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Dragon Racing, Dragon Snoots and Dragon…Sheep? Talking Draconic With The WoW Expansion Devs

Let’s talk about all things winged and scaly

Dragons are a core tenet of fantasy experiences, and World of Warcraft is no stranger to the fire-breathing friends/foes. It seemed inevitable that one day we would be graced with an expansion that is essentially a dragon-bonanza – but how do you do the scaly buggers real justice?

To my delight I got to spend some time with the enthusiastic Tina Wang, Associate Art Director and Jackie Wiley, Senior Game Designer, who both share an infectious enthusiasm for all things draconic.

WellPlayed: There seems to be a massive amount of really unique and interesting things happening in the Dragonflight expansion – it’s just DRAGONS! ALL THE WAY DOWN!

Jackie Wiley: Alllll the way down!

WP: Whether you are hanging out where dragons used to live, hanging out with dragons in general or wanting to become a dragon yourself – it is dragons for days. And it has always felt like dragons have always been intrinsic to World of Warcraft as massive lore characters, and they have huge moments throughout the story – How exciting is it to make them incredibly centric to a new story that is built entirely on the back of their very scaly wings?

JW: It is SO exciting. Obviously dragons are a huge part of fantasy in general, but WoW dragons are so unique in their role within the world. Things like their visage forms, how they interact with the mortal world, being raised by Titans… They are such a core part of what makes World of Warcraft, WoW.

Over the years – the many, many years – of Warcraft’s existence, the Dragonflights have been through a lot. And none of them are in the best state, some might say, so getting to be able to look at their past and pave the way for their future is SO exciting for us.

Plus the Dragon Isles have always been a place in our lore, that we knew nothing about – except that they existed and Wrathion wants to go there. So it’s been super fun to finally do this idea. Fans have been guessing that this would be ‘the next expansion’ for three expansions now, so it’s really exciting to finally go to the home of the dragons – because we have all wanted to.

WP: Was it guessing, or just rabid hope?

JW: Hope, but also ‘where can we go that we have talked about before but have never been to?’ and also, we maaaay or may not have hinted at Dragon Isles a couple times. It was coming! WE knew! 

WP: Wasn’t it true that in the original release of World of Warcraft, the Dragon Isles were sort of on an initial planning/spec document for what was going to be in WoW 1.0, but then it just never made the cut?

JW: I think it was just supposed to be a Raid? I am now VERY excited it wasn’t!

Tina Wang: It was just a typo! They put 1.0 instead of 10.0! So excited that they planned so far ahead for us and we are finally here!

I love the way you describe it as “Dragons all the way down” – from the art side, dragons are so distinctive, you know? They are ICONIC, and that is also why we wanted to truly lean into the customisation. This expansion might have the most we have ever seen. Like, that dragon you get – the MULTIPLE you get – during your levelling experience, it’s our first ever customisable mount! So we want everyone to feel like their dragon is entirely unique from other people’s dragons, just based on the incredible number of parameters you have available to tune.

WP: I saw in one of the roundtable developer discussions they were talking about some of the customisation options and they said you have a customisable ‘snoot’?

JW: YES, absolutely, one of my favourite customisations – I LOVE proto-dragons, because of their stupid little arms. They are very important to me, so I love that they can have no snoot at all, just pushed right in with big teeth. Then, there is a snoot that is like, a beak? And then there is a looong snoot. Oh, and there is a pterodactyl kind of drake, a Velocidrake, a different dragonflight –

WP: Like the ones in Battle for Azeroth? The pterodactyl-dragon things?

JW: Oh, those ARE pterodactyls! But they weren’t…hmm. Are dinosaurs dragons? Let’s discuss! I kid, those are more dinosaurs, these are super dragon-y ones. They have these very long beaks, they can have antlers instead of horns – each of the models has unique customisations for that model. They all have different colours, and you can just unlock a ton of stuff just by doing different content in the game. 

WP: I am SO pumped to hear proto-drakes mentioned – they are one of my favourite wing-ed things in the World of Warcraft. As soon as I heard I got my own dragon my first thought was how proto-drakey I could make it.

JW: And then there are four different body types for the dragons! You basically have one mount of each, and can customise each of them as you want.

WP: So from an art/asset perspective, does that mean each mount has its own animations as well?

TW: Well, they do have different rigs – so yes, that is true. So with the dragons – I love that you remember proto-drakes – so we have our classic drake body, proto-drake and then these two others. There is a WilderDrake that is kind of wyvern inspired, and has options for manes, whether you want a huge hairy mane or even no mane at all. Then there is the Velocidrake that Jackie mentioned, which is dinosaur inspired. And the huge amount of options for them to change their shape – I think the Velocidrake probably has the most dramatic ‘snoot’ shapes.

WP: I’m glad ‘snoot’ is the official term now.

