Is it worth playing World of Warcraft in 2022?
Best answer: Long story short, yes! World of Warcraft: Dragonflight puts the game in a better state than it has been in years. A broad degree of boosted player freedom, new features, and mechanics, wrapped in a vibrant and familiar Azerothian continent makes Dragonflight a winner (so far).
World of Warcraft's previous expansion, Shadowlands, proved relatively unpopular with players due to its time-gating mechanics on progression, haphazard story, and weak characters. The new expansion, Dragonflight, is thus far proving to be a far more positive experience for a variety of reasons. Dragonflight has given players more freedom over how to build their characters with a return of the classic talent tree system, while also adding a new class in the form of the Evoker. The new Dragonriding flight mechanics have proven popular too, alongside a full revamp of the game's profession system.
TL;DR: Should you play World of Warcraft: Dragonflight?
- World of Warcraft's previous expansion, Shadowlands, has now come to a close.
- Shadowlands was relatively unpopular for its time-gating mechanics, Covenant choices, and weak story direction.
- Dragonflight launched in December 2022, and has washed away the previous design ethos that led Shadowlands to give players heaps of additional freedom.
- A reimagined talent tree system gives players more control over their class builds, with a greater degree of variety per spec.
- The talent trees incorporate some popular abilities from previous expansions, while also sprinkling in new ones. In some cases, this has made some classes feel incredibly fresh.
- WoW: Dragonflight also adds Dragonriding which makes flight faster than ever. To accommodate, the world is also massive with broad verticality. Flying through the isles simply feels great. There are also heaps of dragon customization to unlock, and races to participate in.
- Dragonflight also adds a new class/race combo called the Dracthyr Evoker. These draconic creations were abandoned by Neltharion, otherwise known as Deathwing, in an attempt to merge the potential of mortals with the power of dragons.
- Dracthyr feel a little underdeveloped in some ways. They have fewer abilities and talent specs than most classes, and their designs are also the subject of controversy. They can only wear shoulders and belts, making transmog options extremely limited. In male humanoid form, they are blood elves, once again, adding to the already disproportionate amount of elves in the game. They are however quite fun to play, and add a unique variety of new combat mechanics such as charge-up attacks for those seeking something fresh.
- The Dragon Isles are filled with activities and very soft time-gating, if any. Players can essentially grind all the reputation rewards if they feel like it, although there are weekly boosts for those who don't feel like racing to the finish every day.
- Most of the rewards are also cosmetic and profession-oriented. Blizzard avoided the mistake of making these soft "Covenants" offer power progression. All of your power progression can come from levels and gear obtained from professions, dungeons, raids, and quests.
- The new dungeons and raids aren't the most unique in the game's history, but they are fun and interesting and offer familiar challenges and rewards for those who enjoy WoW's PvE gameplay loop.
- So far, Dragonflight has been a great experience for me personally. While the new player experience is still awful, returning players should find a lot of things to love in Dragonflight.
What is World of Warcraft?
World of Warcraft (WoW) is a game near and dear to my heart. I've played on and off since the game's closed beta in 2003, and have struggled to put it down even during its worst periods. I've said before, World of Warcraft at its worst still makes it better than the vast majority (if not all) of other MMORPGs out there, owing to its decades' worth of lore, rapid and responsive combat, and uniquely satisfying endgame loop.
World of Warcraft has now entered its 19th year with the Dragonflight expansion, which skips the game's story ahead a few years. WoW expansions add heaps of new content, kickstart new stories, revamp existing systems, and polish the game's graphics to keep it feeling fresh. Some expansions totally miss the mark, but this latest one is offering hope that better times in Azeroth are ahead of us from now on.
WoW expansions are near full-priced games in essence, given that they provide thousands of potential hours of gameplay with new systems and landmasses. The game is also funded via a subscription model, which means that every few months a new "season" drops during the expansion. These seasons tend to heap on even more new features and content, moving the story forward while adding new dungeons, raids, and bosses for you and your friends to take down.
World of Warcraft has many imitators (and WoW itself borrowed heavily from other MMOs that preceded it), but few have managed to achieve Blizzard's level of execution. WoW is an action RPG that is responsive, exciting, and quite honestly, somehow gorgeous despite rocking an engine that's more than a decade old. WoW is going strong, although the game has had a rocky few years owing to poorly-received expansions like Battle for Azeroth and Shadowlands. Blizzard has also been embroiled in a series of scandals and controversies, contributing to a large amount of staff turnover and generalized disruption across its properties. However, Dragonflight represents something of a new beginning for the team, with a total change in direction and a time skip in the story, offering a brighter view on the horizon.
