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World of Warcraft is enjoying a golden age and we’ve never had it so good

Whenever a World of Warcraft expansion starts winding down, I find myself returning. Catch-up systems make barrelling through the campaign and faction reps easy, getting me well-positioned for whatever is coming next. In Dragonflight, though, I felt compelled to return from what proved to be a much briefer hiatus than planned, and frankly it’s become a bit of a problem how much time I’m spending in Azeroth.

I am, it should be noted, devoid of chill. When I like a game, I go in hard. And Dragonflight makes it very difficult to say to myself, “Maybe I should take a wee break?” I haven’t really enjoyed a WoW campaign since Legion, but now that we’re at the end of Dragonflight I feel I can safely call this my favourite, even when I’m fondly remembering my days spent in Wrath of the Lich King with rose-tinted glasses affixed firmly to my face.

Look, dragons are just cool. And after Battle for Azeroth’s reignition of the war between Horde and Alliance, and the huge stakes of Shadowlands, I like that Dragonflight is more of a self-contained side story where both factions are just merrily exploring a rediscovered land and helping out their scaly pals. And it’s not like it’s been entirely devoid of important moments. Events like Ebyssian’s promotion and the birth of Amirdrassil are huge deals, and deeply connected to WoW’s massive overarching story.

My enthusiasm for the Dragon Isles themselves has not diminished since 2022, either. No other continent has been so fun to explore, whether you’re delving into Zaralek Cavern or soaring among the spires of Valdrakken. It’s endlessly stunning, and perfectly designed for dragonriding—which is still undoubtedly one of the greatest additions ever lavished upon the MMO. I am still genuinely giddy whenever I take flight, and it’s made me excited to travel again in a way that I’ve not felt since The Burning Crusade.

These last few months, barely a day has gone by without me spending a significant amount of time in-game, and I’m not feeling the burnout like I usually do. It’s the relentless grind that usually inspires me to give up. but even before Blizzard made things a touch easier by removing renown gates, Dragonflight felt like one of the least grindy expansions.

The speed at which you can gear up for heroic dungeons and LFR raids, before moving onto proper raiding and mythics, means you’re never stuck waiting around to get to the good stuff. If crafting or PvP is more your bag, progress feels similarly brisk. Developing your profession in particular becomes such a pleasant experience once you’ve run one character through the campaign, allowing all of your alts to benefit from renown buffs that let you access recipes and schematics at an accelerated rate.

Alt army

On the subject of alts, oh boy, what a wonderful time it is to be fatally addicted to rolling new characters. For years Blizzard has been making more and more things account-wide, and in Dragonflight this includes a great number of renown rewards. In The War Within, this is going to be taken a step further, but it’s already proved to be such a boon. Similarly, the way that dragonriding unlocks work, and the ease at which you can access regular flying in Dragonflight, makes bringing a new character into the expansion such a joy. You start with so many advantages now, making these repeat adventures largely hassle-free.

The 1-60 journey is also a breeze—ridiculously so, honestly—that it’s no longer a question of whether or not you have time to roll another character, but rather if you have enough slots for one. It’s pushed me out of my comfort zone and encouraged me to play classes I’d never really considered. My newest toon is a Marksmanship Hunter—a specialisation I’ve never messed around with in the 20 years I’ve been playing. And now I’m smitten with my lil’ void elf arrow-spitter, who hit 60 only a couple of days after starting her journey.

I just can’t stop making alts, largely because Blizzard just keeps tempting me with the promise of making such distinct characters. The reintroduction of more complex talent trees a while back made each specialisation considerably more unique, and now we’ve got so many different Allied races to experiment with, without any of the accompanying rep grinds. The barriers to experiment and try something new have largely just been knocked down.

The cosmetic and roleplaying side of things has also never been better. One of the reasons I rolled a void elf Hunter was because I wanted to make a Dark Ranger, something that’s now possible thanks to a quest that unlocks both new character creation options for all elven races and transmog gear for Hunters, evoking Sylvanas’ chosen. It’s incredibly badass. Though I’m equally partial to the fancy void elf heritage armour, which my Hunter is sporting above.

I couldn’t stop there, though, and I quickly followed up my Dark Ranger with a man’ari Warlock, something I’ve wanted to do ever since the draenei arrived in The Burning Crusade, but which has only been possible since last year. Now I can muck about with my wee army of demons while swanning around with bright red skin and fel-cursed green eyes (when they’re not on fire). Damn I look good.

