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[News] World Of Warcraft: Dragonflight Review - Who Says You Can't Go Home?


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World of Warcraft: Dragonflight is about coming home, in more ways than one. It's a homecoming for the titular Dragonflights of Blizzard's long-running MMORPG, who return to their ancient ancestral home to pick up the pieces and rebuild after thousands of years away. It's also a homecoming for players, who after years of languishing in WoW's unpopular Shadowlands expansion, get to return to Azeroth and all the familiar sights and sounds it holds. Dragonflight, in that regard, is incredibly nostalgic, but not in the way you might expect. Though it without a doubt features the return of fan-favorite characters, monsters, and even gameplay systems, it never feels beholden or shackled by them. Instead, it takes those familiar elements and breathes new life into them. Whether it's the return of talent trees reminiscent of those from the game's earliest expansions, the game's updated user interface, its lack of mandatory activities, or the feeling of adventure the new dragonriding system invokes, Dragonflight miraculously feels both fresh and familiar at the same time. Even if there are some aspects of Dragonflight that could be improved, I can't help but be impressed at how a handful of new ideas, along with major facelifts to some old ones, breathe new life into Blizzard's flagship title. Dragons, as you might expect, are the star of this new expansion. Players ride new, highly customizable Dragon Isles Drakes. The majority of the main campaign's primary characters are dragons. There's even a new dragon race, the Dracthyr, that is only playable as the new dragon-themed spellcasting class, the Evoker. The Dragon Aspects Alexstrasza, Nozdormu, Wrathion, and Kalecgos all play key roles in the game's initial story campaign. To see them all front and center for the first real time since 2010's Cataclysm expansion is part of what makes Dragonflight feel so nostalgic, signaling a return to the high fantasy of Azeroth after nearly two years of the dark, dour, and death-themed settings and characters of Shadowlands. Even if its setting and characters feel familiar, there is no mistaking that Dragonflight brings a modern perspective to Blizzard's nearly 20-year-old MMO. WoW has long been defined by the rivalry between Azeroth's two political superpowers, the Horde and the Alliance. It was just four years ago that a massive war between the two factions nearly tore Azeroth apart in the game's Battle for Azeroth expansion. Dragonflight, however, feels almost entirely removed from the franchise's long history of inter-faction conflict. Part of that is thanks to the story Blizzard is trying to tell in Dragonflight. The expedition to the mystical Dragon Isles, which has only recently reemerged after 10,000 years, is not a race between the Horde and Alliance to see who can colonize it first (as was the case when the two factions discovered the continent of Pandaria back in 2012) but scientific in nature. From the outset, you're told the petty differences between the Horde and Alliance are to be put aside and that violence between the groups will not be tolerated. Adventurers (aka players) are welcome to join the Dragonscale Expedition, which consists of members of both factions, not because their martial prowess is needed to wage war against their longtime rivals, but because all the artisans, scientists, and explorers coming along are bound to need a hand, and some occasional protection, while documenting the many mysteries of the Dragon Isles. Dragonflight's themes of cooperation and exploration also stem from gameplay realities. It was earlier this year that Blizzard tore down the wall between the two factions, at long last allowing friends on different sides of Azeroth's Iron Curtain to group together for dungeons, raids, and more. To play up the idea of a faction war and insist that each and every Horde and Alliance player are mortal enemies, even while players on opposite factions are quite literally fighting side-by-side and talking to one another, would have been absurd. Blizzard, thankfully, didn't go that route, and smartly focused on aspects of WoW that have felt largely absent in recent years, namely its sense of adventure.


Dragonflight's expansive zones have been made with dragonriding in mind.
Dragonriding works miracles in that department. On paper, it doesn't sound like much. The ability to fly in WoW has been around since 2007, after all. But if there was ever a feature introduced specifically for a single expansion that deserves to become a new standard in all expansions moving forward, dragonriding is it. Dragonriding is fast. Very fast. As in, almost three times as fast as the game's fastest non-dragonriding mounts. But even putting aside the obvious speed advantages, it's also remarkably fun. That's because rather than effectively functioning as a passive speed buff, as the game's normal mounts do, dragonriding mounts bring actual gameplay to the table and allow you to interact with the environment in meaningful ways. Diving will help increase your speed. Flying uphill, conversely, can be a struggle. Trying to get to a high-up mountain top? Find a nearby building or uprooted tree to take off from and give yourself a little extra height as you begin your ascent. Flying is no longer just a way to get from point A to point B, but engaging gameplay all its own.

You even have abilities while dragonriding, namely a speed boost and an upward surge that helps get you off the ground. You can unlock more later, along with the power to use your abilities more often, from collecting dragonriding glyphs that are scattered throughout each of the four Dragon Isles zones. In a brilliant design choice for a game that has long held players' hands when it comes to questing and exploring its world, these glyphs are not marked on your map. Instead, when one is nearby, the game will alert you, giving you a general idea of where the glyph might be and how far away it is. From there it's up to you to ascend skyward and keep your eyes peeled. These are hardly hidden and can usually be found in high places, but it makes the act of flying through a zone all the more exciting, knowing there are meaningful rewards to be found. Better yet is that all of the glyphs are available for you to find from the moment you acquire your first Dragon Isles Drake within the first hour of the expansion. There is no max level requirement or any kind of barrier keeping you from simply spending the next hour meticulously collecting each glyph and unlocking dragonriding's full potential as soon as possible, if your heart so desires. After numerous expansions of having flying be off limits at the start and needing to be unlocked months later through an assortment of achievements and in-game accomplishments, simply having access to this new form of flying from the get-go does wonders when it comes to exploring the new world Blizzard has created.

The one downside to dragonriding is you can occasionally find yourself needing to go uphill, but without the required energy to get high enough into the air to make any meaningful progress. That results in you hoofing it on foot or simply waiting around for your dragonriding stamina meter to recharge. It's not a great feeling, but it's one that thankfully starts to happen less and less often as you discover more glyphs and unlock more dragonriding traits that help to improve the experience. Flying at high speeds passively recharges your stamina, and the ability to do so consistently and more effectively becomes easier as you find more glyphs as well, allowing you to stay skybound for longer and eliminating the need to wait around for your stamina to recharge if you play your cards right.

As you work to aid the Dragonscale Expedition and the inhabitants of the Dragon Isles, you'll also help each of the Dragonflights renew their vows as Azeroth's protectors and restore their homelands. This all is happening just as an ancient enemy of the dragons, the intimidatingly-named Raszageth the Storm Eater, looks to forge a new path for dragonkind by essentially destroying everything the Dragon Aspects (and by extension the Titans, who gifted the Dragon Aspects their power) stand for. Villains can make or break a WoW expansion (see Shadowlands' comically disappointing Jailer for a masterclass on how not to make a big bad), so I'm happy to report that Raszageth, over the course of the game's main story campaign, is refreshingly over-the-top and straightforward. While there is some truth behind her reasons for wanting to burn down the established order and she sets up some intriguing mysteries that will no doubt be explored later on in the expansion, she is not some morally gray or misunderstood character. Will she likely be overshadowed by whoever the ultimate baddie of Dragonflight turns out to be to several patches from now? Probably. But for the time being, she's big, she's bad, and she's bold, and it's nice to have a main villain like that coming off of Shadowlands.

Link: https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/world-of-warcraft-dragonflight-review-who-says-you-cant-go-home/1900-6418011/

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