On November 29th, World of Warcraft will take to the skies in an all new expansion, Dragonflight.
The dragonflights of Azeroth have returned, called upon to defend their ancestral home, the Dragon Isles. Surging with elemental magic and the life energies of Azeroth, the Isles are awakening once more, and it’s up to the heroes of World of Warcraft to explore their primordial wonder and discover long-forgotten secrets. Included in this expansion is the all new Dracthyr Evoker, WoW’s first ever race-and-class combination. Players are also invited to master the art of dragonriding by bonding with the Dragon Isles Drakes, unique, customisable mounts that can be truly made your own.
You can watch the Dragonflight launch cinematic below:
Ahead of World of Warcraft: Dragonflight’s official launch on Tuesday, we sat down with production director Patrick Dawson and professions director Eric Holmberg-Weidler to chat about the brand-new expansion.
First and foremost, launch day is just around the corner; how are you feeling? What are you most excited about?
Eric Holmberg-Weidler: I personally think I’m most excited about dragon riding. It’s such a game changer; this new form of mobility where you can jump on your totally customizable Drake and, you know, flap up into the air and glide across the world at higher speeds than you’d ever get to before. There’s this really cool progression of collecting glyphs around the world to gain new abilities and gain more vigor which is the sort of stamina that lets you use your dragon-riding abilities. It just feels so good to fly around the world and see it from above at those speeds. It really changes the gameplay. For levelling, where you know you don’t have to mount up on your horse and ride around, you can actually glode to different areas and things like that. If you’re looking for treasures, you might find one up on a cliff, and you can fly up and get it. I particularly have a focus on professions, and it has a really big, big impact on gathering. We’ve been able to have fun placing ore or herbs up in the spires and on cliffs and in all kinds of other places. It adds a lot of fun to the dragon riding skill where you can flap up and then try to land on an interesting spot. If you have the right talent, you can get vigor back more quickly so you can jump off and back on and into whatever your next activity is and it’s super fun.
Patrick Dawson: I think, for me, it’s a combo, really, of the Dracthyr Evoker – the new race/class combo – I’m really excited about that. That is just hitting that iconic feeling of dragon fantasy in how that plays. There are also some new features incorporated in that, like empowered casts, which is your ability to vary the amount of time you spend casting a spell. Based on how long you cast the spell for, it could deal more damage or healing, potentially hit more targets or spread out in a wider code. There are lots of difference mechanics involved in that, and that’s a new thing, we’ve never really done that before. Also, the fundamental return to the talent system. All classes are going to play a little bit differently now, and they are super customisable. That’s already out now and the feedback has been tremendous. People feel that they can just really customise their class to their own needs now.
Regarding the empowered casting mechanics, can you see that being used for other classes in the future?
PD: Yeah, I think that’s an interesting idea. I think we were really dedicated to getting this right for the Evoker first and getting feedback on it before we expand it to other classes, but I think there is an opportunity there. New abilities and skills and things that people can do using empowered casting in the future. We don’t have anything specifically designed yet, there aren’t any empowered casts that exist in the game outside of the Evoker today, but it could be something we expand in the future.
You mentioned player feedback – what has the player feedback been like so far?
PD: We’ve had a lot of player feedback on talents. It has been really good for us to be able to hear what the players think and what they want. We did a lot of iteration on that, and in fact, we opened a lot of direct communication with the community so that we could understand what is going on. We explained our reasons for this too, which created a really good dialogue that led us to this wonderful system that we have today. It wouldn’t have been possible without the players giving us that feedback. I think another cool example is feedback about the user interface. We made changes to update the UI to something a little more modern. When we started out, we had a few widgets on the screen that were movable with our edit mode and then everyone just kept requesting more and more to a point where now you can move almost everything on screen. There are still a few things left to do that we’ll add in future content updates, but we’ve already made a lot of changes to what can be done differently. Things like grid mode and snap to grid, were both hotly requested featured by the community.
Can you tell us anything about future developments for the Dracthyr? Future classes, if any?
PD: For Dracthyr, we really wanted to make a class that hit the dragon fantasy of this expansion. That’s why we have chosen a class that is a mid-range spellcaster. We haven’t added a ranged DPS since the start of World of Warcraft, and it seemed like a really great opportunity to do that. The class is for damage and healing, they have those two specs. We really wanted to lean into iconic dragon abilities like breath attacks or claw attacks which is why mid-range felt better. In terms of future classes, I think it depends on what makes sense during the story we’re telling and the development we’re telling. When you look at this one, it makes a lot of sense to have Dracthyr in a dragon expansion like demon hunters during Legion made a lot of sense too. It’s pretty rare that we add new classes to the game, but when we do, we want to make sure that they really fit the lore and the fantasy and also what players want and expect from a new class.
