"We did end up pulling back quite a bit on some of those" WoW: Dragonflight's Morgan Day and Laura Sardinha on removed abilities, player feedback, and more (Exclusive)

Morgan Day and Laura Sardinha recently sat down with Jason Parker to chat about WoW: Dragonflight (Image via Sportskeeda)
Morgan Day and Laura Sardinha recently sat down with Jason Parker to chat about WoW: Dragonflight (Image via Sportskeeda)

As phase 2 of the WoW: Dragonflight pre-expansion patch rolled out, I spoke with a few of the game’s developers. I spoke to Morgan Day (Associate Game Director), and Laura Sardinha (Lead UI Designer) about the upcoming Dragonflight expansion for World of Warcraft.

We touched on several topics, from player feedback to Dracthyr only having one available class as of this time. It was a very fascinating chat, and I learned a lot about what was going on behind the scenes as Dragonflight was being developed.

The final three questions were answered by Game Director Ion Hazzikostas, World of Warcraft Game Director. These were answered after the initial interview session took place. WoW: Dragonflight is a massive expansion, with tons of new content and ways to play the game. The Dragon Isles are also the largest land expansion in the game as of yet.

A new class, huge, sweeping changes to professions, and far more customizable UI are among the many updates to WoW: Dragonflight. Here’s what the developers had to say in our recent interaction.


Morgan Day and Laura Sardinha discuss feedback for WoW: Dragonflight from Shadowlands

Q. Like any WoW expansion, there are critics and complaints. Were there any issues with Shadowlands actively addressed in the development of WoW: Dragonflight?

Morgan: Yeah, as we develop any new expansion, we’re always looking to make improvements to the game. With Dragonflight in particular, we’re really looking at, kind of the themes of the expansion with refurbishment and reawakening. We’re really looking at these major themes as the Dragon Isles become alive again, and the dragonflights are calling us to action.

We looked at that as a cue to not only look at the player feedback, from not just all of Shadowlands, but we saw more of our foundational systems - our talent system, our profession system, our UI as a whole, and looking at Dragonflight as an opportunity to really revisit some of those systems and refurbish them from the ground up.

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We have a whole new talent system that players have been able to have in their hands for a few weeks now, the profession system is going to be going live very shortly, with the launch of Dragonflight, and the UI has really been overhauled from the ground up.

There’s a ton of feedback we got from our players going into that, on the talent side of things. You really miss that thing you get, every time you level up. As you go through Shadowlands or Dragonflight, you level, and you often wouldn’t get much but some stat points here and there.

With the reintroduction of talents, you’re going to be getting a talent point at every level. And you really get to build your character and customize the identity of that character from the ground up. With professions, that’s another thing we looked at. We kind of dabbled in Shadowlands - you might have seen with the introduction of Legendaries - A little bit of specialization, as you craft plate gauntlets. If you want to craft better and better plate gauntlets, you have to specialize in that specific item.

With Dragonflight, we’ve added a tremendous amount of depth to our profession system, so much so, one of our goals was that we want you to almost identify as a crafter. Instead of maybe a Dwarf hunter, you’re a Dwarf blacksmith. This is something you really want to spend a lot of time investing in and building that up. There are just a ton of really awesome features we’ve been working on, based on player feedback. I’m sure Laura has some cool stuff about the UI as well.

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Laura: Yeah, the UI, and also Dragonflight is a very alt-friendly expansion - something players ask about a lot during Shadowlands. For example, all of your progression with Dragon Riding - all the talents that you unlock will be account-wide. When you finish the campaign, when you create an alt, you can choose wherever you want to go, if you want to choose activities like World Quests, or Bonus Objectives, you can do that. We added a lot of those things to be a little more organic, and a little better, from the feedback we heard from Shadowlands for sure.


Q. I'm so glad that WoW: Dragonflight has way more UI adjustment options! What inspired adding this to the game? Was that something that was discussed for previous expansions, but for one reason or another, didn't make the cut?

Laura: Yeah, part of the revamp is not just the visuals and the user experience, it was also really taking the time to revamp the tools that we use. Which, since Legion, we’ve been evolving some of the tools, but it was a massive task to do it all at once. So slowly, we’ve been increasing our technology, but when Dragonflight came, all right, we have the tools, all right, just make it happen, and that’s what we did.

And also, the team, Ian and John, and the other directors back then, that’s the time, let’s do it, it’s a great opportunity to do so. Maybe you got a 4K monitor, and you start seeing the old UI really looked really dated, and we couldn’t avoid it anymore, I’d say! So let’s put all that together, revamp the art, revamp the UX.

