WoW: Dragonflight zones deep dive with Tina Wang and Maria Hamilton

With WoW: Dragonflight less than a month away, Laptop Mag sat down with Associate Art Director Tina Wang and Lead Quest Designer Maria Hamilton to talk about the various zones of Dragonflight, the cultures of the creatures that inhabit them, and how Dragon Riding marks a drastic shift in game design compared to previous expansions.

We also get into why Blizzard is obsessed with ducks this expansion and how the art and quest design team come together to form such a coherent experience that allows the player to explore as much of the world as possible.

How Dragon Riding impacts quest and zone design 

Dragonflight offers a unique opportunity for players to explore and interact with Warcraft’s world in a way that has never been possible before. For the first time in WoW’s history, players will be flying from the very beginning of the expansion, and as a result, the ability to fly is inherently linked with how quests and zones are designed. 

(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Wang explains that the macro design of the Dragon Isles is built with a spiral upwards through the zones, meaning players will begin at the lowest point at sea level, eventually climbing up through the continent. And when they get to the top, they’ll be greeted by Valdrakken, the expansion’s hub in Thaldraszus, where players will most likely set their Hearthstones and dive off the highest point on the island, soaring downwards and building momentum through the Dragon Riding ability.

“With Dragon Riding, and the speed of Dragon Riding, it affects the spaces we want to make because with that high level of speed, we wanna give that sense of this vast wilderness.” She also says that the Dragon Isles is the largest expansion continent Blizzard has ever created, attributing much of that to “the negative spaces in between those points of interests that really feel like this is an untamed land.”

World of Warcraft Dragonflight Screenshots

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Hamilton claims that the inclusion of Dragon Riding means NPCs and events can be placed at higher elevations so “players would have that pleasure of diving off of a high area and using momentum to go to the next hot spot.” Part of that is to ensure that the player can see where they are going and pick out points of interest from a distance, and while flying through the Dragon Isles, they’ll see certain quests below them. The design intent is to make players think “maybe I wanna go back there later, because there’s something there. I don’t want to miss out on seeing that.”

This is especially true in the first area, where the team “tried to make there be interesting and appealing things to go after that you might notice, so that as soon as you got that Dragon Riding mount, you could come back.” Dragonflight also directly utilizes Dragon Riding to find secrets, and of course, to interact and begin quests, you’ll need to fly around. There are “races for Dragon Riding as well, which are fun, they’re timed and so you’re trying to achieve the highest possible score on those.”

World of Warcraft: Dragonflight Concept Art

(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

She also explains how the team wanted to reward players for flying around and checking things out, putting an emphasis on exploration and discovery. “In Thaldraszus, there’s an area not far from town where we have a questline about an entrepreneur that is attempting to create a spa and things go a little bit wrong and there’s actually a floating island there.” She claims that there’s plenty of things to find on that island, and the team tries to liberally place secrets or full-blown questlines in spots where they think the player will want to explore. She also hints that the space around The Obsidian Citadel has plenty of secrets that players haven’t noticed yet.

Wang goes on to explain that Dragonflight will feature major factions, with one of them focused on Dragon Riding, where you’ll engage with activities related to it. There’s also the Dragonscale Expedition, a group that is more about exploration throughout the isles, featuring activities like rock climbing and planting a flag on high peaks. And of course, when the player is up that high, they’ll probably want to swoop down on their mount, gaining that intense speed from the downward momentum.

World of Warcraft Dragonflight Screenshots

(Image credit: Blizzard)

I also wondered if it would be implemented in substantial ways through dailies, weeklies, world quests and endgame content. Hamilton explained that there’s actually a dungeon called The Nokhud Offensive, where players will be Dragon Riding throughout these massive plains to reach each of the bosses. However, Hamilton couldn’t remember any world quests off the top of her head that involved Dragon Riding.

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