It’s finally official: World of Warcraft: Dragonflight is going to be the long-running MMORPG’s tenth expansion. Anyone keeping tabs on the game have likely seen many leaks flying (haha) around, and there’s no doubt there’s going to be a lot of speculations until more blue posts emerge.
In our comfy presentation session, on call with us is Patrick Dawson, Production Director, and Laura Sardinha, Lead UI Designer. Without further ado, let’s dive in! Interview has been edited for clarity.
WITH REGARDS TO THE EXPANSION
There’s been a level squish before, so what’s the reasoning behind raising the level cap?
Patrick Dawson: This is something that goes hand in hand with our new talent system / overhaul. One of the things we wanted to get back to – the core World of Warcraft – was making every level you gain feel meaningful. Now that you get a point every level for your talents to make those choices, going through that process and engaging in that system from level 60 to 70 will let you play with that new talent system and grow your character throughout that process.
About Dragonriding, can you take us through how you designed this new feature? Challenges, interesting tidbits?
Patrick Dawson: What’s a dragon expansion without flying, right? Historically when we added things like flying, it usually comes near the end. While this won’t be traditional flying as you know it, we wanted to make sure it connected to that fantasy of soaring through the air, gaining momentum, making flying feel like a “modern” activity…
Flying hasn’t really changed fundamentally in 17 years at this point, so this was a new take on what that might be. A dive bomb or barrel roll aren’t things you can necessarily do with the current flying mounts, this being really specific to Dragonriding. There’s something fun about playing with the physics on top of all the customization and the collection system of getting all these new ways to change your character and / or drake that’s been really rewarding. You’ll enjoy both aspects of them.
Laura Sardinha: Think about the Dragon Isles being the homeland of the dragons. They’re massive, big, and the zones are meant to accommodate them. Think about yourself as a regular human walking around with all these mountains, waterfalls or places only dragons can reach. The idea to give players the ability to fly early on just fits so well and made a lot of sense for this expansion.
The game’s Vanilla and Burning Crusade zones on Azeroth are masterpieces in world design, but they’re also 15-18 years old. New players are largely discouraged from exploring the majority of this world, which seems counterintuitive since it’s the place our characters are fighting for.
With Dragonflight and its mechanics, is Blizzard, in a way, creating a new expansion that appeals to modern sensibilities and breathe life into players?
Patrick Dawson: What we’re trying to do is get back to that core Azeroth fantasy. We just came from Shadowlands, which was an exploration into the afterlife and what that would mean. That was cool and fun, but we’ve also heard players wanting to get back to Azeroth. Dragonflight is that wonder, the moment of exploration of a new-found land that’s existed that we haven’t been to, and really, no one has for 10,000 years. I think players who really wanted that core Azeroth fantasy are going to get a kick out of this.
Laura Sardinha: About modern sensibilities, I think the UI revamp helps with that because the game will look fresh with a new, cleaner, easier to use UI. We’re going to give you a lot of options, while our current one doesn’t allow you to do as much without add-ons. It’s a fresh new era, like what Dragonflight is bringing like as a whole.
I was wondering if the move from the afterlife of the Shadowlands to the fantasy of the Dragon Isles could be seen as too jarring? I understand if this treads spoiler territory, though!
Patrick Dawson: We frequently go to new lands in World of Warcraft: the afterlives of Shadowlands, a completely new continent with Mists of Pandaria, discovering Zandalar and Kul Tiras, and we’ve been to other planets at times too. It’s like exploring new areas like we’ve done previously. We’ve been really leaning into having the core Azeroth in this world, and it’s been rewarding to go back to that and I think players will enjoy it too.
Earlier you mentioned that Dragonflight aims to recapture the fantasy aspect of Azeroth, so how were the inspirations similar / different to what we currently have?
Laura Sardinha: As Pat was saying, we’re going to this new place that’s been dormant. As soon as we get there as players, there’s going to be a lot of magic and everything is going to feel so alive. I don’t think we’ve really seen that before? Nature, volcanoes, canyons, waterfalls, just “coming back”. It’s going to give that feeling of “freshness”, and it’s going to be great.
Patrick Dawson: It’s that familiarity and wonder at the same time. It’s hard to capture, but it’s something we’re focusing on. Across the zones, you’ll meet Centaur clans, primordial Trolls, or even revisit the Tuskarr. It’s a nice balance between the “new” and “familiar”.
ON THE DRACTHYR EVOKER
Can the Dracthyr Evoker ride dragons?
Patrick Dawson: Dragonriding is absolutely a feature that all the races and classes can interact with. The Dracthyr Evoker may interact slightly differently with it, but it’s something we want you to participate in throughout the expansion experience.
The race and class combo feels limiting, yet also versatile with healing or ranged DPS specs. How did you balance giving them a strong sense of identity while providing playstyle flexibility?
Patrick Dawson: I actually don’t think it’s limiting at all, In fact, choosing a new race to bring this class to life allows us to go really deep with character customization. It’s not just customizing your dracthyr form on the battlefield, it’s also your visage form – your more humanoid form. There’s a lot of cool personalization you could do with your horns, scales, and all that.