And looking good is a big part of why I play MMOs. Judging by the vibrant transmog community who spend hours collecting new bits of clobber to create the perfect look, I know I’m in excellent company. I’m not a hugely competitive player. I don’t do much PvP, and I’m just a casual raider, so I largely just play WoW just to have a laugh, indulge in some power fantasy and look rad. WoW offers me that in spades, along with countless other diversions.

When I hop in these days, I gleefully jump between dragonriding challenges, time rifts, Dreamsurge events, transmog hunts in old raids and maybe a dash of some lower-pressure raiding before going on a shopping spree in the trading post. I keep thinking “I should probably play one of the dozen other games I have on the go” or “It’s 5am, I should maybe consider getting a few hours sleep”, but no, there’s always something for me to do in WoW, something dragging me back to the Dragon Isles. And now, thanks to Mists of Pandaria Remix, it’s only gotten worse.

Mist you

MoP Remix launched last night at 6pm BST. I’ve spent most of my time since then surrounded by pandas. I’m not even going to pretend I had a healthy amount of sleep. Or any sleep. It is utterly absurd that WoW still has the power to make me pull all-nighters like I did when I was half-arsing university, despite being a man rapidly approaching 40. It’s a testament to my complete lack of willpower, sure, but also the joy that this old-ass MMO is still capable of eliciting.

The time-limited event has the energy of a new expansion. It’s not like playing the original MoP, and it’s not like playing it using Chromie Time. It’s more like a reimagining, with accelerated levelling, new ways to earn gear and transmogs, and a bunch of twists introduced by the Infinite Dragonflight, who kicked off this time-travelling adventure. The dopamine hits have been coming hard and fast, filling my—generously massive—bags with gear and coins and gems.

It feels like more than just recycling an old expansion, and I’m incredibly glad Blizzard has found a way to leverage the game’s history to give us something that feels pretty new at times, but also deeply nostalgic. And this marriage of old and new feels like a realistic way to keep us engaged.

As MMO players we’re always looking for more novelties, quests, gear and seasons, and so many of us devour it at such a rate that the forums and subreddit frequently see players complaining about running out of stuff to do right after a big update. Blizzard can’t keep up with that kind of ravenous appetite, but by delving into its archives and refreshing or recontextualising things like Mists of Pandaria, we get to fill our bellies without the devs completely burning out.

Only a year ago, I could never have imagined Blizzard would give us this kind of thing. Or Plunderstorm. And yes, I absolutely hated Plunderstorm. I spent a miserable couple of days grinding renown just to get some cool pirate outfits and it probably wasn’t worth it. But what I didn’t hate was what it represented: a developer trying something new, experimenting and taking risks with a game that had been, only one expansion before, an utter slog. I know Blizzard is going to try more stuff that I’m not going to vibe with, but it’s more than worth the risk because at least I’m excited again.

I know I’m gushing here, but I’m not blind to the game’s problems. The new player experience, for instance, is a bit of a mess. I could not imagine trying WoW for the first time now—you go through Exile’s Reach with minimal context, then suddenly you’re in Stormwind or Orgrimmar and being tasked with going back in time to play one expansion (or hop between them on a whim) until you’re ready for Dragonflight. I love it as a player who has already experienced all of these expansions, but if this was my first time I would be absolutely lost.

If I was all about challenging myself, which many players are, I’m not sure the effortless nature of WoW would be my kinda thing either. It’s entirely low-pressure until you hit the endgame. There are still lots of ways to test yourself, but everything up until the point where you’re ready to properly get stuck into stuff like raids and mythics is so easy-going you can pretty much close your eyes and sail through it.

But that’s why we’ve got alternatives. PvP can still be a test of skill before 70, and if you’re craving the old ways, we’ve got WoW Classic. It’s not for me—I’ve moved on—but it’s comforting knowing that the version of WoW that first got me hooked is, more or less, still around.

It took WoW reaching its lowest point—and for Blizzard to be called out not just for its handling of the MMO, but its entire culture—but something absolutely changed. This is not just a game that’s better than it was a few years ago; it’s a game going through a golden age. Don’t listen to the naysayers calling it dead or merely filled with bots, or the cynics calling it irrelevant and past its prime. It’s as vital and vibrant as it’s ever been. And this is coming from a cynical naysayer.

Anyway, the pandas are calling once again. But maybe I should take a nap first? Nah, I’ve got some mounts to earn.

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