There are trillions of customisation combinations for Dracthyr – will we see the technology that has allowed you to do this in other areas of the game, other races and classes?
EHW: As far as the specific technology goes, we have definitely been trying to lean into customisation as much as possible, and we’ll be looking for more opportunities there. I think another example of the massive amount of customisation we’ve delivered in Dragon Flight is the customisation for drakes for dragon riding. I don’t know the exact number, but between the four drakes and all the different customisable crests, wings, saddles, armour, colours and things like that, there is a massive number of combinations, and it feels great to be able to deliver that level of customisation to players. I think it really helps build their identity for whatever it may be through their class or their mount or whatever it may be.
PD: Just to add to that too. I think when I look at customisation in World of Warcraft, it didn’t start with Dracthyr. We actually made a really big push in Shadowlands and maybe even a little bit before, allowing more versatility for all race customisations, whether it be skin tone, hair colour or tattoos. We’ve added quite a bit of player customisation for all races and we continue to look for opportunities to expand that. I don’t think we’re going to go quite to the level we did with Dracthyr because that’s pretty insane, but we also had both the Visage form and the Dracthyr form to work with on that, so there was a lot of opportunity for advanced customisation.
Looking specifically at the all-new professions system, when did the team officially decide that now was the time to revamp it?
EHW: It was early on in Dragonflight, I had just joined, and Ion [Hazzikostas, Game Director] told me, ‘we really want to revamp professions and make them super awesome’. Really, the goal that we were aiming for there was to really let you identify with your chosen profession. We want to really deliver on that fantasy of being a blacksmith or a scribe or any other profession you may choose and let you do all the things you might expect a fantasy-oriented smith to do. Also, to have that level of customisation that lets you stand out from every other blacksmith that may be in your realm or your guild or in your social group. That’s where it all started. We really want to deliver on that fantasy because players have loved professions since the launch of the game, and there have been a lot of different iterations of them. The opportunity to really lean into them and let players dig deeper and make it a bigger part of their identity was just a really great one so we wanted to jump at it for Dragonflight. I’m really looking forward to it.
I’ve been playing a lot of Amazon’s New World recently, and in my particular server, there is a character named The Jewellery King because he is the best guy to go to for jewellery crafting and will make jewellery for anyone. I can see that sort of thing really coming to life in Dragonflight.
EHW: Yeah! That’s definitely one of our dreams. The specialisation, in particular, allows you to pick some small aspect of your profession and get really good at it. We’ve also added quality to the system where as a gatherer, you can get higher quality reagents and then if you’re a crafter, you can craft those into other secondary reagents of a higher quality that eventually turns into really high-quality gear that gives you more item level or stronger potions. Being able to specialise in these different areas means you can really stand out. To pick a really niche role, you might want to be the alloy crafter on your server and that’s going to be your thing. Maybe it’s not as cool for other people to do but you think it’s really neat and you can make a ton of gold doing it so you get to feel like that’s a part of your identity. If you’re in a guild and you guys have three blacksmiths or three tailors, and you split up like – I’m going to be really good at making Chronocloth gear, which is special Bronze magic imbued tailoring gear and someone else is gonna do AzureWeave and then someone else is going to get really good at gathering the cloth and things like that so you work together to build and be able to supply your guild and everyone else on your realm with all of this awesome stuff. So, letting you have that identity is something really important and exciting for the new system.
Was it challenging to balance that system? To ensure that professions are accessible to everyone but that the true masters of their craft really stand out?
EHW: One of the coolest things about professions is that almost everyone has their two professions plus, they may or may not do cooking and fishing, but almost everybody does at least a little bit. Even before the update, you could spend a lot of time or a little time on it. We made it a very explicit goal with this new system so that, say, you’re familiar with the professions system for the last fifteen-plus years – we didn’t want the new system to be this alien thing that was sort of scary and would chase you off. We intentionally kept the system working in a familiar way. You get in there, you still learn recipes, you still craft from recipes to gain skill, you still hit the craft button and make your items or you know, click on a herb in the world and gather it. The base works the same but there’s all this added depth now. There are stats and gear that you can acquire to make yourself better, and there is skill and quality that all matter if you want to get into it, but it is also kind of ignorable if you want to just make a thing and have it be useful. We specifically tried to make it so that the items you make, whether you lean into it and try to be a really in-depth crafter or if you don’t, there are always going to be very useful items.