Also, the expectation of players having edit mode is very high nowadays. A few years ago, we were like, yeah, maybe. If you’re a new player, and you come to WoW and you don’t have that, it doesn’t feel great, so we want to make sure we have that working.

The WoW UI has never been easier to customize (Image via Blizzard Entertainment)
The WoW UI has never been easier to customize (Image via Blizzard Entertainment)

So when players get to the game, they feel it’s a modern game, it feels good, and their expectations are met. Also, for the players who are very used to add-ons, they can move stuff around, and it’ll feel natural for them. It’s a part of the game. It felt like a good time to do it. We’re glad we did, but this is just the beginning. There’s so much more to be done.

We’re hearing players’ feedback, of course. I’m glad to say that the next phase to this will bring more things for edit mode, you’re gonna be able to move your XP bar, you’re gonna be able to move your bags wherever you want, also your micro buttons, which you cannot move right now, you will very soon.

And also, we’re going to revamp class resources, your Warlock, and your Paladin with Holy Power, we’re gonna make a new one. It’s gonna look really cool. We’re also improving accessibility so it’s easier to see the effects and everything else, very glad that we’re gonna keep working on this. It’s ongoing. Not just Dragonflight, but for the future.

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Morgan: Yeah, like Laura said, the UI is one of the most amazing parts of working on World of Warcraft. World of Warcraft itself, it’s just the longevity it’s had, and a lot of things when you’re initially starting to design something, and you know, it’s not normal in the games industry to think ‘Well, in ten years, people are still playing, the next two expansions, how will it look then?’

So, sometimes, it’s just, like Laura said, it’s time to take another look at things and give it a bit of a refresh. I’m also really excited about the opportunity, for the doors, this has opened with that new foundation, and all this new tech that the UI team has built. It’s really exciting.


Q. Professions saw some significant changes in WoW: Dragonflight. Has there ever been a talk about adding more professions for players to utilize per character?

Morgan: Yeah, so, with the professions update in Dragonflight, that was absolutely something we discussed, and saying, ‘What if we let you have one gathering skill, and one primary, and lock in at that, lots of things we discussed initially. We really just wanted to focus on the depth aspect of it and make sure there’s enough depth, where you could spend thousands of hours on an individual tradeskill. And like you said, if you wanted to try out different tradeskills, rolling another character is an option, or you can drop a profession, and pick it back up later.

That’s absolutely something we focused heavily on in this expansion - that alt experience. How’s it gonna feel coming out of the gates if you want to make a new character? As we’ve seen over the years, there are so many players in World of Warcraft that don’t just play one character. They play more than one, three, four, quite a few. And we really focused on what that feeling would be like out of the gates.

In the past, we’ve got a lot of feedback like ‘You only make things better for alts on the .5 patches or something like that. You don’t really focus on that right out the door.’ And that was something we really wanted to improve this time. There are a ton of things we have improved for your alts. Things like Dragon Riding being account-wide. You get a really awesome boost to your renown - your reputation gains - If you gain reputation or renown on one character and you come onto another character.

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Lot of really cool stuff that we’ve really focused on to make that alt experience streamlined and you don’t feel like you’re doing an activity that isn’t fun to do multiple times through Dragonflight.

Laura: We’ve also added specializations for professions so just that alone will take a long time to learn everything. You’re gonna start leveling your professions, you know, the way - you know how professions work in WoW. You craft one thing, you get a point, blah blah blah. But as soon as you get to the end-game, you’re gonna unlock specializations. You can pick from three different ones.

But just that alone will take a long time. You’re gonna be very specialized in something you’re really aiming for, and one cool thing about this is the social aspect of this. Because it takes time, you’re gonna put a lot of effort into it. Probably, your friends, you’re gonna try to talk to them, and see what you two are gonna do, so you can craft different things and help each other. With that, as you do more renowned things, more end-game stuff like World Quests, you’re gonna unlock points.

You’re gonna keep working on your path, and at the end, you’re gonna be able to unlock everything, but that’s gonna take some time, for sure. But it adds a lot.


Q. While the systems for WoW: Dragonflight were being developed, were there any outstanding or obviously overpowered abilities/powers we've seen from classes over the years not make the cut for the new talent system? Things like the spammable speed boost for Rogues that was removed back in Legion?

Morgan: Yeah, I mean, certainly, with the new Talent system, there were a lot of fun opportunities to explore new design spaces. I’d say an area we really pushed pretty far and had the sense to fall back on was the group buffs. Things like Restless Crew was a Rogue buff that was Outlaw only that reduced a player’s major cooldowns. Like, your Combustion would come back faster. And that was an area where we had a bunch of unique buffs in the Talent Trees and ended up doing a bit of a pass as we were closer to release and said, ‘What’s the total package look like? How many buffs did we add, which ones do we think are cool and fun, and which ones are the ones we can adjust, or just get rid of.’

