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World of Warcraft: Dragonflight’s new playable dragon race makes the rest of the MMO’s races look like they belong in another game—or at least another era. Blizzard has done a lot of work to update WoW’s orcs and elves and many other races for this new expansion, but none of them match the amount of detail present in the dracthyr.
I spent five hours as a dracthyr in an alpha build of Dragonflight that took place in the frigid Azure Span zone. Before that, though, I had to hit the character creation screen and make my dracthyr, and it was intimidating even though I’ve made plenty of WoW characters before. The customization options for my dragon form and human form were absurd; I dug through drop-down menus for everything from hair color to scale placement. This is a race made for the people who have always wanted wings and claws. Based on how many ways you can customize each bodily feature, I think they’ll be happy.
The dracthyr make the werewolf-inspired worgens, added in 2010’s Cataclysm expansion, look tame in comparison, especially when you dig into their unique class, the evoker. Dracthyr evokers are like shamans that pull their power from the elements, except the elements are the different dragon lineages in WoW’s lore. Evokers have the entirely new ability to charge up certain spells into three levels of potency. As a longtime WoW player, having to hold down a key to charge a spell (or use it, wait, and use it again) is an alien form of interaction. It’s pretty rare in the MMOs I’ve played to have spells that can vary in power like this, and it makes my brain churn with the possibilities for how it’ll complicate the Evoker’s usual rotation of attacks.
Evokers can be damage dealers in the Devastation specialization or healers in the Preservation specialization. I didn’t get to spend much time playing Preservation on the relatively lonely press alpha server, but I found Devastation curiously unfamiliar in modern WoW. Over the years WoW’s classes have codified into fairly strict templates, but Devastation evokers wield a mixture of AOE, long-range, and melee-based attacks. Switching between them also has your character shifting in and out of their dragon form. It’s a class defined by constant change.
I haven’t quite grokked the optimal combat rotation, but several of the spells use the regenerating Essence resource. Deep Breath, which sends you flying forward as a dragon while you spew flames onto a target below you, resembles the kind of mobility-based attacks that Legion’s demon hunters had, and forces you to consider how you’re situated in a fight. There’s even a talent that lets you tap Deep Breath again to teleport back to your starting location.
Other spells, like Living Flame, are closer to the sort of ‘filler’ attacks you do while waiting for other, more powerful abilities to come online. But even Living Flame, which takes a few seconds to pull off, isn’t a rote attack you’ll be mashing over and over again while checking Discord on your second monitor. You frequently have the resources to drop high-damage fireballs with Pyre and a wave of frost with Eternity Surge, the kinds of spells that give evokers a good balance of consistency and spontaneity.
Much of your own rotation will depend on how you choose to spend your talent points in both the class-specific tree and the specialization tree—which every class will get with the release of Dragonflight. It’s been many years since WoW has had a long tree of abilities and buffs to put points into as you level up. The talent system that had you choose between three options at every tier is gone: now you choose exactly what parts of your class you want to amplify, just like in WoW’s early years. The result is a system that, even with a big pool of points at level 65, is designed to give you meaningful decisions as you get further along the tree.
The upper third of the class and talent trees are a bunch of necessary spells and buffs, but as you progress, you have to decide which spells you like using and which you don’t. For example: I intentionally left the basic Living Flame spell alone in exchange for talents that gave me more Essence to spend on the chunkier abilities. It’s entirely possible in this classic talent tree system to make a wonky build, and Blizzard has said so, but that degree of choice opens the classes up to fun, gimmicky builds or builds that fit neatly with your specific style of play.
The dracthyr aren’t just the class with the most choice Blizzard has ever made, they’re proof of how much the game has changed in the past 18 years. Their unique ability to slow their fall and lift off from the ground into a glide separates them from the more immobile races, giving tons of room for experimentation as you make your way through Dragonflight and beyond. Evokers don’t slot into how you traditionally think of WoW classes, and that’s both confusing and exciting for a game that’s had a tumultuous history with innovation (and stagnation) in its class design.
Surely with time players will figure out what’s the best way to play evokers and optimize out some of their variety, but I appreciate a class that attempts to fight back against that tendency. No WoW class has ever offered so many ways to identify exactly what grabs you, or so many opportunities to wrap your play around that when you find it.