Alexstrasza of the Red Dragonflight

With subscriptions at an alleged all-time low, World of Warcraft needs a home-run now more than ever

For nearly 20 years the World of Warcraft has existed as an immersive online roleplaying game experience.  As a champion of Azeroth, you – the player – have battled against Arthas the Lich King, Old Gods, Deathwing, the Jailer, and some murlocs along the way.  It turns out the biggest danger to the heroes in the World of Warcraft was never in the game itself – it was a combination of stale mechanics, poorly designed systems by out of touch developers, which was all fueled by an incredibly toxic workplace where sexual misconduct wasn’t just common, it was the norm.

Oh – and a little game called Final Fantasy XIV.

As Activision-Blizzard turns the page from a 2021 that has been nothing short of a disaster, it is a company now under the umbrella of Microsoft and with renewed focus on a safe and diverse workplace.  The World of Warcraft – once seen as a staple for the company’s revenue year after year – faces the biggest challenge of them all:  getting players to come back.

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands is a double-edged sword, suffering from the greatest decrease in players to date but also a shift in developer-player relations.

The most recent expansion – Shadowlands – brought players to the afterlife, chasing the villainous Sylvanas Windrunner and attempting to stop her and her master, the Jailer, from achieving their dastardly goals.

Arguably the greatest part about Shadowlands was the moment when the game developers realized the one thing players had been telling them for ages – they didn’t know their own game – and began implementing changes long-requested by the players.  But that was never going to be enough.  The next expansion had to be the best yet – or ever, even.

Let there be dragons!

We now begin our journey in to the next expansion – Dragonflight.  We, the players, finally get to adventure to the Dragon Isles, a concept first introduced in the original World of Warcraft that was cut due to time.  The five dragonflights – Black, Red, Blue, Green, and Bronze – return to the Dragon Isles, coming together to face off against an ancient evil and we get to help.

World of Warcraft: Dragonflight features the Red, Blue, Green, Bronze, and Black Dragonflights, a new dragon playable race in Dracthyr, and a new customizable dragon mount for each player during the expansion.

Right off the bat – a new playable race and a new class are introduced in the expansion.  Players will get to play as the Dracthyr, a humanoid-dragon race, who will all be the new Evoker class (a ranged DPS or heals class).  Using the powers of all five dragonflights, the Dracthyr are fully customizable in appearance and their story will be told through the expansion as they join both the Horde and the Alliance (like Death Knights and Demon Hunters before them).

Players will also start the expansion with their own fully customizable dragon mount.  Traveling the zone will be done through a new feature called “Dragon Riding”, which can be upgraded through progression.  

It feels the development team have chosen to really go all-in on the fantasy of dragons in this expansion and everything revealed thus far with the dragons has been a win.

The Dracthyr can only be Evokers, a new ranged DPS or healer class, that harness the power of each colored dragonflight. Players can customize the appearance of both the dragon and humanoid forms.

Why make more broken systems when you can just fix what's already there?

One of the biggest gripes about every expansion is how quickly all of your gear and items become worthless within the first two levels of the new area.  Activision-Blizzard took this further starting in Warlords of Draenor by creating unique systems for each expansion that required tons of progression and time, only to abandon them in the very next expansion.

Most famously was Legion’s Artifact Weapons, where players wielded the coolest weapons in all of the Warcraft lore, only to literally abandon them at the start of Battle for Azeroth.  Nothing hurt more than spending months farming artifact power, unlocking cool spell effects and abilities on your weapon, only to then say goodbye as a side-story in the beginning of the next expansion.

For Dragonflight, the development team has chosen not to introduce any new systems, but just to enhance and re-work some old systems.  Most importantly – the talent system looks to be returning to a “talent tree” like system, and professions are being completely overhauled (again).

A development screen shot of the new talent system which is reminiscent of the original World of Warcraft talent tree from 18 years ago.

When World of Warcraft: Classic launched back in late 2019/early 2020, one of the biggest draws for veteran players was the customizability due to the old talent trees.  I could be a mostly Elemental Shaman but with some points thrown in Enhancement or Restoration to give me an extra leg-up.

While not exactly the same classic talent tree, the new talent tree allows players to customize both their class as well as their specialization.  More will be revealed on these changes in the future.

Professions have been a staple in World of Warcraft since release but aside from finding recipes and crafting rare items, they’ve served no other purpose.  With raid tier armor sets and weapons being stronger than any craftable items, most professions are simply ignored.

Taking a page right out of Final Fantasy XIV, World of Warcraft is turning professions almost in to sub-classes with skills and points that benefit the professions.  Also being introduced is the “work order” system which will allow players to either put up materials and compensation for crafters to make them an item, or for crafters to offer up their services in an auction house styled system.

And they’re getting crafting gear now too.

Crafting receives a complete overhaul in both gameplay but as well as a new UI.
World of Warcraft: Dragonflight will also feature a revamp to the UI and HUD, something the game has never done since its original release.

Lastly, the World of Warcraft team is finally updating the user interface and HUD systems after 18 years.  AddOns will still be an option but the most popular AddOn (Bartender) looks to be an inspiration for the upcoming customization options.

But is it enough to win back players and save the World of Warcraft

I’ve been a player of World of Warcraft for 18 years from alpha testing to Shadowlands.  I unsubscribed during Mists of Panderia like most players, but came back for each expansion (except Shadowlands, but I did purchase it).  This is the most excited I have been for an expansion since what I thought Battle for Azeroth was going to be.  I did play WoW: Classic, but fell off during the grind of Vanilla.  Getting raids together became too difficult on dying servers.

I will purchase Dragonflight and likely subscribe a few months prior to burn through content leading up to it as fast as possible to be able to enjoy the new stuff as it releases, as I think a lot of the veteran WoW community will also be doing.

Can Dragonflight save World of Warcraft?  The vibe from the community of veteran players seems to be a breath of relief, a “FINALLY!” response to a lot of requested changes.  But the development team has a lot of work to do restoring the trust between the players, their feedback, and the development team, but a repeat of Shadowlands mistakes for the first 18 months could likely spell the overall demise for this long-lived MMO.

World of Warcraft: Dragonflight will enter Alpha testing soon but no release information has been given.  Sign up for the beta opt-in at