The gameplay is also pretty dynamic. We’re introducing this as a mid-range DPS, as well as healer spec. We haven’t really added a lot of ranged DPS to the game with our recent classes, so we wanted to stay away from the melee focus. Plus, it really fits the fantasy of the dragons soaring over the battlefield and breathing fire at their enemies.
Another cool feature of the race / class combo is this new mechanic called Empowered Spellcasting. You’ll see your cast bar start to fill up. At different breakpoints, you can choose to cast it or hold onto it to empower it even more. Empowering it may make it do more damage or hit more foes, so it’s a new mechanic we’re playing around with.
What is the inspiration behind the new class?
Patrick Dawson: We wanted something to do with dragons. It’s a dragon expansion. We felt we could use another ranged damage dealer. Healers are always welcome and in demand. And something that fits the fantasy of what the expansion is meant to be.
There’s actually plenty of story behind this new race, with their own starting zone where we get to go through and experience the dracthyr, why they exist, how they came to be, and why they’re waking up now. You’ll get to experience all that in the first hour or so with the new class / race with a lot to uncover and explore there.
Laura Sardinha: One of the inspirations is Dragonflight itself. The DPS spec uses the red and blue magics, and the healer is using the green and bronze. As a healer myself, I’m very excited because you’re going to be able to play with time, which is really cool.
What are some of the customizations we can unlock for Dragonriding?
Patrick Dawson: We’re still adding stuff right now, but the ones I’m aware of are different horns, scales, colours, or just the general look of your drake as some of the basic ones. We’ll have more in the alpha.
Laura Sardinha: You’ll be able to pick different types of dragons. The UI changes we’ve had in the Shadowlands Barbershop allow this customization; you’re going to be very familiar on how to do that with the whole UI going to be super useful and nice to use. With the new systems, we can add so much more into it. (Ed. note: See: Druid customization.)
ON THE USER INTERFACE
Will we be able to keep our already customized UI position prior to the update, or will we have to change it again?
Laura Sardinha: We’re still deciding on how we’re going to do this transition, if it’s pre-patch or day of launch. But, everything that you can do today (e.g. moving elements, etc.) are still going to be there anyway, so I don’t see any issue of us keeping that. We’re going to be adding things like an edit mode to move pretty much anything from your HUD and save it as a preset for yourself based on your spec if you need that. So, when you switch, it’s going to be easy and the game will automatically change it to the UI you set up. Basically, we’re adding a lot and not removing anything.
What considerations do you have to make when it comes to customizing / adjusting the UI? I think we often take it for granted.
Laura Sardinha: We know add-ons do a lot for customization, and we’re really grateful for that as it’s so amazing. Now, we think that the default UI should have that as well, because there are players who are just not comfortable downloading things and adding extra stuff to their game. We felt ready to give that to players, and also, technology has changed so much over the years. The UI we have today just doesn’t support huge monitors.
Whether you have a 40-inch monitor or just a normal one, one of our main goals for this project is to have the UI scaled accordingly, and look great.
ON THE OVERHAULS
Could you give an example of the upcoming talent revamps?
Patrick Dawson: We’re doing something new to the talent point system: there are points that are spec specific, and points that are universal. There’s going to be different sections of how you’re going to allocate these talent points. It’s meant to help you get the throughput, the customizability, in how you want to play your character or what the class means to you, rather than just going for the min-max.
Laura Sardinha: On the UI side, we wanted to make sure the talents, visually, have that class fantasy in them no matter how much you look at them. We wanted to do something nice for the backgrounds and have it be easy to tell when you switch specs. For example, as a healer, you could be playing PVP or Mythic+, and you may have different talents for different situations. It will be like your transmog menu where you can easily save and name your preset, like a section with a drop down menu to set up your talents the way you like to play. Again, it’s very flexible for customization.
What can you tell about the tech behind the evolution of flight?
Patrick Dawson: I think it’s definitely an exercise in experimenting with physics and different animation styles, so there’s the art, tech and design components. If you were to fly downward on your mount right now, you would have to choose to do so. No momentum, no gravity or physics or anything like that. We’re experimenting on velocity or swooping up to a higher area; it’s exciting to see in action and there’s more to come. I think you’ll be able to see that in the videos and deep dive we’re going to show.
Dragonflight brings about the “10th” version of WOW, or a player’s 20th year in the game if they’ve stuck around since Vanilla. This is a pretty substantial milestone, so will Blizzard be planning any special celebrations for it?
Patrick Dawson: Historically speaking, every fifth year we put on something more revolutionary for something to look into as we go forward. I don’t have anything to announce today, no specifics, but it’s certainly a momentous time for any game, and the players that have been with us.
That’s all the time the duo had with us after giving us a peek at Dragonflight! With “10.0”, it sounds like it’s a return to the basics while adding in elements to keep up with the times. How about you champions of Azeroth out there? Is it time to go back? We’ll see you next time.