No wonder that reaction to the reveal was quite polarized. TL;DR: personally I’m in the underwhelmed camp after the presentation. But let’s discuss it all one by one.
The Speakers. I should say that presentation went a lot better than the infamous Zereth Mortis patch reveal. The “inclusive” card was played pretty decently, allowing room for a lot of people. The range was very impressive, from mastodons like Hazzikostas, Hight, Danuser, Gregory, Platner, Holinka (aka all the people that should have been there) to all the new faces. This did not look like a deliberate PR move anymore, but rather expanding our vision and acquaintance with Blizzard team outside of the generic 5-10 developers normally presenting the new game stuff. Of course, this change is clearly a consequence of the last year scandal, but positive as such. Give voice to as many developers as possible, that can’t be bad.
That said, the style of presentation felt kinda weird – and that was clearly a bad PR approach. It’s like they’re talking to each other, not players, but the “conversation” felt very artificial, especially (and weirdly) in the opening part with Hazzikostas and Hight. “Very good question, Jane!” – I really laughed at these pre-designed replies, and all the speakers telling us about this or that thing that “this is great” in plain words, just like that, made me cringe. Just tell about new features, and let players decide whether it is great or not, right?
And the last thing, the overall mood of presentation was nevertheless quite fitting, quite vivid, chatty and excited – like it should be. Especially compared to 9.2. reveal where it felt like you got into a funeral, where they asked mourners to talk about new patch.
The Dragonflight Opening Cinematic. This was strangely the worst thing among all expansion cinematics and presentation as a whole, and I don’t know where to start.
No questions to the tech team, of course – Blizzard is long overdue creating and releasing animated movies and series about all their settings, Starcraft, Warcraft, Diablo, Overwatch – it’s cinema value, improving every time. But my beef is strong, and it is with the script and story.
We return to this question again and again, and I can’t repeat this enough: why do we fight? Every next frame of the cinematic made me asked questions what the hell is happening and why, and I did not get any, literally any answers. There was an Ancient Greek titan-made guy not styllized enough to WoW universe, so he could be taken from any other game. They switched off the… thing and went into hiatus for no apparent reason? Then he woke up after 10k years for… no apparent reason (ok, something stirred)? He found his peers wasted by nature, and went to switch on the… thing for no apparent reason? The thing didn’t work without maintenance, so he climbed all the way to fix that, and did that, but fell down, saved by Alextrasza in person and happy dragons soaring around. The End.
First of all, I did not get the meaning of the… thing at all. Apparently it had to be switched off for Sundering… which did not have any influence on the Isles at all, it seems, so duh. Now they switched it on… and it served as a beacon for dragons? Why did it have to be switched off then? How did they arrive to the isles in numbers so fast, in a matter of few seconds to save him if it really was a beacon? Why they ignored the Isles at all for 10k years (actually, more – by watcher hiatus time there’s not a single dragon to be seen dwelling or leaving) and why did they even decide to return? Don’t they have well-established homes and enclaves everywhere else in Azeroth? Can’t they fix and heal Azeroth… in Azeroth, not in their long abandoned isles – which, by the way, seem very much fixed after the cinematic, thank you very much?
And the worst of all, I don’t understand why do we fight – what’s the player’s role in all of this? An expedition of discovery, I can relate… except that we explored titan legacy to and fro before, in every next corner and concept (so it’s like going to a generic village after you’ve been to major cities), and even dealt with them in person during Argus showdown. I can’t imagine a dragon problem that could be fixed by a mortal with a sharp/magic stick better than a horde of dragons – especially the announced centaur/gnoll enemies. And what of the dragons’ own “culture” – it needs elaborating a bit.
You see, for all their wisdom, looks and physical/magical power, dragons are nothing but a menagerie. They fit well as a classic villain, so much as it made it to a trope “kill a dragon, save a princess”. They fit well as a bearer of wisdom, or cavalry in a desperate hour. But they – do not – possess – any – culture to explore. They’re always beasts: hatching, hunting, breeding, simple as that. They do not require any structures, or complex society, or philosophy to exist and survive – they’re apex predators, and beast ones at that. They cannot and do not need to build cities – a cave will suffice, and if they live in castles and towers, it’s not because they’re architecture fans or give any shit about them buildings, it’s just more comfortable than a cave. So… what to explore? Of course, in WoW they’re kinda world-preserving aspects, but what is in there that we don’t already know and explored throughout Vanilla > Cataclysm? And did not they tell us after Deathwing defeat that they’re done with the business?
Long story short, unlike Pandaria which promised a real adventure, a unique spot within Azeroth, an aquaintance with deep, very foreign culture, lifestyle and philosophy (and delivered all that!), there’s nothing about dragons so far that I’m urged to learn or explore. As for threat that only you can help them with, like I said, there’s no problem that a throng of dragons couldn’t solve, and if there was, it should have been in a cinematic. For what it’s worth, the cinematic actually ended… in a happy end. Clouds are gone, the… thing is working again, aqueducts are functioning, dragons are home, happy and full of hope. Looks more like a final cinematic rather than an opening one, am I right?
