WoW: Dragonflight's new talent trees are so good that you should start at level 1

WoW Blood Elf Paladin
(Image credit: Tyler C. / Activision Blizzard)

The pre-patch festivities are well underway for World of Warcraft's upcoming Dragonflight (opens in new tab) expansion, and we'll soon be able to soar over new lands and face new foes. But I want you to forget about all of that, make a fresh character, and go kill some wolves in Northshire. Even if you already have one of every class at max level. Seriously.

Let me explain: My favorite part of the pre-patch is the return of what I will refer to from here on as the 'old school' talent system, which players who started after Mists of Pandaria only got to experience when WoW Classic reminded everyone how much better it was than the system that replaced it. Every level, you get a talent point that you can put into one of two, long trees. Sometimes you'll unlock a small, passive buff like 2% extra critical hit chance. Sometimes you'll get a new button that lets you pull a horse out of a pocket dimension and trample your enemies.

This differs from what I'll call the 'new school' talent system, which we've actually had since 2012—making it a full decade old, the norm for most of WoW's history, and not actually new at all. I was never a fan of this newer, streamlined system with way fewer options. It tried to boil all of those small, incremental choices down to bigger, more meaningful choices that came along every several levels. 

One step at a time 

The problem was that it took away a lot of the feeling of becoming incrementally more powerful while you level up, especially now that most of WoW's world mobs have some degree of level scaling to keep pace with your character in raw stats. Yes, high-end raiding and PvP usually pulled everyone toward the same talent build under the old school system. Yes, choosing between 2% crit chance and a shorter cooldown on my pocket horse isn't the most impactful, single choice. But those little choices add up. And I feel like I'm getting more big crits after I take that 2% crit talent. I'm customizing my character little by little, and making myself more powerful, in a specific way of my choosing, every level.

The one downside of the old school talent system returning, though, is that you're going to log into a max level character and have 50 talent points poured over your head out of a giant bucket, leaving you to sort out what to do with them. If you just want to get back into running high-end content right away, you'll probably go read a guide that tells you where to put them and how to use them. Like a chump. Yeah, I said it. You're cheating yourself out of the journey if you do that. And, more importantly, you're cheating yourself out of the very real, very significant boon of internalizing all these little pieces of your character's kit one at a time.

WoW Dragonflight Hunter talent tree

(Image credit: Tyler C. / Activision Blizzard)

Back to basics 

That's why you should start fresh with no talent points, especially if you’re a returning player. I've been playing a Retribution Paladin since 2004, but I rolled a brand new one anyway and tossed them into the same kobold-infested valley I got my start in 18 years ago. I took my time, carefully and lovingly choosing a new talent at each level based on what I liked most out of the available options. Even though I haven't mained this spec since Legion, it was very easy to figure out which buttons were core to my role now and which ones were optional or situational. I never had to deal with learning more than one new button at a time. When I felt like I had enough buttons to worry about, I could simply choose talents that don't add more buttons.

I'm sure upon hitting level 60 that my build wasn't Mythic raiding optimized. But I felt a strong sense of ownership over it. I knew what every part of it did, through repetition and refinement. Every ability was in precisely the spot on my hotbar where it needed to be, with the abilities I used more often given priority real-estate on the one through six keys. I understood Dragonflight's Retribution Paladin on a holistic, intuitive level, instead of trying to copy what I read on Wowhead (opens in new tab).

Zero to hero 

You're building your character up from buffoon to badass a little at a time, exactly how you want to.

There has never been a better time to play this way, either. I've also started a new Marksmanship Hunter and a new Fury Warrior, both specs I have mained for at least one entire expansion cycle in the past. The new leveling curve that just rolled out allows you to go from level one to 60 in about eight to 12 hours playing like a normal person. Determined speedrunners can do it in less than four. If you play in War Mode (which enables PvP almost everywhere but gives you an experience bonus to compensate), take advantage of the 18th anniversary buff you'll find waiting in your mailbox until November 27, or want to help sweep up elemental baddies during Dragonflight's pre-patch Primal Storms event (which you can start at level 10), you'll really tear through those experience bars.

Dragonflighty systems overhaul

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Perhaps best of all, the Chromie Time feature now lets you level from 10 to 60 in any expansion, so you never have to see the Shadowlands ever again. You could start two brand new characters of classes you've never played and have them maxed out over the weekend if you have enough free time. Never before has there been so much harmony between reason and opportunity to start a new character.

WoW is a game that has steadily become more about the destination than the journey over the years. I think that has been to its detriment overall. And yes, being able to get a character to max level at warp speed contributes to this. But that doesn't mean you can't reroll and live in that sweet spot for a little while, where the journey is what matters and you're building your character up from buffoon to badass a little at a time, exactly how you want to. That's the essence of a good RPG, after all.

Weeks or months from now, you'll be staring at a slate of maxed-out characters throwing themselves into higher Mythic key runs for a chance at earning some marginal stat increases. And you may find yourself longing for the days of questing through Redridge and Silverpine, learning how to be a hero again. Enjoy it as much as you can, while you can.