JW: It definitely is now. We gotta change the internal stuff, so menus say ‘snoot’ instead of ‘snout’. 

TW: That’s actually true of the Dracthyr race as well, not just the dragon, they can also dramatically change their face shape in a similar way.

WP: I was amazed to see how much the Dracthyr (dragon people) had in the way of customisation. And even surprising things, like how their scale colour can deviate from the main five colours we would expect from dragons in WoW, like seeing a white Dracthyr! And then their VISAGE forms! With incredible hair and jewellery options, it really looks like it will be impossible to find two player characters that look alike.

TW: That’s totally possible. And the fun part about the Dracthyr and the ‘visage’ form is that visage forms are effectively what Dracthyr choose to represent themselves as, right? They are actually dragonkin, but they present themselves in this way and so with that we have allowed them to have so many different options that we may not have offered to a normal kind of character. Their hair colour? There are actually over 30 different hair colours! 

JW: …and that’s tops AND bottoms!

WP: Because they can have two-tone hair?

TW: Yeah! You can do two-tone hair, and hair highlight colours you can switch between!

JW: And then the hair even has unique jewellery options between male and females. However many options that you think there are, it’s at least twice that. It’s ridiculous – I spent hours making a WoW character BEFORE this many options, I am going to be ruined with Dracthyr.

WP: You are going to spend DAYS now.

JW: Oh yeah. My fiancé is ready – he has the meals prepared, he is ready for me to design both mine and his Dracthyr, because he doesn’t do vanity/customisation stuff. I took like two hours on his Elden Ring character – it’s fine. I’m a big customisation person. And being able to customise their forms independently.

I am SO going to do a hot pink Dracthyr. I am not usually a pink person, but…

WP: You can be hot pink?

JW: There is a rosie pink. I use a lot of pink in games – because generally games are more limited in their permanent colours – which we are changing, which is excellent. So I dress in pink as a power play. But here I can have my rosie pink Dracthyr, and then have my visage form be blue and gold. They don’t need to be the same.

WP: One thing I noticed from the reveal cinematic is that the Dragon Isles are portrayed as a place that was left for ten thousand years, and it’s not so much that we, the players, are just going there suddenly, but also the dragons are returning for the first time. So is the story about rediscovery for everyone involved?

TW: Yahuh. So the dragons left their home and the magic subsided due to the sundering, but there are races and factions that were left behind. 

WP: Like Tuskarr! Walrus people!

TW: Yes! Probably the most important ones I think. The elemental giants went to sleep, Tuskarr have been there, the drakonid and the dragonspawn that were left behind to take care of it all. They, and the Watchers – including our beloved cinematic rock man, his name is Koranos – were all left behind to take care of the Dragon Isles. The green dragons left dryads to watch in their stead, the centaur have been there for ten thousand years with all manner of conflict and cultural change, so the dragons are coming back and they don’t really know what state it will be in.

WP: Did they ask that no wild parties happen while they were away?

TW: Hahaha right?! That story of like, discovery, is core to what the expansion offers within the Dragon Isles. We are all rediscovering it with these factions from both the horde and alliance who will team up and form ‘The Dragonscale Expedition’.

WP: I suppose there are even dragons who have been born since the mass exodus, like Wrathion, so they have never even seen their ancestral home?

JW: Yeah, Wrathion is like…7?

WP: And he is basically dragon royalty. So I can imagine it’s going to be quite an experience to see him going there for the first time?

TW: Absolutely, and the dynamic between the various dragonflights will be a really fun part of that story.

WP: Speaking of the legacy of dragon characters within World of Warcraft – there is Galakrond, an immense dragon only ever fleetingly mentioned or shown as deceased within the current WoW story, can we expect some delving into and fleshing out on stories like that?

JW: Sure, so you know the dragonflights as we know them were ‘elevated’ by the titans, to serve as keepers of the world of Azeroth. Big names like Ysera and Alexstraza were the original caretakers during the time of Galakrond’s fall, so there is definitely a lot more to dragonkind than what we have seen. We’ve already seen the Drakthyr, but there are new dragon models that we have never seen before that live in the Dragon Isles – even the sheep have, like, draconic horns… 

WP: Wait, there are dragon…sheep?

JW: Oh yeah!

TW: Just mildly reminiscent of being dragon-like.

JW: They are DEFINITELY sheep, but just, y’know, a little extra to show they are from the Dragon Isles.

WP: Just a light dusting of draconic character.?

JW: Exactly. You are in the Dragon Isles – throw some horns on it. But that’s part of the isle’s character – there were other dragons back ten thousand years ago, and their legacy is all over the landscape. They had their own way of life, they had their own stories. They may not have been elevated by the titans, but as we explore the future of dragonkind we also need to address their past and whatever threats may have persevered.

TW: Yeah – even the proto-drakes that we all know and love, they were what the dragons originally started as – almost elemental beings. And the landscape reflects that with how infused it is with that same primal, elemental energy.

