The culmination of the Cataclysm saga, World of Warcraft's epic patch 4.3, now subtitled Dragon Soul, brings about an end to the tyranny of Deathwing, but more importantly an end of casual players not being able to experience raid content.
I recently spoke to World of Warcraft lead producer J. Allen Brack, who walked me through some of the finer points of the content and systems first revealed at Gamescom earlier this year.
At the core of the update is the epic finale of the Cataclysm expansion, three five-man dungeons leading to the final battle against the ancient dragon that started this whole mess in the first place.
The three five-man dungeons will see players questing for an ancient artifact, the Demon Soul, which fans that read Richard A. Knaak's War of the Ancients trilogy will recognise as the item Deathwing used to betray the forces of good, tearing his own body apart in the process.
Over the course of the three dungeons, players will first travel to the future to show the dragon aspect of time the danger Deathwing poses to the planet; then travel to the past to recover the Demon Soul; and finally escort legendary Orc Shaman Thrall to Wyrmrest Temple, where the final battle begins.
"You don't have to progress through the three dungeons to reach the final raid," Brack told me. "It depends on the type of player you are." Fans interested in the story should do the dungeons in order. Fans in it for the glory can hop right into the 25-man raid. The raid features an epic battle against Deathwing that will take players all around the world of Azeroth, doing battle on the enormous creature's back.
Normally I wouldn't care about a 25-man raid because there wasn't a chance in hell I'd be participating. I'd be focused instead on trying to collect a set of Magisters mage armour for the game's new Transmogrify feature, which allows players to spend gold to change the appearance of their current equipment to that of any other piece they own. Or organising my bank using the new Void Storage feature, World of Warcraft's equivalent of a musty-old attic where you put things you don't need but still want to keep, just in case. Maybe I'd even drool a little bit over the legendary rogue dagger being introduced in the update.
But now I'm looking forward to raiding, thanks to the new Raid Finder system.
Casual raiding in World of Warcraft doesn't generally go very well. It's hard enough getting five random people to survive a normal five-man dungeon together, let alone a disparate group of 25. Pick-up raids happen, but they don't often succeed.
This basically kept a large chunk of the game's player base unable to experience all the game had to offer. The Raid Finder changes all that.
The Raid Finder, like the Dungeon Finder already in the game, assembles a group of 25 people together to take on content whole guilds normally spend weeks conquering. Simply enter a queue and you'll find yourself smack-dab in the middle of a massive war party, ready to storm the castle.
"You just log into the game, open the raid finder, and indicate you'd like to go on a raid," Brack told me.
While it sounds simple enough, casual players using the Raid Finder won't be getting exactly the same content as the high-end raiding guilds. In order to ensure that high-end organised raiding still carried its own rewards, the developers have added a third tier to raids, lessening the challenge and rewards accordingly.
"There are premium rewards for normal and heroic raid completion," Brack explained, indicating that casual raiders would earn less-powerful equipment than those taking on the real thing. The same goes for special raid achievements. Casual raiders won't get them, normal and heroic level raiders will.
It sounds like an excellent system to placate those that just want the experience without the reward, while keeping the true raiders decked out in the latest and greatest gear and achievements, taking away nothing from their accomplishment.
For a casual player like me, this is a pretty amazing new feature, unlocking an aspect of the game I never thought I'd experience. Perhaps this will lead to more casual players taking the hardcore plunge after patch 4.3 goes live.