For example, if you’re a leather worker and skinner. While you’re levelling, we went out of our way to make sure that you learn really useful recipes for yourself early on and that the item level that you can craft is very competitive with everything else your finding. Right out of the gate you can probably craft at least one piece that’s kind of equivalent to what you would find if you were level 65, but you’re only level 60, it’s going to last you for a while which makes it worthwhile to do. On top of that, we’re now giving you some experience the first time you craft every recipe to help compensate for say, the time it might take you to go visit your trainer or gather reagents and things like that. A lot of players are in a rush to get to the max level and we also want to encourage players to be professionals at the same time. So, we’re sort of rewarding your time for that, both in gear and experience, so that you’re actually making progress toward what you’re going for anyway.
For our key-pushers out there, can you tell us about the new Mythic+ affixes?
PD: Yeah, there are two that are going away; Necrotic and Inspiring. We’re giving them a little break. We’re also adding a new one called Thundering. This is the season affix, and it’s intended to give you a little bit of a benefit for your party members by coming together, like a positive and negative charge. You have to find a player with the opposite charge within a certain amount of time and failing to do so means you’ll get stunned for eight seconds – so you don’t want that. You want to come together, but you also need to maximise your time apart so that you can deal more damage and do more healing.
We’re trying something new this season. In previous expansions when we’ve done Mythic+, we’ve opened the full suite of dungeons in the first season. This time we’re doing just four of them. We’ll have four Dragonflight dungeons and the remaining four are a mixture of dungeons from Legion, Warlords and Mists; Halls of Valor, Court of Stars, Shadowmoon Burial Grounds and the Temple of the Jade Serpent. Then for season 2, we’ll add the other four Dragonflight dungeons and pick other dungeons that will go alongside those. That way, you won’t just learn one route or one dungeon and continue doing that season after season. You’ll get a little bit of variation in gear and in choice, so that’s really cool.
You’ve returned to the need/greed looting system. Can you tell us a bit more about how that works and why you decided to return to that format?
PD: It’s actually almost three tiers, it’s a little bit invisible to people. There is a need role for your main spec, so whatever spec you have selected, if you roll need for an item for that spec, you’ll get a priority roll. If you roll need and it’s an off-spec item, you’ll be in the second bucket of people that are rolling against each other for an off-spec item. Then you can roll greed on items you would want for transmog or a side-grade or something of that nature, and you roll in that third bucket.
It provides a little more opportunity for players to sort of move gear around. We’ve removed the restrictions on having an item of a certain level to trade, that’s one of the things that personal loot had in it that a lot of people were upset with. We’re just trying to give more freedom and choice to players, especially raid teams or guild-based teams. That’s the idea behind it, but we wanted to keep it fair and make sure that even in a LFR [Looking for Raid] situation you still have the opportunity to get some great gear.
Speaking of guilds. Are you looking at adding cross-faction guilds? What has the reaction to cross-faction activities been like so far?
PD: So far, a lot of positive feedback. People seem to really like it. They like that they can do content with their friends from another faction, whether it’s Mythic+ or PvP. Another change we made with the latest update for Dragonflight is multi-faction tap. In the past, when you would be in the open world just questing or adventuring, if a player from another faction hit something that you wanted to hit, it would turn grey to you, and you wouldn’t be able to get loot or experience from it. Now, that’s no longer the case, it will only turn grey if it has exceeded the tap limit for the creature. If you’re in different factions, you still get to work together to defeat the creature, and you both get loot now. So, that’s a step toward a little bit more cross-faction play.
I have heard requests for cross-faction guilds, the community has asked for that a little bit. I think that’s something we will need to discuss and see what the next steps are in terms of where we want to take the cross-faction system.
EHW: We’re definitely trying to follow that philosophy with other new features as well. For instance, the new crafting order system lets you make a request for someone to craft something for you and then have that crafter make it and sent it to you in the mail. That’s completely cross-faction. That’s just another example of making things that make a lot of sense to be cross-faction right now.
This will be the last time we hear from you before the big launch – anything else you would like to add?
PD: I just hope you have a blast in Dragonflight. There’s a lot of stuff to do, even before launch; whether it’s creating an Evoker or previewing the Uldaman [Legacy of Tyr] dungeon. There’s a lot of stuff you can play and have fun with right now, but November 28th, wow, that’s going to be a great day. I can’t wait to get in there and start to form a dong with my dragon, ride my drake and explore a new area.
EHW: I totally agree, I’m excited for everyone to get in there and get to play Dragonflight. It’s such a beautiful world, the zones are gigantic, and they’re coming alive with elemental magic. It’s just such an amazing place to explore and sink your teeth into and go on adventures and little side quests that are scattered all around. You can participate in the big story as well as these little cool things that you can find across the land that makes you feel like an adventurer, there to help in the world.
World of Warcraft: Dragonflight is the ninth expansion of the series and goes live at 10 am AEST on the 29th of November. You can download the pre-patch to prepare for launch day right now.