Blizzard is betting that if there’s one thing that will bring players back to World of Warcraft, is a dragon. The upcoming expansion not only lets you play as a dragon, but also lets you ride a dragon. Unlike regular flying mounts (some of which are also dragons), the new dragon mounts will let players fly over Dragon Island using a new set of controls that seem to focus on speed and maneuverability.
It didn’t take long for people to point out that the dragon’s full set of abilities looked very familiar to another MMO’s flying mount.
That’s right, WoW seems to have taken some notes from Guild Wars 2’s mount system. Specifically, elements of the Griffin and Skycale mounts have been merged into Drake’s feature set. I’ve seen some complaints about the similarities: the idea that Blizzard copied from a rival MMO. This doesn’t seem fair. On the one hand, we’ve only seen a tiny fraction of what Dragonflight’s drakes will offer – how they’ll be integrated into the game, and the depth of their custom tree will prove. Some animations are not featured.
If anything, it bodes well for dragon riding as it will be in World of Warcraft. Because the proof of concept already exists – and it’s awesome.
I’ve always thought Guild Wars 2 has the best mounts in an MMO, and its two “flying” options are probably the best example. The Skyscale has always been the most useful mount in the game – an all-rounder that combines speed, mobility and utility. It provides full movement, but only in limited bursts – defined by the energy meter expended with altitude. This gauge can be filled by picking up the erratic magic hanging in the air in the Season 4 map (the season of Libra was introduced), creating a temporary flight path across the map. But even elsewhere, there are plenty of ways to recharge — either by taking a short break on a rooftop or other flat landscape, or using wall propulsion to restore energy.
It’s always the best all-rounder for short traversal between points, and it can hover in the air indefinitely, making it a useful way to idle between events – away from enemies below. It takes a lot of time and effort to unlock, but the extensive utility it unlocks is worth it. Of all its uses, its spiraling mid-air sprint — a capability seen in Dragonflight’s demonstration — is the least noticeable. It’s a brief burst of speed, but that’s about it.
Griffins are more niche, but more fun to use. It’s more of a glider than a straight-flying mount, and works best when you launch it from a height. The key here is how fast you can build. The momentum you gain while diving can be used for long, fast glides over the map surface and then transferred to the climb to regain lost altitude. Griffin riding is an art with practice—there are classes in the game to test your abilities with its moves, and there are even training guilds dedicated to helping you get the most out of its skill cap.
Dragonflight’s drakes – from what we’ve seen – appear to be a mix of these two mounts. On the expansion’s announcement page, Blizzard notes that – unlike previous flying mounts – the Dragon Knight will need to “fight the exhaustion and the pull of the earth.” Honestly, these limitations are part of the fun – it gives the mount its own identity and rewards players for overcoming its shortcomings.
But it sounds like dragon riding will also be limited to Dragon Island itself, and be a one-off system that doesn’t necessarily interact with the before and potential after. This sets it apart from Guild Wars 2, which is based on level progression and all systems are stacked on top of each other and follow your ideas throughout the game. The Mastery unlocked after acquiring Skyscale and Gryphon lets you switch between the two in mid-air – allowing you to gain altitude for the former and into a long glide for the latter. It’s really fun to combine these different systems (along with gliding and Jade Bot boosting) into a complex set of interactions that increase your traversal possibilities.
The upshot of this is that these are strictly post-game features. Griffin is a hidden reward awaiting players at the end of the Path of Fire expansion – an unannounced bonus content that requires a substantial gold investment to experience. Skyscale is much the same: a lengthy, sometimes time-limited quest that requires players to own all Season 4 of its Living World. I’m kind of hilarious in the title: unlocking these tools isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of time for new players to get there.
Meanwhile, World of Warcraft’s Dragoon is touted as the main feature of its expansion. I suspect it will unlock early and improve throughout the expansion. In that sense, it has a much lower barrier to entry.
I’m not a World of Warcraft player, and Dragonflight is unlikely to appeal to me. But if the dragon is even half the size of Guild Wars 2’s Griffin, that should be a good reason for losing players to take a look. Just don’t ignore the MMO that inspired it.