhere in the world and even to make nets that automatically catch fish. The centaurs will join you in hunts and the Valdrakken Agreement will organise new dragon races.

In some way, everything contributes to your glory, so you can focus on the activities you enjoy. This way, advancing in the factions doesn”t feel like a grind and you”re more likely to look forward to the next reward and what”s hiding behind it.

(From the expedition we get our own climbing gear.)
(From the expedition we get our own climbing gear.)

Changes in detail

Besides that, Dragonflight only delivers minor changes. World of Warcraft finally gets a new user interface, so you can retire some addons. The UI is freely customisable and you can save individual configurations for your characters.

“Need before Greed” returns as a loot option, which should please many raids. This automatically detects whether you already own an item or whether you need it for your primary specialisation.

Casual players can earn gear with elemental storms, which should be a good entry point for raids. These items even have a set bonus, which you”ll have a lot of fun with in the open world.

PvPers don”t go completely empty-handed either. Although there are no new battlegrounds or arenas, you can now earn an arena rating on your own. This even counts for gladiator titles and mounts.

Other than that, everything remains the same. Ten new levels, nicely done world, dungeons, raids, new season for Mythic+. Everything you would expect from a WoW expansion. What is missing in this addon is any new system. There are no anima that you have to farm for months, no conduits, legendary armour, artefact weapons, azerite equipment, island expeditions, Domination Sockets or Torghast. All I can say is: thank goodness.

(Just going raiding without having to grind through multiple systems: a dream.)
(Just going raiding without having to grind through multiple systems: a dream.)

 

The last three addons added many new things that often lasted only one patch before being fundamentally changed, or removed altogether. Still, much of your character”s power depended on these systems, which made playing twinks especially taxing.

Talent trees, professions, the Caller, the new faction system, and probably Dragonflight, on the other hand, will probably be with us well beyond Dragonflight, while your character”s power again comes from just two sources: your equipment and your skill. Just like in most other MMOs.

Communication gives hope

Throughout the beta phase of Dragonflight, Blizzard was very open about the development of the expansion. An unusual picture if you remember Battle for Azeroth and Shadowlands. In the old betas, feedback was often ignored and sometimes even dismissed somewhat flippantly. For example, the conduit energy was criticised early on, or how difficult it is to switch pacts. Blizzard, on the other hand, stubbornly stuck to the systems. Everyone who played Shadowlands knows how that turned out. It looked similar with Battle for Azeroth.

With Dragonflight, on the other hand, there were again dozens of blueposts. There, Blizzard explained exactly what they were aiming for with the professions, or what changes had been made to Dragonflight. Feedback was quickly implemented and even entire talent trees were overturned in the process. For me it is clear: Blizzard seems to be interested again in what the players really want. This gives hope for a good expansion that will still be fun after the launch.

Why no final score?

The beta version of WoW: Dragonflight, which we played extensively for our special issue, served as the basis for this test. We were able to get a very good overview of all the new features and also went raiding – that”s enough for a test with a preliminary rating box.

Of course, we will take a close look at the launch on 28 November; after all, long queues and bugs are not uncommon in MMOs. In addition, it is not yet possible to make any conclusive statements about the balancing and the story before the release, because some cutscenes were blocked in our version. As soon as we can assess the server condition, we will update this test with the final rating.

Preliminary score box

Editorial conclusion

I was actually sure I wouldn”t touch any more WoW expansions. I didn”t like the last two at all. They seemed more like occupational therapy to me than a game that is actually supposed to be fun. But Dragonflight is again right up my street.

Instead of making me chase after some infinitely farmable resource, or making me slave to Torghast every week, the new addon relies on something completely different: if people are having fun, they log in. And fun I had during the beta. The professions are designed to be very interesting and I got more involved with my druid”s alchemy than in the last five expansions combined. The skill trees are very well thought out, offer many decision-making options and allow for different play styles even within a specialisation. Factions finally felt a bit more alive than the usual grind up to “awesome”.

But what impressed me the most was the dragon flying. When it was announced, I thought the feature was more of a gimmick, which I wouldn”t even notice after an hour at the latest. Instead, I curse all areas outside the Dragon Islands because my new cool dragon doesn”t work there. Dragonflight looks like a real new beginning and shows that it doesn”t take so many features to make an MMO fun. They just have to be well thought out. Because sometimes less is more.

Michael
Michael
Age: 24 Origin: Germany Hobbies: gaming, football, table tennis Profession: Online editor, student

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