Earlier this week, Blizzard announced the ninth expansion for their enormously popular MMORPG World of Warcraft. Through a live-streamed presentation which you can watch right here, we were introduced to a stunning new dragon-themed foray, World of Warcraft: Dragonflight.
Following the official reveal, we sat down with Senior Game Designer, Jackie Wiley to discuss the reveal, look back on the lessons learned from past expansions and find out what to expect from World of Warcraft: Dragonflight.
What were some of the main sources of inspiration for Dragonflight?
Dragonflight is all about a return to Azeroth, and new beginnings. Dragons are a fantasy staple, but WoW dragons are super unique. They’ve always been a core part of our lore, but the Dragon Isles themselves have always been a mystery. At its core, this expansion is about discovery and exploration. The folks making the trek for the Alliance and Horde are researchers and explorers. The dragonflights have gone through tough times over the course of the Warcraft saga, as which we’ve seen first-hand in dungeons and raids; we want to take this chance to deal with the outcomes of the hardships they’ve faced and look forward to what the dragonflights can be in the future.
What are some of the major lessons learned from Shadowlands?
Shadowlands has a special place in our hearts, and we’ll always love the characters we met there. From a narrative standpoint, we wanted to return to our roots and tell a Warcraft story grounded in Azeroth after exploring the realm of death. In terms of game systems, we’ve taken a lot of lessons from previous iterations of critical systems. The new talent trees are inspired by a new generation of players moving through the talent trees in WoW Classic, as well as our “borrowed power” systems from past expansions. These, combined with our current thinking with regard to game design, have resulted in a new iteration of talent trees that we are excited about—and look forward to expanding upon in the future. The new talent trees, along with the professions and UI revamps, are a great opportunity for us to invest in our evergreen systems, and make for ourselves a fresh foundation to build upon in the future.
How do you think will Dragonflight appeal to new players?
I think Dragonflight is a great time for new players to jump in. The changes we’re making to the talent system means that every level-up will feel meaningful, which makes for a more engaging and rewarding early game. I also think the refreshed HUD UI will help new players tailor their game experience in really helpful ways, all without having to figure out third-party addons. Factor in the Exile’s Reach new player experience introduced in Shadowlands, and now might be the best time ever to jump into WoW.
What are you personally most excited for players to see and experience in Dragonflight?
I’m (of course) most excited for players to explore the stories, characters, and cultures of the Dragon Isles, but I’m also super excited about the professions update! I always pick up professions on every single alt I make and level them up as I move through the world. My main is a Dark Iron paladin and being a blacksmith is truly part of her identity, so I’m itching to get my hands on the new professions gameplay with her. Players will be able to earn specialization points to improve their crafts – maybe my main will become an awesome armorsmith, then specialize further in making giant WoW pauldrons – allowing them to increase their skills such as crafting speed, item stats, and more. I see myself spending days hanging around in the professions hub in the main city, Valdrakken, leveling up my blacksmithing and fulfilling orders from our new work orders system. Players will be able to put resources up, including even soulbound resources, and ask for a crafter to make them a recipe that they want or need.
Do you have a rough figure for how many customization options and combinations are available to our personal drakes?
It’s honestly too many to count… I wouldn’t be surprised if no two drakes are the same. There are four body types that players will unlock as individual mounts during their leveling experience through the four main zones—including two familiar ones as well as two new models. These are the drake, the proto-drake, the wilderdrake (which is like a wyvern), and the velocidrake (which is inspired by pterodactyls). Each mount has a suite of colors, saddles, armor, and unique customizations. For example, the proto-drakes have a variety of different head shapes that drastically change their appearance, the wilderdrakes have big fluffy manes you can unlock, and the velocidrake can have antlers. Players will be able to chase these customizations and unlock them by doing various activities throughout the expansion. They’re all cosmetic, so you can make the drake of your dreams to explore the Dragon Isles with.
Can we ride our drake in other zones?
Right now our focus is on the Dragon Isles. These zones have been built with dragonriding in mind, starting from the Waking Shores all going all the way through the expansion. We’re looking forward to feedback from players about this new, dynamic form of locomotion.
What was the main motivation for rehauling the UI?
Can you believe our heads-up display (HUD) has stayed the same for 18 years? We all have a special place in our hearts for this default UI, so we worked hard to modernize the HUD while keeping its charm. Our new HUD removes clutter to increase gameplay space for players while focusing on the important things, such as the minimap and unit frames. We also wanted to take this opportunity to give players the ability to customize their UI the way they want, and edit mode lets us do just that. Do you want your mini-map to be on the bottom center of your screen? What about your action bars on the left-hand side? We’ve got you! We also added the ability to save your UI based on your spec, so if you’re healing, for example, you may want your raid frames to be bigger so you can keep your guildmates topped off. This is just the beginning of a series of updates we want to make over time to our UI. We knew that updating the HUD was a crucial first step in making the game more accessible and wanted to start this effort off on the right foot. And yes, you’ll still be able to use the gryphons if you want, as well as wyverns for some Horde representation!
World of Warcraft: Dragonflight does not have an official launch window yet but you can already sign up for the opportunity to test it in beta when it becomes available right here.