I've been playing Dragonflight since it launched in December 2022, and I'm going to offer some findings ahead of our full review of the expansion for those who are curious as to whether or not now is the time to jump back in.
WoW: Dragonflight: The total newcomer experience
I have experience trying to persuade dozens of friends and family to get into WoW, so I know many common complaints. Thankfully, you don't need the best gaming PC out there to run WoW, since it runs on fairly low-spec PCs, which makes it pretty accessible. That said, the last time I updated this guide, World of Warcraft's leveling experience was abysmal, to say the least. The overlapping timelines from over a decade of content additions made leveling an utterly confusing, convoluted experience, but WoW's Shadowlands at least attempted to address some of these concerns.
When you make a new character, you start on a brand-new island dubbed Exile's Reach out in the ocean. Shipwrecked away from your faction, you'll begin experiencing the game with a modernized, up-to-date perspective. This starter area takes place around the beginning of the "Fourth War" storyline, which follows the events of the previous expansion, Battle for Azeroth. This new leveling experience funnels new players straight into the Battle for Azeroth zones, bypassing content that hasn't been updated or touched in over 10 years. Veteran players can still go back and experience these previous expansions via "Time Travel" with the Bronze Dragon, Chromie. But for new players, the repositioning of the timeline makes everything a little easier to understand. Truth be told, though, it doesn't go far enough.
Exile's Reach is overly simplistic and unengaging, making it hard for new players to see the "fun." You could probably train a chihuahua to successfully complete Exile's Reach, for an idea of how overly simplistic it is. It's a truly awful experience for any new player to WoW, and doubtless, a huge barricade preventing newcomers from younger generations from getting into the game. Blizzard absolutely needs to just revamp the old-school starting areas that immersed you in your faction and class fantasy, instead of this jump-through-hoops island replete with terrible voice acting and patronizing tutorials.
If you do make it through the boredom of Exile's Reach, you'll be dropped into Battle for Azeroth. Thanks to the level squish, you'll sail quite rapidly through the story of these areas, and leave it for Dragonflight without completing any of the content. It's best to play WoW with a veteran friend right now and focus on the combat and dungeon grinding because the leveling experience for a new WoW player is still an afterthought for Blizzard.
Speaking of dungeoneering, those 5-player dungeon experiences are similarly awful for new players, too. They're full of impatient veterans grinding out new characters, who will get angry at you if you don't have prior knowledge of the tactics. The game is sadly very unwelcoming for solo new players.
If you do decide to pick up WoW: Dragonflight, you get a token to jump straight to the current expansion and skip everything prior. The downside to using this as a new player is you don't get to "learn" your character in a gradual way. You can solve this by using a YouTube video class guide to get yourself up to speed, but it's still probably better to drop the token and skip the level 1-60 experience, jump straight into the 60-70 experience of Dragonflight.
State of World of Warcraft: Dragonflight (Patch 10.0)
World of Warcraft: Dragonflight is here, and a new era of player freedom has arrived. Blizzard really absorbed the feedback from Shadowlands and used it to inform them when creating Dragonflight's endgame, which has been nothing short of awesome thus far. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Here are some thoughts on Dragonflight so far.
Dragonflight takes place a few years after the events of Shadowlands, effectively wiping the slate clean both in terms of story and design direction. Gone are the forced choices of Shadowlands, which pigeon-holed you into joining specific factions for meta reasons even if you didn't like their aesthetics and features. Gone are the time-gating systems artificially preventing your character's growth. Chores like the mission table have been eliminated entirely, too.
What has arrived is an all-new talent system, that riffs on the classic points-based tree system of old. More so than ever, you can tailor your playstyle as you see fit, and even swap talent builds on the fly before specific boss battles. You could swap from a cleave build to a single target build in the middle of the dungeon at the click of a button, without having to drop a reagent and fiddle around with the talent panel for five minutes before the pull.
