World of Warcraft: Dragonflight's pre-expansion patch has brought the Dragon Isles to Azeroth, finally, allowing anyone who's preordered the expansion to make a Dracthyr Evoker and experience the race's starting zone, the Forbidden Reach. The rest of the Dragon Isles will have to wait until launch on November 28, but this is a fantastic first taste.
Dracthyr Evokers start at level 58, and like the Death Knight and Demon Hunter starting zones it's a race to get you up to speed and your hotbar filled with new spells. The storyline will quickly get you ready, bumping you up to 60 by sending you into battle and on rescue missions. The place is in turmoil, naturally, because this is World of Warcraft after all, and this time it takes the form of the Dracthyr's rude awakening.
The lanky lizards wake up after a long slumber to find their creches crumbling and their land under siege from elemental creatures and dragons. The storyline focuses on the Dracthyr getting their house in order, all while they wonder where their bud Neltharion has gone. They've got a lot of World of Warcraft lore to catch up on and haven't even heard the name Deathwing yet.
I had to beat up some invaders and heal my fellow Dracthyr before I could leave my creche, the War Creche, and start exploring the Forbidden Reach. I was eager to get moving, but I was already plenty entertained on account of having some big ol' dragon wings. I've got a Demon Hunter, so I'm already well versed in the joys of gliding, which turns every cliff and balcony into an exciting opportunity, but even now it still feels like a novelty.
Dracthyr can do more than glide, of course, as I got to see for myself once I escaped the collapsing creche. With a quest to check in on the other creches in my log, I finally got to properly spread my wings, using a new ability, Soar, to leap up into the sky and start flying. A few tutorials quickly walk new players through the basics of the Dracthyr flight model, which is a bit more hands-on than flying a mount.
You need to actually work to stay aloft, tilting down to build up velocity before rising back up again. That alone can give you lots of air time, but you've also got two abilities that immediately boost you up or forwards. You can hover, too, which allows you to use abilities in mid-air. It's the most fun getting from A to B has ever been in WoW.
After flying through some rings for my instructor, I was given the go ahead to properly start my quest, and soon I was soaring across the length and breadth of the zone. It's a fetching but familiar place—one of the MMO's many, many magical forests. What makes it memorable is how it works in tandem with your flying skills, spreading objectives out so you have plenty of excuses to take to the sky, and giving you a much clearer impression of the Dragon Isles, or at least this particular zone, as a result.
You'll also just feel like a badass. This is true of all hero classes, but the Dracthyr Evoker feels even more distinct than the Death Knight and Demon Hunter, with abilities that feel more empowering. This changes the tone of the starting zone, which makes you feel like an established hero rather than a weak little rookie. Before long you'll be doing strafing runs while spewing fire and rescuing the likes of Wrathion and Ebyssian, powerhouses both.
Spewing fire from above is just for the Dracthyr, but everyone else will be able to experience the new style of flying for themselves when they get to the Dragon Isles and nab a dragonriding mount, which works in much the same way. It's a real treat to get this straight away, though, and it turns the Forbidden Reach into a playground for baby dragons. I spent ages putting these new abilities through their paces and stretching my flights for as long as possible, not feeling remotely guilty that my compatriots were waiting for me to save them.
To the east, the forest gives way to a gloomy, purple-hued wasteland full of storm elementals. With the story building up to its climax, I was ostensibly there for work, but it's a dramatic setting for flight. I couldn't help myself. Once again I found myself lost in the clouds, completely forgetting what I was meant to be doing.
I kept getting distracted, but the Forbidden Reach's story is actually a good 'un, and it provides a lot of context for the latest crisis—far more than everyone else will get. Setting up an expansion and introducing a new race and class is a tall order, but Dragonflight manages to do it briskly and without bloated exposition. It's very efficient, which isn't very sexy, but it's definitely a welcome trait. The story's still got plenty of flash, however, and it does a good job of whetting the appetite for the main course later this month.
I'll avoid spoilers, since it's only just out now, but surprise, surprise, the source of the Dracthyr's problems turns out to be a global threat, prompting them to join up with the Horde and the Alliance. Once you've picked your specialisation you'll be sent to your capital city, introduced to your faction, and then smoothly pushed into the current global story, with everyone preparing for an expedition back to the Dragon Isles.
After Battle for Azeroth and Shadowlands, I've been trying to rein in my excitement to avoid another disappointment, but my quick journey through the Forbidden Reach is making that a challenge. After such a strong opening, I just want to go back. At least I can continue to play with my Dracthyr, and I'm already having a whale of a time using Orgrimmar as an aerial obstacle course.