So, you've not logged into WoW in months or maybe never, what do you need to know? Well for starters this patch introduces a major new dungeon as well as a permenant PVP jousting tournament and changes some mechanics that have been fundamental to the game.
Situated at the northern most part of Northrend, this ancient Titan structure is a prison for an Old God (think Cthulu but a thousand times more deadly). Now the gates of Ulduar have swung open. it's become clear something is trying to escape .. that something is Yogg-Saron. Featuring no less than fourteen boss encounters, this is the most challenging raid yet. Added to that there is the promise of a new legendary weapon, Val'anyr, Hammer of the Ancient Kings, a healers' mace whose pieces must be collected as you move through the instance (in a similar way to Altiesh, Greatstaff of the Guardian) before being reforged in the stomach of Yogg-Saron himself.
But, of course, not everyone wants to raid. Blizzard have introduced a new world event up in Icecrown, just north of Sindragosa's Fall, called the Argent Tournament. Essentially it's a jousting event which allows you to champion one of your faction cities in exchange for new mounts, pets and tabards. Yes, it's a rep grind and a nicely updated way to finally hit exalted with all those cities you neglected earlier on. Fortunately it's also fun.
When you log in, you'll find mail from an NPC inviting you to participate in the Tournament. The best way to get up there, particularly if you don't have a flying mount, is to hitch a free lift from Jean Pierre Poulain at Krasus' Landing in Dalaran. Don't forget to pick up the flight point when you get up there though!
The mini quest chain then walks you through the basics of mounted combat and there's a selection of daily quests available from a pair of goblin foremen as well. While the Tournament grounds are a home away home from home with innkeepers, mailboxes, vendors and even souvenir stalls, it's not quite complete and is still a hive of building activity. I'm theorising that it's a phase event, a bit like Isle of Quel'Danas, which will change over time as criteria are met. In this case, the gathering of construction supplies of Crystalsong Forest.
WoW Insider have been compiling a comprehensive guide to the event which can be found here.
Anyway, it's important to remember that patches are no longer just about the end-game, oh no. Blizzard have made plenty of changes across the board and one of the biggest is the introduction of dual specs. This means that you can change your style of gameplay on the fly. Your raid need more DPS rather than a healer? No problem! Nip to your nearest class trainer and rather than respeccing, give him or her a grand's worth of gold and you enter a whole new realm of possibilities. This is applicable to anyone level 40 and up.
Once you get your dual specs, it's time to pick your talents. Everyone will have recieved a free respec as it is so redo your primary tree and then click the secondary tree. You'll be given the option to activate this tree and pick another set of talents. So, for example, as a Druid I'm primarily Balance but once I dual spec, I'll be going Resto as well. You get a second set of glyphs to fill as well so don't forget those and all you need to switch between each spec is click 'activate these talents' while out of combat and a few moments later you'll be another kind of player entirely! You can't respec in an Arena or in a Battleground, unless it's during the minute if prep time before the gates open.
There are now dungeon maps for all of the Wrath instances.
You can no longer ghetto-hearth BUT the hearthstone has been nerfed to thirty minutes rather than an hour.
All ground mounts can swim underwater. Flying mounts can't and you will be dismounted.
Noblegarden is no longer a single day event but rather a proper festival with it's own Achievements.
You don't need to be near a Lexicon of Power to use glyphs.
The full patch notes can be found here.
You should also check out our sister site WoW Insider for all the need-to-know up-to-date info in their comprehensive Guide to 3.1.
And don't forget to check out the official patch trailer below.