The new talent trees also incorporate heaps of spells and abilities from previous expansions, as well as passives from popular legendary items and so on. In some cases, there are tons of new abilities too, giving you new tools and playstyles to explore. My warlock can now summon a Pit Lord, for example, something I never expected to be possible. Returning players will find a lot to love in the new talent systems, although there are still some outstanding balance issues Blizzard is working to address. Some talent specs have arguably received more love than others, too. Shadow and Disc Priests feel needlessly complicated now, for example, if you gun for every active ability in the trees. Some streamlining could solve some of these teething problems, but the direction is correct, at least.
World of Warcraft: Dragonflight also has a new class/race combination for the first time since Legion, in the form of the draconic Dracthyr Evoker. These ranged draconids are the progeny of Deathwing himself and are mid-range casters with high mobility. They are quite fun to play, but they do feel a little underdeveloped in some ways. They seem to have far fewer abilities than many other classes, and only sport two talent trees. There's clearly a huge missed opportunity for an Evoker tank that uses the Black Dragonflight's earth magic to supplement defense, for example, and I suspect this was probably on Blizzard's roadmap.
Dracthyr designs have proven controversial as well. Their "skinny" design has seen them get compared more to lizards than dragons, and while they have a heap of customization in terms of colors and textures, they can only equip shoulders and belts. Sadly, this leaves little room for transmog gameplay, which is compounded by the fact Dracthyr males are once again blood elves in their humanoid "visage" form. There was a missed opportunity here for Horde to gain access to the human male model, given the fact Dracthyr females are also human female. It would be better if Dracthyr could be any race in their visage form, alas, 'twas not meant to be.
I am hopeful Blizzard finds a way to allow Dracthyr to play as other classes too, such as warriors, hunters, and so on, if the story lends itself in that direction. Still, they are a fun and fresh addition to the game, with a variety of unique mechanics. They can fly outside of combat, giving players some fun traversal options, complete with charging attacks that become empowered the longer you hold the button down. Returning players who fancy something fresh will find a lot to love about Dracthyr, despite their shortcomings.
World of Warcraft: Dragonflight takes place on a new landmass known as the Dragon Isles, complete with the start of a new saga. With renewed purpose, the magical Dragon Aspects of Azeroth seek to regain their mantle as the protectors of the mortals of Azeroth, and repopulate the Dragon Isles to unlock its secrets. The Dragon Aspects are long-suffering kin, who have suffered betrayal and repeated defeats throughout the planet's eons-long history. Dragonflight represents a new dawn for the Aspects, but they're not without new threats to deal with too.
When the ancient Titans first game to Azeroth, they offered the primitive drakes power in exchange for serving as the stewards of their order. The flights that accepted became dragons, but many drakes refused to join, leading to violent territorial wars. Empowered with the chaotic magics of the elements, the Primal Incarnates eventually lost the war to the dragons, and were sealed away deep underground. Until now.
The first raid tier's central antagonist is Raszageth, a monstrous proto-drake imbued with the power of storms. In just one patch, Raszageth has more personality and is more relatable than an entire expansion's worth of Shadowlands' Jailer, which bodes well for the continuation of this story arc. Dragonflight is telling a more terrestrial, typically Warcraft story that leaves cosmic unraveling to the side for a classic tale of warrior heroes vs. dragons, and it came at exactly the right time.
On the system's front, Dragonflight has also been a breath of fresh air. Blizzard has essentially put its hands up and focused on the game's core systems for this expansion, revamping professions to make crafted gear actually useful, while heaping on some FFXIV-inspired depth in the process. The professional system could probably use some tweaks still, some are far more profitable than others, and some reagents have become so incredibly rare that inflated prices on necessities like weapon enchants have become insane. Some herbs are also punishingly rare, too, but this is probably easily fixed, and Blizzard is doubtless monitoring the market on these systems.
The game's major factions also have Covenant-like tracks per Shadowlands (inspired by battle passes in some ways), which drip feed rewards in exchange for performing tasks and grinding rep. It has been incredibly easy to quite casually obtain reputation points with the major factions thus far, and even still, nothing they offer is what I'd necessarily deem to be essential. Some of them do further the story campaign when you unlock certain tiers, and some crafting patterns are found at higher levels, but you can obtain equivalent power from doing dungeons and raids — just as it should be. There's nothing in-game like Shadowlands' Covenant soul binds, which gated power progression behind seasonal content. Blizzard has accepted that this was a mistake, and hopefully won't make it again.