Dracthyr/Evoker – well, this looked questionable. We got our next hero class, for sure – and race to accompany that. The opinions are very polarized, but personally, I’m not excited at the very least. The new race looks pretty ugly and clumsy in aesthetic sense, Evoker animations have no wow-effect to make me immediately roll it, and we know nothing about actual gameplay yet. Of course, it’s just me – if a new class/race makes people happy and rolling them, that’s all that matters. The more diversity and options the better.
Dragon Riding – rumours are, the feature’s taken from Guild Wars, but I couldn’t care less. MMOs are bleeding into each other, tapping from the ideas and adapting them to their own, so it’s not an issue (as are all other features from other games which were there first). WoW has been on the giving and receiving end, as are all other games, and that’s ok. The most important thing is how will it actually work, and I have oh so many questions.
The idea, as I get it, is a super cool express delivery feature – so you could cross the big distances at x2 (x3? x4?) normal mount speed, and also soar from and on the cliffs. That surely solves the problem of traveling between quest hubs and navigation across the unconvenient terrain, but mounts are much more than that. Often you need a precision landing and kill, nibbling a villain village here and there, eliminating the certain foes without aggroing two or three more, or cutting through the whole population, often you need to hover in one place – to make a pause from gaming, or make a screenshot, or explore at your own pace, and dragon riding seems nothing like that at all. Normal mounts are like your own car or a motorcycle, which you can stop everywhere you want and resume at your own speed, dragon riding seems like a route bus or a train to cover big distances. We’ll have to see how it actually works, but this is my concern. Customizing dragons – no question, is an awesome feature.
Talent Trees – look very interesting and compelling – to me. I’d rather like to customize them according to my gameplay… but I’m afraid I’m in the minority here. The talent trees will be mathematically optimized and carved in stone for you max damage/mitigation/healing output in the first 2 hours Dragonflight goes PTR, and these guides will be adapted in the wake of Blizzard’s talent number tweaks in the course of testing and after-release days. The min-maxers would just put their talent points according to the guides, and the majority will follow. Only filthy casuals like myself, devoid of any competitive raiding/dungeons/PvP, could actually play and have the intended fun with the system, and maybe world first guys who could try creative builds, but otherwise? I think no.
Professions – well… maybe? What I like abut professions in WoW is that they’ve always been pretty straightforward. I greet the outfit/crafting visuals, of course, but making crafting process complex looks like a step into FFXIV territory, and I’m not sure that it’s a good thing. And specialization talk sounded very disturbing: they’re thinking guilds again. For a solo player, being an armorsmith blacksmith would mean that you cannot craft high-end weapons for yourself – and you cannot excel and level in all specs. I don’t know.
UI Updates – yes, please. Frankly, I’m not struggling with the current interface, and I never use any addons, but customizing is always a plus. I know I did a lot of built-in tuning for my FFXIV HUDs, so I may actually do some improvements to WoW setup.
The last thing I want to talk about is Zones. I’m always impressed by art team of Blizzard pulling the weight… but not this time. Again, it’s is very surprising, like with cinematic, that one of the biggest attractions – exploring the new terrains – is not it. Simply put: I’ve seen literally nothing that I did not see before in the game. It’s not just similar, it’s a blunt rip-off from previous endeavors:
etc. If you showed these pics to a player that left, say, in Legion, he would name the zone from prior expansions and don’t even have a question that it’s anything new. That kills another urge to explore – because these are not new zones, they look like an extension of already existing ones. A number of “unique” enemies like gnolls and centaur (which btw are Kalimdor’s nomad natives and definitely not sailors to distant lands) doesn’t help at all.
I’ve got very mixed impressions about the presentation. The strongest points are gameplay and UX features, like new class, profession revamps, talent trees, UI updates, dragon riding despite all the concerns. At the same time, I feel like zero urge to explore the new story and new lands. Dragons, dragons, dragons – there’s only so much zookeeper lifestyle you could cosplay before it gets boring (it already is), with no new, authentic or unique other cultures or people to support them, no goal or hook considering our motivation and story, copypasted zones – this all kills all the desire to learn what’s going on in the Dragon Isles. Besides, there was no actual gameplay systems explanation – Renown returns, the thing that everyone hated, you know, and it’s yet a big question if they actually changed the gameplay itself. World quests, dailies, rep grind, raiding, mission taaaaable – will probably remain the core, and frankly I’m a bit tired of daily grinds that WoW always was. Will there be any drastic changes and innovations to optimize it according to modern times? I do not know.
Well, at least Blizzard could say: you wanted dragons in Azeroth and Dragon Isles – we gave you more dragons than you can digest. What else do you want? You don’t even know what you want.
In the conclusion: zero hype from my point of view, and whether I’ll experience the expansion is a big question in itself, apart from the IRL issues. Not really interested so far, we’ll see about that.