On Tuesday, December 8, 2009, Blizzard released the third and final content patch to the Wrath of the Lich King expansion pack for World of Warcraft, patch 3.3. Finalizing the story arc about Arthas, the Lich King, which began in Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne (Warcraft III's only expansion), this patch marks players' first direct encounter with Arthas since Warcraft III. In this patch, we experience three new 5-player dungeons, a 10- and a 25-player raid (with Normal and Heroic modes), a new mapping and questing interface, and a brand-new cross-realm dungeon finder, as well as many minor bug fixes and tweaks.
To see images from the patch, check out the TechRepublic gallery, WoW's The Fall of the Lich King.
Icecrown Citadel, the summary name of the three 5-player dungeons as well as the 10- and 25-player raid, is a large castle-like building prominently displayed in the southern region of Icecrown in Northrend. The three dungeons are entered either using the new dungeon finder (discussed below) or directly from an entrance on the western side of the Citadel. These three dungeons, collectively known as "The Frozen Halls," are named "The Forge of Souls," "The Pit of Saron," and "The Halls of Reflection." These dungeons are progressive, meaning that you must complete The Forge of Souls before you can enter The Pit of Saron, which must be completed before entering The Halls of Reflection. Containing two to three bosses apiece, these instanced dungeons are available in both Normal and Heroic modes and are slightly more difficult than the Trial of the Champion (released in patch 3.2), which is slightly more difficult than level-80 normal instances in normal mode and all other heroics in heroic mode.
To follow, the 10- and 25-player raid instance, Icecrown Citadel, pits groups of adventurers against five levels of bosses, starting out in the Lower Spire to face four bosses. The second level, The Plagueworks, contains three more bosses, followed by the third level, which contains four more bosses (a group of three followed by a single boss) in The Crimson Hall. Next is Frostwing Halls, which contains two bosses, before you finally ascend to the top to face Arthas, The Lich King. To add more complexity, Blizzard has decided to release each level of Icecrown Citadel over time to give players the opportunity to master each boss in a level before progressing on to more difficult bosses. Also, the normal mode bosses at each group size must be defeated before the heroic mode is available to each individual player.
Icecrown Citadel (the raid instance) bosses drop armor and weapons that are in the new tier-10 (and 10.5 for heroic) level. Also dropped are Emblems of Frost, which can be used to purchase tier-10 gear. This is now the best gear in the game, exceeding the gear dropped from Ulduar and the Trial of the Crusader (and Grand Crusader, as heroic) as well as gear purchasable with Emblems of Triumph.
Mapping and questing
As players of World of Warcraft know, there are multitudes of available add-ons, several of which deal with altering the built-in map interface, as well as the built-in quest tracking and management. Blizzard has integrated some basic features of those add-ons into the game with the new Map interface and Quest Tracker.
The new Map Interface takes the existing map screen and allows it to be reduced to a window within the game screen; this is something that myriad map add-ons have done. Blizzard also added a checkbox to the map window that enables the new Quest Tracker. This Quest Tracker will display any quests that are relevant for the currently-selected zone and allow the user to select one of those quests to display points of interest on the map. This feature replaces the simpler Quest Tracker add-ons but still allows for add-ons to expand upon the feature. As has happened before, Blizzard integrated a well-liked add-on feature into the game in a lighter fashion to help casual players level quickly through lower-level content; Blizzard's strategy seems to be to help them reach end-game content faster.
Replacing the Looking for Group (LFG) tool that has been around forever, the new Dungeon Finder tool has a random mode for level 80 heroics, a random mode for normal Wrath of the Lich King expansion dungeons, and a dungeon selector that allows players to select which dungeons they wish to participate in for their level of character. From testing, it appears that the Dungeon Finder will display instances within 10 levels below the character level and a few levels above.
Choosing the Random Heroic mode will allow you or your current party to enter a random heroic dungeon regardless of the standard heroic lockout. The first time you do this in a day, completing the end boss will yield two Emblems of Frost, while any subsequent random heroics will yield Emblems of Triumph. Also, choosing the Random Normal mode will yield two Emblems of Triumph at the end of the first and then "level-appropriate" rewards on subsequent random instances. Also, lower-level players will be able to choose a random lower-level dungeon and will receive level-appropriate rewards upon completion.
Dungeon Finder, showing first run of a random heroic
The dungeon selector enables players to select one or more normal or heroic instances that they would like to run specifically. I have not tried it, but from what I gather, this is just like running dungeons prior to patch 3.3, meaning that no emblems are awarded. I have a feeling that most players will never use it unless they have a specific need, as the rewards are too great if you use the random selection.
The last major enhancement in the Dungeon Finder is the cross-realm instance groups; this feature has been present in World of Warcraft battlegrounds since patch 1.12, the last patch before The Burning Crusade Expansion came out in 2006. The feature makes dungeon grouping near instantaneous for tanks and healers (which have always been harder to get) and fairly quick for DPS (damage per second or damage dealers); this is much quicker than a random group was before this feature was released.
A similar feature, albeit with less bells and whistles, is the Looking For Raid (LFR) tool that has been added to the Raid tab of the Social ("O") window. The LFR feature does not appear to be cross-realm, and it is more of a bulletin board-type system than a matchmaking system. Basically, it appears to be what the LFG tool used to be.
With the release of a new patch, Blizzard has consistently added new achievements to the Achievement System. In this patch, there are several new achievements that have to do with the Icecrown Citadel dungeons and raid. Also included is a chain of achievements designed around using the Dungeon Finder tool to group with random people or PUG (Pick-Up Group). This chain of three achievements starts out with Looking For More, a requirement of 10 unique, random characters; next is Looking For Many, a requirement of 50, with a reward of "the Patient" as an available character title; and concluding with Looking For Multitudes, a requirement of 100, with a reward of the Perky Pug, a non-combat companion pet.
Technologia member Sabahe with his Perky Pug
On top of all of this content, there was some rebalancing of class mechanics, including the cooldown reduction of myriad spells across all classes and the adjustment of various "standard" character specifications ("Specs"). Also, reputation gains have been increased for several end-game factions to better aid players in reaching Exalted with those factions. Finally, top-level helm and shoulder enchants that are purchasable from the end-game factions are now Bind on Account instead of Bind on Pickup, so they can be purchased by a character who has the appropriate faction reputation level and sent to another character on the same account for use. This is similar to heirloom items purchased from the Argent Tournament and Wintergrasp vendors.
If you have never played World of Warcraft before or have left and would like to come back, Technologia, the official-unofficial guild of TechRepublic will welcome your presence. You can find us on the Duskwood Realm, Horde Faction. Simply search for Technologia members ("/who Technologia" in your chat box) and then send any member a whisper. A veteran or officer (not to mention our fearless leader, Elkwinkarma) will be glad to invite you. You can also find me specifically on Inferious or Gauwainelf. With all of the improvements in leveling time released in the last several patches, there's no better time to get in, get leveled, and get geared; plus, Technologia welcomes members of all play styles and experience levels.
Have you tried out the new content in patch 3.3? What do you think about Icecrown Citadel, the new Map and Quest features, and the new Dungeon Finder tool? Weigh in with your comments.