It’s no secret that World of Warcraft players weren’t exactly thrilled with Shadowlands, a maximalist expansion packed with so many systems that you practically needed a personal assistant to keep track of them all. So it’s refreshing in many ways that Dragonflight has gone all-in on a back-to-basics approach, carving away at all the excess and trying to figure out what actually made WoW fun to begin with. It’s not easily comparable to any previous expansion so much as it is to the vanilla experience in 2004, when this was a leaner and meaner game.
Dragonflight (opens in new tab) has been something of a course correction, then, tweaking the formula in a variety of ways by reducing the bullshit and fixing some of Shadowlands’ missteps. Sure, dragonriding is definitely the headline attraction, but it’s not the only thing Blizzard’s done right.
No more chore lists
Shadowlands was, to put it bluntly, absurdly bloated, filling your to-do list with busywork. In addition to daily quests, you also had your Covenant sanctum that needed to be filled up with anima, lost souls to rescue from the Maw before you got kicked out by the Jailer’s Eye of Sauron knock-off, Covenant-specific stuff like hatching new fairies or going to vampire dinner parties, and Soul Ash to farm for your legendaries. It could take a dozen hours a week just to keep up with all the progression requirements, before you ever set foot in a dungeon or a raid.
Dragonflight has crafting and daily quests and… that’s about it. They’re not even really “daily” since most of them reset only once or twice a week, so you can go away for a few days and not miss out on anything. And you can skip crafting if you’re rich enough. The mission table, which has haunted us since Legion, has also finally been slain. It was basically a way to tie-in to the mobile app and keep you thinking about WoW when you weren’t playing, and Light knows I won’t miss it. It can almost feel like there’s not enough to do when you log in at max level now. But maybe that’s a good thing. We have other stuff to do and other games to play without having to babysit Azeroth.
No more borrowed power
At last, we are free from the disappointment of getting some kind of awesome new progression system every expansion that will be tossed in the trash and never spoken of again as soon as the next one comes out. And based on what Game Director Ion Hazzikostas has said, that philosophy of modular expansion design is gone for good. Instead, Blizzard wants to focus on open-ended, permanent systems that can be expanded upon every expansion, like the updated crafting and talent trees in Dragonflight.
Hopefully this means we won’t lose our awesome dragonriding mounts, either! I know it’s been said a hundred times by now, but this feature freaking rules and it makes the old flying system feel like an absolute drag(on). It’s too good to be siloed away in only one expansion. They should enable it on all the other continents, too. And hey, maybe rework Quel’thalas to be flyable and no longer instanced out of the main game world, too? Pretty please?
No more cosmic nonsense
Shadowlands probably had the most disappointing story in World of Warcraft’s history, and I never thought I’d be saying that after how Battle for Azeroth ended. It managed to not only bungle its own specific lore, but actually all of Warcraft lore going back to the classic RTS games by retroactively making its irritating new supervillain Zovaal somehow responsible for basically everything that has ever happened. It’s just a giant mess.
Dragonflight makes almost no mention of anything that happened in Shadowlands whatsoever, and that’s the best possible way it could have handled the current state of the lore. Honestly, if we could forget Shadowlands ever happened, I don’t think anyone would really complain. Now, Dragonflight doesn’t have much of a main story of its own. It’s there, but it’s mostly just that there are some Bad Dragons now and we have to help the Good Dragons fight them, because that sounds exciting, right?
But by not going all-in on some kind of elaborate A-plot, we feel more free to hang out with the interesting denizens of the isles and enjoy the very well-written side quests they present us with. The real story of the expansion is this: You are an adventurer with a pet dragon exploring a new and dangerous land. Have fun. That’s it. Keep it simple. Keep it light. Keep most of the well-known lore figures at arm’s length so it feels like we matter and you didn’t just invite us to your house to watch you smash your favorite action figures together, which has been a problem in every WoW expansion going all the way back to Burning Crusade.
Making old content relevant again
Each of Dragonflight’s Mythic+ seasons will include four of the new Dragonflight dungeons alongside a selection of four dungeons from past expansions, and each season the list will completely change. So we won’t be running the same routes through the same instances all expansion long. This honestly seems like such a no-brainer and I’d love to see it taken even further. In Final Fantasy 14, when I hit the dungeon roulette, I could be thrown into any of the dozens of instances from throughout that game’s decade-plus lifespan. WoW has been around even longer and has even more to pull from. Could we run a +15 key through Wailing Caverns or Upper Blackrock Spire someday? I say, why the hell not?
One step forward…
Dragonflight isn’t a perfect expansion. In some ways, I think its design is overall too conservative. But that was probably necessary. The aging MMO needed to do some soul-searching, work on the fundamentals, and realign its priorities to find the path forward. And it’s clear the dev team have learned a lot from what didn’t work in Shadowlands. If the worst that happens is you run out of things to do and have to log off and play something else, that’s not so bad, is it? There’s no reason this game needs to feel like a full-time job. And positioning itself as something many players will visit just a couple times a week could be good for fending off burnout. They say familiarity breeds contempt, and the fact that I still to this day throw knives at a picture of that mushroom guy from Ardenweald I stapled to my wall seems to prove that point.