One of the big additions of World of Warcraft’s ninth expansion, Dragonflight, is the Dracthyr Evoker — the third “hero class” and fourth class overall to be added to the game since its 2004 launch, and the first ever locked combination of race and class. The Evoker is a spell-slinging warrior belonging to the ranks of the Dracthyr, a hybrid humanoid-dragon race.
Although Dragonflight launches today, Nov. 28, Dracthyr were added in one of the expansion’s recent pre-patches, and I’ve been playing around with the Evoker since. Specializing as either a damage-dealer or a healer, it’s a fun class with a lot of mobility and utility, a relatively streamlined set of skills, and some interesting tweaks that make it feel punchier, and mildly more modern, to play than many WoW classes. But there is something about the whole Dracthyr package — the concept, the look, the lore, the special introductory quests on the Forbidden Reach — that I find wanting. By WoW’s overstated standards, it’s curiously flavorless.
There’s no denying that the Evoker is fun to play, though, or that it makes the most of its unique opportunity to mesh the form of your character’s race to the function of their class. Dracthyr, like all dragons in the Warcraft universe, are shape-shifters who can adopt the aspect, or visage, of one of Azeroth’s humanoid races — in this case, a notably sexy one, based on the female human or male blood elf models. But in combat, they default to their true form: a bipedal dragon-person with wings and a tail, rather like a handsome gargoyle who’s been to the gym.
The wings are key in making the Dracthyr handle differently than any other WoW class to date. An Evoker can repel enemies by lashing out with their wings and tails, but the wings also enable two showstopping mobility skills: Hover, which allows fast movement around the battlefield without preventing use of attack skills, and Soar, which launches the Evoker high into the air for a limited version of the swooping new Dragonriding flight skill. This allows the player to cover large distances at great speed without mounting up (albeit on a five-minute cooldown) — a huge plus when questing. Soar alone is making many players consider switching to an Evoker as their main character.
The Evoker is a dragon-themed twist on an offensive spellcaster, an archetype WoW is hardly short of — although it’s the first ranged class of any sort to be added to the game since launch. The Evoker excels at splash and burst damage, and has Deep Breath, a satisfying airborne area-of-effect attack that launches them across the battlefield, breathing fire down on all enemies below. The focus is on an economical, fast-paced skill rotation that hinges on a couple Empower spells, which can be charged up by holding down the hotkey — a new mechanic in WoW that adds an interesting element of risk-versus-reward to optimizing your damage output.
So, the Evoker feels as fresh to play as you can reasonably expect from an addition to an 18-year-old game. But still, if you take a step back and look at the whole concept of this race-class combo, something’s off.
It’s important to look at the Dracthyr in the context of WoW’s previous two hero classes. (Hero classes start at a higher level than normal classes, are designed for experienced players, and come with some especially distinctive abilities.) The Death Knight, an undead supersoldier, and the Demon Hunter, a diabolically empowered elven zealot, are both extravagant fantasies with deep roots in Warcraft lore. They had both been units in Warcraft 2 and 3, the strategy games that preceded WoW, and they have strong ties to two of the universe’s most memorable character arcs: Arthas, the Lich King in the Death Knight’s case, and Illidan Stormrage in the Demon Hunter’s. Those links gave them a poignant narrative dimension in addition to their extremely Warcraft, none-more-metal designs.
By contrast, the Dracthyr feel like an afterthought — because they are. Dragons are central to Warcraft lore, and theming an expansion around them has been broadly welcomed by the community. But there’s no precedent for the Dracthyr themselves, and they have clearly been invented to fill a hole. Their introductory story bends over backwards to explain why they have never been mentioned before — rather less successfully than that of the secretive Pandaren, who made the journey from in-joke to canon in 2012’s Mists of Pandaria — and attempts to retrofit a link to Neltharion, aka Deathwing, the mad black dragon and big bad of 2010’s Cataclysm. But at this stage, these gestures feel perfunctory. (It’s possible that storylines within the expansion itself will flesh out the Dracthyr’s backstory in a more satisfying way.)
This lack of inspiration carries through into the look of the Dracthyr, which, despite an impressive array of customization options, is conventional, somewhat anodyne, cosplay-ready high fantasy with a hint of the furry about it. (Or should that be scaly?) It lacks the distinctive, genre-bending Warcraft flavor that characterized some of WoW’s other original, newly invented races, like the Draenei (noble space fauns) or the Worgen (Victorian werewolves).
Even the mechanically excellent class design of the Evoker feels like it’s lacking that secret Warcraft ingredient. You’re a dragon that can heal or blast magic; cool. But that’s not quite as hardcore as an undead tank drawing on the power of corrupted blood, is it? Nor is it as unique as a keg-chugging, drunken master of a martial artist — the Brewmaster specialization of the Monk class, which was added in Mists of Pandaria and is still one of the most sophisticated and enjoyably ridiculous mashups in the WoW pop-culture canon.
The problem with the Dracthyr Evoker is that you could easily imagine it popping up in any other fantasy game. That’s not true of WoW’s other hero classes, or indeed many of its vanilla races and classes. The craft in its design is still there, and it’s understandable that, after 18 years, this game might finally be starting to run out of ideas. But it’s still a bit of a shame.