We did end up pulling back quite a bit on some of those. Philosophically, one of the things we came to there was, we should really be careful not to add too many, or really, anymore. There are always exceptions, but spec-specific buffs?

Let’s make sure Rogues have a cool thing? Absolutely. Let’s make sure Outlaw Rogues have a unique thing that’s not a space we felt worked super well because it can be a bit limiting when building groups.


Q. Dracthyr Evokers were pretty fun in the development phase of WoW: Dragonflight as well. What led to Evoker being the only class Dracthyr had access to?

Morgan: I mean, they’ve just woken up, right? <Laughs> They were basically in stasis, and they woke up, and this is all we know. As they get introduced to the world, as they get introduced to the cultures and factions of Azeroth, we certainly think there’s an opportunity there to add additional options to the Dracthyr in the future. But not only from a fantasy and story perspective, where they wouldn’t know how to do these things. We think that’s kind of the right place for them to land right now. But that’s not to say, nothing to announce, that is a possibility.

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Q. Compared to delving into normal dungeons, heroics, Mythics and Mythic+s, and raiding, where do open-world content and daily-quest-style gear rewards stand in terms of improving character power?

Morgan: Actually, I’m gonna take us back to professions again. Certainly, we’ve talked a lot about the “outdoor player,” the one who loves questing, those people who are making multiple alts. Those people like to enjoy and chase higher-level items along the way. A couple of cool things for them with Dragonflight.

For one, we’ve always talked about the pillars of progression within World of Warcraft. You’ve got raiding, you’ve got PVP, and you’ve got Mythic+. The outdoor player is always someone who never really got an opportunity to get the highest-level stuff. But with the introduction and revamp to professions, we thought that this was a great opportunity to add a fourth pillar there. Where that person in the outdoor world can gain some of these resources and work towards crafting some of that higher item level gear for the outdoor world.

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So, that’s definitely an area that we think players are going to be able to engage with and have a lot of fun with. But also, there are things like the Creation Catalyst in Zerath Mortis that we’ve added in Mal’draken. This time it’s renamed, it’s the Revival Catalyst now, but that’s something the outdoor world player will, we want to be able to engage with as well. They’ll be able to earn gear through storms that they’ll be engaging with all throughout the Dragon Isles.

And they’ll be able to upgrade that gear, with the Revival Catalyst, and eventually the Set Gear as well. So, we really want to make sure that type of player has lots of opportunities for gaining interesting loot and gear, and have definitely been adding things.


Q. With Nozdormu and the Bronze Dragonflight back as part of our everyday experience, do you want to continue improving Timewalking as a game feature? What do the statistics say about how Timewalking is being played by the player base and is that where you want the feature to be in the future?

Ion: Timewalking is awesome. Timewalking, it’s great to revisit dungeons, and locations from past expansions to keep them relevant. Many players are introduced to this content in a relevant way for the very first time ever.

Something we want to continue expanding when we bring new expansions into Timewalking, as time moves on, but we’ve also talked about what we can do with Timewalking in the outdoor world.

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We don’t have any specific plans to announce right now, but it feels like a natural next step beyond the dungeons and raids we’ve done already. Whether there are questlines, or other outdoor events when it is Wrath Timewalking Week or Cata Timewalking Week, that could be fun to revisit as well.


Q. Were there any teases within Shadowlands that hinted at Dragonflight being the next expansion, that fans of WoW lore may have missed?

Ion: Honestly? Not really. In a lot of ways, Shadowlands represented the end of a multi-expansion story arc, and Dragonflight marks the beginning of a new one. I think there will certainly be hints in Dragonflight as to what the next expansion is, but that’s something we’re gonna talk about another time.


Q. Dragonriding was a great deal of fun in the Dragonflight alpha. I know it's still significantly early, but are there plans to keep this as a feature going forward into other expansions?

Ion: Right now, we’re focused on making sure the experience is that everything should be within the Dragon Isles. Um, and, we also understand, as great as the reception has been, it’s not something we think players are gonna want to say goodbye to, and so it’s something the team is actively discussing. We don’t have anything specific to announce right now, but we hear the feedback loud and clear.


We will have further questions and answers coming soon, so please stay tuned to Sportskeeda for further discussion about the development of World of Warcraft: Dragonflight, and what players can expect as the expansion launches on November 28, 2022.