WP: I have to say something I am excited about in regards to how the Dragon Isles have been presented, is the verticality of it all. There is a lot of clear UP and DOWN – is that a concept that was established early on?

TW: Definitely. As you know there is going to be a component of dragon RIDING as well, and so we think about the initial starting zone. You start off at this base level, these lush canyons of the Waking Shores, and maybe you see at the top of these giant rock pillars are places you can’t reach yet. The final zone, Thaldraszus, is high up in the mountains with all these floating platforms, so the verticality there is huge. By the time you reach this zone you need to be fairly decent at dragon riding to navigate all these spaces. So that was a core part of the world design. Also knowing that you will be able to reach these speeds that are significantly faster than what you may have achieved in the past – this land is huge, and has these areas of untamed wilderness for you to be able to explore and understand why it is worthy of dragons. 

WP: Can we have dragon flight races…?

TW: Actually, yes! So one thing we are really excited about is that we have a content team that is focused on fun, outdoor world content, including things like dragon races. Or, hunting giant beasts in the centaur plains…

JW: We are REALLY excited about that. Repeatable content has always been under the purview of one big quest team, and we love doing it, but it’s nice having more people to make more things and put focus on unique things. We are super excited to have these folks who have been around WoW development for so long and are getting to play with the action figures in new, unique ways and figure out what is fun for players to hop into.

WP: Well I am out of questions. So I guess, what is the one thing that is in Dragonflight that you are most excited for players to get their scaly hands on?

TW: Mine is the professions revamp. I am a huge professions nerd, every character since 2004 HAS to have a profession. So having this update that lets my Dark Iron Paladin–

WP: Hey! Same!

JW: They are the BEST. Well, mine is a Blacksmith. It’s part of her identity. So I am super excited to go out mining, put on my little mining hat and backpack and then head back to the city to make more advanced pauldrons at the new crafting tables, and specialise in different types of armoursmithing. I can increase my crafting speed, fulfil some player-driven crafting orders for friends and strangers. Just really live that crafter/blacksmith fantasy.

TW: I am going to have to go with two separate answers.

Purely on the exploration side I am excited for players to experience this huge, new land that’s bigger than Northrend and discover all these places that are tied to the dragonflights themselves. There is the Emerald Garden, the Ruby Lifeshrine – all of these locations where the dragons have their seats of power, and we have these biomes that define them. In the Azure Span, we have the blue dragons, and there is this pocket that is a little bit like Crystalsong where all the plants are crystalline because of the ley energy. There are just so many places like that and they are all unique and I am just pumped about that.

And then, just as a player in terms of my day-to-day life and how I like to play the game, with the Talent Revamp I am so enthused about the Talent Loadouts. We are making it so you can spec in so many different ways, and for different playstyles – and you can just go to a rest area and change what talent loadout you are in. You can name them, save them and just activate them for whatever you intend to do. Also related to that is the UI revamp!

JW: Oh my god, the UI revamp!

TW: Right! We are JUST starting on this but starting with the HUD (Heads Up Display) you will be able to save out unique UI customisations for your spec/talent load out! SUCH a quality of life thing.

JW: When I swap to Holy Paladin my raid frames are bigger for healing, with mouse-over targeting for accessibility. And then, for tanking I can focus on unit frames and debuffs and auras.

It is GAME CHANGING being able to modify your HUD like that.

WP: I thought people might have been sleeping on that announcement – it’s exciting to see dragons, but a sexy new HUD with tons of options is forever. I can’t believe I didn’t ask about the profession revamp! I am super excited about work orders. It brings back that awesome relationship between buyer and crafter.

TW: AND, you can craft using someone else’s soulbound materials! The potential for that is huge!

JW: It’s going to be awesome.

WP: Thank you so much for your time today guys – I have always been excited seeing a new WoW expansion, but this one has just blown me away because it features such a quintessentially classic high fantasy subject matter. Everything you have shown just invigorates me as a player – I want to explore it all.

Jackie, Tina – I am going to go and try to share some of this infectious energy with everyone else. Hope you have an amazing day.

JW: Good! Perfect!

TW: Lovely speaking with you, thank you!

A lost world and an experience that seems to be about discovery rather than a looming threat promise a great core experience to players new and old, and may do a lot to invigorate the player base of World of Warcraft. Even at the shallow end of the news, submerging yourself in a sea of dragon goodness may well be the experience many have been craving.

Keep an ever watchful eye on further announcements and news as it comes.

Written By

Known throughout the interwebs simply as M0D3Rn, Ash is bad at video games. An old guard gamer who suffers from being generally opinionated, it comes as no surprise that he is both brutally loyal and yet, fiercely whimsical about all things electronic. On occasion will make a youtube video that actually gets views. Follow him on YouTube @Bad at Video Games

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