Blizzard is betting that if there's one thing that will bring players back to World of Warcraft, it's dragons. Not only will the upcoming expansion let you play as a dragon, it will let you ride one too. The new drake mount, unlike regular flying mounts—some of which are also dragons—will let players fly through the Dragon Isles using a new suite of controls that seem to focus on speed and manoeuvrability.
It didn't take long for people to point out that the drake's suite of abilities looked awfully familiar to another MMO's flying mounts.
That's right, WoW appears to be taking some notes from Guild Wars 2's mount system. Specifically, elements of the griffon and Skycale mounts have been combined into the drake's feature set. I've already seen some complaints about the similarities: the idea that Blizzard is copying from a rival MMO. That seems unfair. For one thing, we've only seen a small segment of what Dragonflight's drakes will offer—of how they'll be integrated into the game, and how deep their customisation trees will prove. A few animations does not a feature make.
If anything, then, it's a good sign for dragon riding as it will exist in WoW. Because the proof of concept is already out there—and it's great.
I've maintained for a while that Guild Wars 2 has the best mounts in MMOs, and its two 'flight' options are perhaps the best example of that. The skyscale is consistently the most useful mount in the game—a jack of all trades that offers a good mix of speed, manoeuvrability and utility. It offers full movement, but only in limited bursts—defined by an energy meter that drains as you gain altitude. That meter can be filled by picking up the volatile magic that hangs in the air of Season 4 maps—the season the skyscale was introduced—creating ad-hoc flight routes leading across maps. But even elsewhere, there are plenty of ways to recharge—either by briefly resting on rooftops or other bits of flat scenery, or using wall propulsion to restore energy.
It's consistently the best all-rounder for short traversal between points, and the fact it can hover indefinitely in the air makes it a useful way to just idle between events—safe from the enemies below. It takes a significant amount of time and effort to unlock, but it's worth it in the broad utility it unlocks. Of all its uses, its spiralling mid-air dash—the ability seen in Dragonflight's reveal—is the least notable. It's a brief burst of speed, but that's about it.
The griffon is more niche, but significantly more fun to use. More of a glider than a straight flying mount, it works best when you launch from somewhere high. The key here is the speed that you can build. The momentum you gain while diving can be carried into a long, speedy glide across the surface of the map—and then transferred into a climb, regaining your lost altitude. With practice, griffon riding is an art—there are courses in game that test your abilities with its moveset, and even training guilds dedicated to helping you get the most out of its skill ceiling.
Dragonflight's drake—based on what we've seen—seems to be a mixture of these two mounts. On the expansion's announcement page, Blizzard notes that—unlike previous flying mounts—dragonriders will need to "fight against exhaustion and the pull of the earth". And honestly, the restrictions are part of the fun—it gives a mount its own identity, and rewards players for overcoming its downsides.
But it also sounds like dragon riding will be limited to the Dragon Isles themselves, and be a one-and-done system that doesn't necessarily interact with what comes before and—potentially—after. That sets it apart from Guild Wars 2, which is based around horizontal progression and the idea that all systems stack on top of each other and follow you throughout the game. Masteries unlocked once you've earned your skyscale and griffon let you switch between both in midair—letting you gain altitude for the former to turn into a lengthy glide for the latter. There's a real joy in combining these disparate systems—alongside gliding and Jade Bot boosts—into a complex set of interactions that augment your traversal possibilities.
The consequence of that is that these are strictly late-game features. The griffon was a hidden bonus waiting for players at the end of the Path of Fire expansion—an unannounced extra that requires a significant gold investment to experience. The skyscale is much the same: a lengthy, at times timegated quest that requires players to own all of Season 4 of its Living World. I'm being slightly facetious in the headline: unlocking these tools isn't trivial, and new players would need to invest some serious hours to get there.
WoW's dragon riding, meanwhile, is being touted as a tentpole feature of its expansion. I suspect it'll be unlocked early, and improved over the course of the expansion at large. In that sense, it's a much lower barrier to entry.
I'm not a World of Warcraft player, and Dragonflight is unlikely to tempt me in. But if the drake is even half as good as Guild Wars 2's griffon, it should be a great reason for lapsed players to take a look. Just don't ignore the MMO that inspired it.