Yesterday, we were treated to an early preview of World of Warcraft: Dragonflight's next big patch, dubbed Embers of Neltharion.
Set in the Dracthyr starting zone, the Forbidden Reach, the patch is tentatively targeting March 21st for launch and follows the continuing story of the Primal Incarnates and their quest for global domination.
We saw a new cinematic that showcases the remaining Incarnates humanoid forms (and they look absolutely badass) while also getting a preview of a brand new cave zone dubbed Zaralek Cavern. It's in here where Neltharion gradually slipped into madness and became Deathwing while performing a variety of dark experiments on the denizens of the Dragon Isles. The events of Embers of Neltharion culminate in the Aberrus, the Shadowed Crucible, which is Neltharion's own laboratory.
World of Warcraft 10.1: Zaralek Cavern, and Season 2
This huge new zone is larger than Shadowlands' Zereth Mortis and is cracked open by Iridikron and his elemental brethren in an epic new cinematic that kicks off the new season. It's in here that Neltharion succumbed to the insidious corruption of the Old Gods, performing a host of twisted experiments deep in the ground.
The new zone comprises three separate biomes, with crystalline stalagmites and sulfuric fire pits ready to greet players, with Deathwing's lab Aberrus looming in the darkness. Here, players will learn more about how Neltharion became Deathwing while continuing the various plot threads World of Warcraft: Dragonflight introduced. There will be a particular focus on the Black and Blue dragonflights while also introducing a new renown track represented by Nifflin, a new race of mole-like people.
Nifflin aren't the only faces you'll see in the deep. Dracthyr rebels from The Sundered Flame also seek the knowledge of Neltharion's lairs, and the Djaradin aren't all too happy with the sudden influx of intruders in their elder climbs. The Drogbar subterranean race from Legion will also return, complete with a variety of new rewards for dragonriding, new cosmetics to unlock, new pets, new mounts, and more.
With the introduction of 10.1, Dragonflight will tick over to a new season. In Season 2, Blizzard will remove the M+10 Thundering affix in a bid to reduce complexity in higher keys while introducing new dungeons into the pool. The Season 2 dungeons will be Brackenhide Hollow, Halls of Infusion, Uldaman: Legacy of Tyr, Neltharus from Dragonflight, and Freehold, The Underrot, Neltharion’s Lair, and Vortex Pinnacle from past expansions.
Season 2 will also refresh outdoor content in all zones to keep the world feeling alive. New Fyrakk Assaults will take place across the world, granting new transmog and achievement opportunities. Fyrakk is a fiery proto-drake Incarnate and seems to be less reasonable and chaotic than his remaining brother and sister. Zaralek and the existing Dragon Isles zones will gain new campaign quests while extending some of the existing ones, too.
Perhaps the most pivotal change in this season is the advent of cross-faction guilds. For the first time in WoW's 18-year history, players from the Horde and Alliance factions will be able to join guilds together. Blizzard has noted that it still wants to maintain a strong identity for each faction, with unique quests and city hubs, but the days of open war between the Horde and Alliance seem to be at an end.
World of Warcraft 10.1: Aberrus, and new tier sets
The new raid tier is called Aberrus, the Shadowed Crucible, and represents the full depravity of Deathwing. The laboratory showcases the full brunt of Neltharion's madness, as the Old Gods' whispers finally drove him to ruin in the darkness of the caverns.
Aberrus is heavily inspired by classic WoW raids like Blackwing Lair and Blackwing Descent, where Deathwing's son Nefarian had attempted to emulate some of his father's machinations.
The raid is comprised of nine bosses, culminating in a battle with Scalecommander Sarkareth, who leads The Sundered Flame. The Sundered Flame believe that Neltharion's artifacts are theirs to plunder, as players work towards the ultimate expansion goal of defeating the Primal Incarnates.
Blizzard teased a variety of strange creatures and failed experiments for Aberrus, including prototype Dracthyr that never made the cut, and a dragon forged of elementium, as Deathwing sought materials to construct his own exoskeleton.
The raid, its tier sets, and its weapons are inspired by Blackwing Lair and Blackwing Descent, with an updated Ashkandi 2H sword teased alongside more classic-looking WoW tier sets.
Blizzard is once again launching all of Aberrus' difficulty modes simultaneously, following positive feedback from Dragonflight's Season 1.