The new dungeons are quite interesting thus far, but they also want for variety in some cases. Many of them take place in instanced versions of the overworld which feels repetitive, especially since you have to visit those locations for daily quests occasionally. To supplement, Blizzard has also started including dungeons from previous expansions into the current Mythic+ season, which also feels like a bit of a cop-out in my view. It's interesting to some degree to revisit classic instances occasionally, but it feels as though Blizzard did this to make up for the lack of interesting new dungeons they had prepared for Dragonflight's launch.
It feels like a lot of Dragonflight's design budget went into the Dragon Isles' design itself, which is a truly massive and very vertical landmass. Designed to accommodate the new Dragonriding mechanic, the expansion is crammed with a wide variety of very nostalgic Azerothian areas, from Tuskarr-populated tundra to elemental-plagued volcanoes.
There's a ton to explore across the isles, and zipping across it with the new Dragonriding system makes the game feel more immersive than ever. The previous flying system felt like you were simply swimming awkwardly through the air, with no momentum or depth to your movement. Dragonriding is far more engaging, and rewards your inputs with up to 850% extra speed. Skillful riders can also participate in Dragonriding races, which are surprisingly fun too. There is a lot of room for the development of this system potentially, and I sorely hope that Blizzard sticks with it for the future of the game.
The Dragon Isles once again delivers big in the art department, as Blizzard continues to prove the power of WoW's aging engine. The Ohn'aran Plains are stunning and peaceful, with rolling clouds reminiscent of classic zones like Nagrand. The Azure Span evokes Grizzly Hills with its redwood-like gigantic trees and folksy music track, with classic races like Tuskarr, Centaur, Furbolgs, and Gnolls getting some much-needed story development.
Speaking of story development, Dragonflight has seen some of the game's most down-to-earth writing for a while, with small, personal stories dotted across the game's sizeable continent. I sat on a bridge and reminisced with an aging dragon about his lost home, and also exchanged words with a regretful Dragonmaw orc about the role his clan played in the subjugation of dragons, from lore dating all the way back to Warcraft I. Dragonflight has somehow managed to come across as both nostalgic and fresh in equal measure, which is a tough needle to thread.
All in all, I haven't felt this good about World of Warcraft since all the way back in Legion most likely. Blizzard held up its hands and listened to feedback, casting off design principles they were no doubt very comfortable with. The repetitive "borrowed power" systems that became truly exhausting are now gone, as the team prioritizes adding permanent additions to the game, such as the UI revamp, Dragonriding, the new professions system, and the refreshed talent spec trees. In a lot of ways it feels like the expansion I've wanted to see out of Blizzard for years, paying careful attention to features that were crying out for modernization.
There are still plenty of things I'd like to see Blizzard improve here. The new player experience is still atrocious. Azeroth itself desperately needs another revamp and refresh to bring it up to permanence with the current timeline. Some talent specs need a lot more love. Blizzard's armor designs could also use improvements, given that many of them are the same skin-tight designs simply wrapped in new textures. I'd also like to see more permanent "fun" systems added to the game, like player housing, which gives players something to collect for and grind in their spare time. WoW is on the path to modernization, though, undoubtedly, with Dragonflight as the first, highly-promising step.
In short, right now, I cannot recommend WoW: Dragonflight enough to any lapsed player who still has fond memories of Azeroth. It may be a while before WoW feels this good again.
What does the future of World of Warcraft bring?
With Dragonflight now fully released and the first raid tier available, the future of the game is looking brighter than it has in quite a while. Already Blizzard has put up a PTR for patch 10.0.5, which will add a new trading post system to the game. Many unobtainable transmog items, mounts, and pets will become available randomly to purchase with a new in-game earnable currency here, similar to the Black Market Auction House from Mists of Pandaria. The patch will also add some new NPCs to various cities, adding some flavor to the current state of the story, as well as new class and race combinations that Dragonflight unlocked such as Tauren rogues.
I find myself suitably surprised by how Dragonflight has landed, and how it seems to be shaping up for what could be a bright future for the game. It remains to be seen how the expansion will develop as we head deeper toward version 11, but I've not been this hopeful and optimistic for the game in years and years. If you've ever loved World of Warcraft, the game is in a truly great state right now and is ready to invite you back to Azeroth with open arms. New players should probably still avoid the game, though ...
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!