Grow your own adventure
While the raids usually get all the attention, it is interesting to note here that there is a new level of design being added for the Firelands daily quest area that the developers at Blizzard have not previously tried. The entire area is shaping up to feel as if it is a complete new zone being added to Cataclysm. It will contain new quests, sure, but a new, interesting quest line that is a story that progresses over time with you as you play through the zone.
The basic story is that the players are working with the druids of Mount Hyjal to try and invade the Firelands and get a toehold there. Now, while we've done similar things in the past, this one has a new twist. Since you'll be working with druids and not a massive military organization, they do things a little bit differently. In this case, it is by planting a tree. As players progress through quests, the tree will grow larger and larger until you have a giant tree right in the center of your base. If that weren't enough, players each have their own version of the tree, and they can be at different stages along the progression path from one another. As your character's tree grows, you unlock different rewards that ultimately lead to a new flying mount.
I think that's pretty nice, actually. In the past, anything like this was a group effort. The storming of Icecrown Citadel, for example, saw entire factions moving along at the same pace. Here, no player gets left behind, and everyone gets the chance to experience the growing of the tree for themselves. It's also interesting because as players quest in Firelands, they will also begin to reclaim pieces of Mount Hyjal. It feels almost like the questing on the Isle of Quel'Danas but on a more personal level.
Check out our post on the Firelands and daily quests preview to catch a glimpse at that growing tree.
Raid zone, not just a raid instance
Another interesting tidbit is how the raid zone is shaping up. It is more than just diving into a cave in a volcano or crawling through a dungeon or stronghold. Instead, players are thrust into a full, zone-wide raid. You're still surrounded by fire and volcanoes, but you can mount up and decide which bosses you want to do and then travel there. The intent is to feel as if you are crossing an entire continent -- or in this case, a piece of the elemental plane of fire.
What I like about it is that it breaks away from a linear progression. While the current raids in Cataclysm allow you the choices of what zones to do first, only Blackwing Descent gives you a choice of order in which you can complete the bosses; even then, it is mostly a minor choice. I like the idea of just being able to pick a boss out of all of the ones available and try working on it. The outdoor feeling of the raid zone, combined with the choice of the bosses you engage, makes for a very exciting prospect.
While on the topic of raid zones, GC also talked a little bit about the encounter journal. This is another new addition that we first heard about at BlizzCon. Raiding new content before strategies are widely available is literally pulling a boss and learning what to do by trial and error. The encounter journal will show players a particular dungeon and all the bosses in that dungeon. It will describe the abilities of the bosses and give you an idea of what to expect when you see them. The goal is to give players an idea as to whether an ability is interruptible, if it is something you should run away from, or if it is something you need to simply heal through. The journal won't be handing players a complete strategy for the boss, but it will allow players additional information on which to base their own strategies.
Another interesting feature is that the boss abilities will be able to be linked in chat, and when players click the link, it will open to that section of the encounter journal. This way, as raid leaders are describing abilities, players can click the link and follow along. In addition to boss abilities, it will also display loot tables for the bosses and story and lore information for the bosses. That is quite a convenient bit of information to have at your fingertips without having to open a separate web browser or tab out of game to look up.
The raid encounters won't be anything overly difficult to learn and adapt to, and GC said that they would be on par with the current fights like Bastion of Twilight and Blackwing Descent in terms of a learning curve. The one exception seems to be heroic-mode Ragnaros, which we are promised is going to be quite epic.
Legendary weapons, new tier sets
Patch 4.2 also brings with it the new legendary caster weapon, a DPS staff. Everyone from mages, warlocks, balance druids, shadow priests and elemental shaman will find use for this new weapon. It has an epic storyline in which you get a piece of Nordrassil the world tree, and you imbue it with the power of a blue dragon you come across. The weapon has four phases; it starts as an epic weapon and then is upgraded three times to legendary status.
There will be a brand new set of tier gear for all classes with brand new four-piece set bonuses, and there will be a large amount of other epic gear for players to gather. GC also mentioned a certain epic hammer that may or may not drop off of Ragnaros.
Like patch 4.1, patch 4.2 will continue to push the story forward and bring us one step closer to our showdown with Deathwing. There will be an epic quest line involving everyone's favorite orc shaman, Thrall. Traditionally, major character stories have been told through books and things from outside the game. It seems the goal here is to bring those moments into the game itself. Players will get to experience a major moment in Thrall's life alongside him as a series of quests. It also appears as though Aggra will become a major NPC in Cataclysm and the World of Warcraft universe as a whole. Players will be able to dive more into the relationship between Thrall and Aggra through the quest line, and all of this leads up to having Thrall fighting alongside you against Deathwing.
Even though we just received patch 4.1, it looks as though the Firelands content patch is already shaping up to be epic in scale, story and gameplay. Tweaks to the interface along with some truly robust questing and lore make this a highly anticipated patch for most players. We will be keeping you up to date as information becomes available, so be sure to check back often.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm has destroyed Azeroth as we know it; nothing is the same! In WoW Insider's Guide to Cataclysm, you can find out everything you need to know about WoW's third expansion, from leveling up a new goblin or worgen to breaking news and strategies on endgame play.