World of Warcraft 10.1: Dev interview summary
During the presentation, there was a group interview between ourselves and various other outlets on a variety of topics.
We've summarized the session below to highlight the key points and responses from dev team members Morgan Day and Steve Danuser. The below features questions from great WoW sites including MMO-Champion.com, WoWHead.com, MMORPG.com, Blizzard Watch, and more.
- With the advent of cross-faction guilds, I asked how that might impact lore direction, particularly as pertains to PvP. Blizzard noted that the Horde and Alliance have been collaborating in pockets since Warcraft III, so it's not without precedent, but they want to maintain a strong faction identity via quests, specific flavor text, and the major faction city hubs. With regards to PvP, Blizzard agreed there was potential for new lore for PvP down the line, but there's nothing on the horizon just yet. They seemed interested in the idea of having side factions engaged in a shadow war behind the scenes to explain why some Horde and Alliance members can't let go of the past. Steve Danuser noted that in the past, the exception was that occasionally some Horde and Alliance heroes co-operated, but perhaps in the future, the exception can be that some Horde and Alliance heroes break away to continue the PvP war behind the scenes despite any peace treaties that exist.
- I asked why there are barely any cosmetic glyphs being added over time. Blizzard noted that a new cosmetic glyph for Demon Hunters is coming in 10.1, which will allow them to use their own glaive model for glaive throw. They said that philosophically they find it risky to add lots of new cosmetic glyph options, as new visuals may serve to confuse players.
- The new zone will enable Dragonriding immediately, complete with new races, a new dragon model, with new Dragonriding skills to unlock. One ability will allow you to boost vigor while swooping across the ground.
- The new zone will sprinkle large set-piece moments in among smaller side quests following positive feedback on some of the smaller side stories in Dragonflight.
- Blizzard is killing the Mythic+10 affix. Thundering is going away, and nothing is coming to replace it. Blizzard says that the rotating dungeon pool serves the purpose of making the dungeon seasons feel fresh, and they want to reduce the complexity stacking affixes can introduce. Underrot was chosen for its unique gameplay mechanics, and Neltharion's Lair was chosen for its thematic relevance to this patch.
- The creation catalyst will "change" in 10.1, with information coming soon.
- Ebyssian, Sabellian, and Wrathion's stories will continue in Embers of Neltharion. The Sundered Flame's rebellion will also be explored, in addition to the Blue Dragonflight.
- Blizzard iterates more lightly on class balance during a season, but will "take the gloves off" to make broader changes like the Ret Paladin rework at season boundaries.
- Group management, raid frames, quest delivery, edit mode, personal resource bars, and various other improvements to the UI are on the way. The warlock resource bars got a particularly large focus.
- Blizzard wants to ensure that the new zone won't be to the detriment of old zones. Older zones and public events will be updated and improved throughout the expansion to ensure that the whole of the Dragon Isles remains relevant and populated.
- The new zone is part of the existing world, and not a separate instance. You can physically just fly in there.
- Blizzard is adding new professional recipes and is paying careful attention to itemization given how powerful and "necessary" some of the new crafted items have been. Blizzard is also adding more focus to the item upgrade system, with new crests earned via M+ and raids that will allow you to upgrade items to heroic and mythic tier gear.
- The story of the patch will explore how Neltharion went from being a defender of Azeroth to being its destroyer. In the raid, we will learn more about experiments that eventually informed encounters in Blackwing Lair and Blackwing Descent. The first encounter is an Elementium Dragon, forged as a prototype for Deathwing's own armor. We'll also see prototype Dracthyr creations as a boss encounter.
World of Warcraft: Dragonflight has been a truly impressive effort by Blizzard thus far, with a rapid content cadence to keep things fresh. The team has been peppering in smaller content additions mid-patch cycle and even offered a broad roadmap recently detailing how it plans to keep the expansion fun across the next year.
Honestly, as a veteran player, World of Warcraft hasn't been in such a good place in years. The endgame is fun and pro-player rather than pro-engagement, and the story is refreshing and down to earth, with some impressively evocative sequences. Be sure to take a look at my full WoW: Dragonflight review if you're interested, and if you're already playing, I'll see you in the Dragon Isles.
World of Warcraft: Dragonflight ($60)
Dragonflight is one of the best WoW expansions of recent times, with a great story track, new talent trees and professions, and a broad endgame.
See at: Battle.net
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!