World of Warcraft is going back to its high fantasy roots with the newly announced expansion Dragonflight, and after a turbulent two years in the Shadowlands, Blizzard seems to want to reset expectations of what modern World of Warcraft is all about. Following the reveal of the expansion, which takes place in the mysterious Dragon Isles and looks ripe for adventure, I was able to sit down with senior game designer Jackie Wiley and associate art director Tina Wang to talk about all things Dragonflight, including the new class/race combination Dracthyr Evokers.
The Dragon Isles have been in the vocabulary of longtime WoW players as the home to the powerful dragon aspects and their dragonflights prior to the Burning Legion's invasion of Azeroth 10,000 years ago. Finally, after nearly two decades, we get to visit the fabled lands where we'll encounter new allies. On the Dragon Isles live the Dracthyr, a new playable draconic race that was created by Neltharion, the former Aspect of the black dragonflight better known to players as Deathwing. He manifested the Dracthyr as the ideal soldier, combining the powers of all five dragonflights with the scrappiness and enduring nature of the mortal races of Azeroth.
Dragons in World of Warcraft have humanoid appearances to converse more easily with the denizens of Azeroth, often times to secretly live among them. The Dracthyr, like the traditional WoW dragons, will have humanoid and draconic forms that are fully customizable by players. Your dragon appearance can be designed to look like it's from any of the five dragonflights, and matching scales or horns can be added to the mortal model as well. Like the lycanthropic Worgens that came in Cataclysm, you can run around the world in either form, but in battle, the Dracthyr’s draconic visage will show at all times. Players who choose to roll this new class/race combo will get to choose which faction, Horde or Alliance, to align with and will begin in their own starting zone within the Dragon Isles.
In a new method for introducing this race, Blizzard is working to maximize the dragon fantasy by allowing Dracthyr to be only one class called the Evoker. As an Evoker, a Dracthyr has the combined powers of all five dragonflights, utilizing abilities only those born a dragon can conceivably use, thus only they are the only race able to be this class. Those abilities spread out across two class specializations, the ranged DPS Devastation spec, and a healing-focused spec called Preservation.
Devastation Evokers gravitate more towards the destructive powers of the red and blue dragonflights, with fire, arcane, and frost spells to deal damage from afar. This spec also borrows from the black dragonflight. Wang described a powerful attack we saw in the reveal videos where the Evoker flies in a straight line, blasting flames at the ground similar to how bosses like Onyxia or Deathwing would raze the land beneath them.
Preservation Evokers, on the other hand, draw from the magic of the green and bronze dragons, offering restorative spells through nature magic and time manipulation. Healing can be done with AOE spells that will bloom beneath the feet of your team, or spread out in a misty cone in front of the Evoker, healing all party members in its range. “There's this impression of nature with the green spells, while still giving druids their own space,” says Wang, explaining the conscious effort of the team to give this new class its own identity without treading on the fantasy of other existing roles. The bronze dragons are notorious for being custodians of the world’s timeline, and in true bronze flight fashion, Evokers will use the sands of time to their benefit to keep their party safe from harm. Wang offered a scenario that’s possible with these bronze spells, saying, “you’ll be able to perhaps have a spell that can rewind time by a few seconds.” The possibilities of utilizing all of the best qualities of the dragonflights give the Dracthyr a lot of potential for fun and flavorful tools at their disposal, even before adding in the new unique mechanic available to them in Empower.
Unlike any other class before it, the Evoker can utilize a new mechanic called Empower. With it, they can change the properties of select spells by pressing and holding a spell's keybind until the desired effect happens. Sometimes that’s charging a spell longer for a more intense and damaging blast, an extended area of effect, or an ability to hit more targets the longer a skill is Empowered. I’ve loved using similar mechanics in games like Lost Ark, and I’m happy to hear something like Empower is making its way into Warcraft and creating a unique play pattern for the Evoker.
Wiley says that accessibility is a big focus for the team. The WoW team is making sure players have the choice to use Empower by either holding down the key or toggling when the effect ends with a button press, whichever works better for that person.
“We have we've had actually a lot of Dracthyr playtests, both internally and with players who need the accessibility options as well,” says Wiley. “Using all the things we've been learning over time, and the expertise we have on the team, we're trying to make it so everyone can play WoW.”
I'm itching to get my hands on the Dracthyr Evokers and level one up when Dragonflight eventually releases. The fantasy of becoming a dragon race and having a class built around the skills and abilities inherent to the species is unique within World of Warcraft and is flavorfully magnificent. Although, I'll have to wait a while before creating my first Dracthyr. As of now, there’s no timeframe for when the expansion is to be released, but I was assured that the alpha will be going live “soon,” and some players will get their hands on Dragonflight sometime in the coming months. As for the full launch, Wiley simply said, "This is one of those things that will be hitting when it's ready.”