Let’s be honest. It’s no secret that Blizzard’s titan of the MMO world has fallen from grace in the past couple years. A seemingly endless supply of company controversies aside, World of Warcraft has made a lot of questionable decisions in the past few expansions that have caused players an immense amount of frustration. Arbitrary borrowed power systems and grindy currency tied to player power has made up much of the late game since Legion, and players left in masses during Shadowlands for competitors like Final Fantasy XIV because they had suffered enough disappointments. Because of this, World of Warcraft: Dragonflight, Blizzard’s latest expansion, has started with chains around its ankles, but much like dragon riding in The Dragon Isles, maybe it had to fall to gain the momentum to rise again better than before.
A vast world…of Warcraft ripe for exploring
Dragonflight takes players to The Dragon Isles, the ancient homeland of the dragonflights that had been lost to them for centuries. This adventure is simple and grounded in familiarity, unlike the alien and abstract world of Shadowlands. Straight out of the gate Blizzard makes one thing crystal clear: the world of Azeroth is the main character once again.
This continent is absolutely massive. The Dragon Isles are full of character and feel like a rich, fully-realized place. As soon as you take the ship from your capital city to the shores of the island you are greeted with a breathtaking landscape that stretches on for miles. You are set free shortly after docking, and that’s when the magic really takes off.
The Dragon Isles is probably double the size of any landmass we have explored on Azeroth. To traverse the continent, players learn early into the adventure to fly on dragonback, and this is single-handedly the most simple, yet innovative fun ever brought to the MMO. Blizzard hands you the keys to a flying race car and hopes you don’t mind that regular flying in the older areas will feel absolutely sluggish now in comparison.
Blizzard designed these new zones with this feature in mind, and so there is a lot of verticality and space to cover while exploring — and boy do they encourage exploration. The zones are vast, but each one has so many hidden secrets and areas to soak in that you can’t help but fly around searching for hidden treasures, which can be discovered in everything from side quests, to suspicious rare creatures and events.
Side quests that are full of life
Side quests are usually an afterthought in World of Warcraft, but in Dragonflight they are some of the most enjoyable content the game has had since launch. Quest hubs are full of life, with villages of Tuskarr going about their typical fishing day and mages holding back the onslaught or Primalist forces looking to cause mayhem. The characters introduced also have great personalities that shine as you help them out. There were a ridiculous amount of times I found myself feeling the full range of emotion by the quests unfolding.
The community is actually speaking volumes to the emotional weight of one particular early quest where a dragon in his dwarf visage simply has you sit down next to him as he talks about his life and what it means to return to the islands. The quest is cleverly called “Stay Awhile and Listen,” and it’s one of the best moments in WoW’s history. It is clear that the developers cared about story presentation.
Community endgame activities
Upon reaching the endgame, the world map is covered with an overwhelming amount of activities to partake in, and all of them respect the player’s time. There is no arbitrary currency to collect to stay relevant, and everything you do has its rewards, but none of them are mandatory. These activities are simply fun, and don’t come across as chores like in the past. They are also weekly — or bi-weekly — to give the player a less urgent pace to take it all in.
Many of these events encourage players in the area to work together as well. Players can race against each other in dragon riding competitions, or collectively help the Tuskarr create a soup that provides everyone in the zone a buff. Of course, players that would rather kill each other can turn on War Mode and partake in world quests that involve conflict in specific areas for rewards. Every zone has something unique to do together.
Learning from the past
Dragonflight is a huge step in the right direction. Blizzard has stated that the entire core of the expansion’s design was respecting the players’ time and giving them fun things to do in their familiar home of Azeroth. The foundation is set and it absolutely succeeds in that goal. There is no going back now that dragon riding is here, and the world of Azeroth has been improved because of it. No other MMO feels as satisfying to explore and navigate now that Dragonflight is here. Here’s hoping Blizzard continues to soar to new heights and never forgets the harsh lessons of what happens when it doesn’t respect players’ time.