A massive underground zone, and a massive change to guilds, is coming as part of Dragonflight patch 10.1.
World of Warcraft: Dragonflight patch 10.1, Embers of Neltharion, will send players deep underneath the Dragon Isles to the Zaralek Caverns, where they'll work to uncover the mysteries hidden within the secret laboratory of Deathwing himself.
It's an enticing setup for what will be Dragonflight's second raid tier, one that will introduce a new zone, a fifth renown faction, and additional open-world activities alongside long-awaited features like cross-faction guilds and a major shakeup to the game's Mythic+ system.
At the end of Dragonflight's first raid, Razageth the Storm-Eater succeeded in freeing her brethren, the Primal Incarnates, from their prison, only for her to be slain in the process. Now, her compatriots are set to continue her crusade and are on the hunt for an advantage over the Dragon Aspects, a hunt that will lead them underground to the hidden lab of Neltharion.
Neltharion's lab, the intimidatingly named Aberrus, the Shadowed Crucible, is 10.1's new, nine-boss raid, and holds a powerful secret that the Primalists are looking to control in their efforts to overthrow the Aspects. What, exactly, that secret consists of is still a mystery, but the Primalists aren't the only ones seeking it out. Players will also confront the Sundered Flame, a rogue faction of dracthyr who believe Neltharion's secrets to be their birthright, and will do anything necessary in order to claim it. The Sundered Flame's leader, Scale Commander Sarkareth, will be the final boss of Aberrus.
In an interview with GameSpot, game director Ion Hazzikostas said that the Primal Incarnates will remain a major threat going forward, and that much of the remainder of Dragonflight's core storyline will revolve around understanding their goals and how to stop them. Aberrus, he said, gives Blizzard an opportunity to dive deep into the origins of one of WoW's greatest villains, and teased that players will learn some of the secrets that led to the Earth Warder's corruption by the Old Gods and his descent into madness.
Aberrus is located within the new Zaralek Cavern zone. It's slightly larger in size than patch 9.2's Zereth Mortis according to Blizzard, and will allow players to take their dragonriding mounts underground in order to explore it. The zone is broken into three biomes, a lava-filled volcanic region, a toxic sulfur swamp home to some of Neltharion's discarded experiments, and a section filled with crystalline spires players will need to avoid while dragonriding.
The Zaralek Cavern is home to a number of races both new and old, the most notable being the Niffen. A race of mole-like people, the Niffen will offer a new renown track for players to progress. But other races call the cavern home as well, including the Drogbar, last seen in the game's popular Legion expansion, and the Djaradin, who have played a minor role in the story of Dragonflight so far.
Dragonriding, and dragonriding mount customization, has been a huge part of Dragonflight, and 10.1 will introduce even more on that front. A new, Cloud Serpent-inspired dragonriding mount will await players, and finding new dragonriding glyphs throughout the Zaralek Cavern will grant the power to unlock additional dragonriding abilities that reward daredevil dragonriders who like to fly dangerously close to the ground at high speeds.
What's Next For Cross-Faction Play And Mythic+
Embers of Neltharion sounds like it will introduce plenty of new content for players to sink their teeth into, including new world events called Fyrakk Assaults that will see players conquering waves of foes and new quest lines revolving around the Blue Dragonflight and the reforging of Tyr. But it will also introduce a feature fans have been asking about for years--cross-faction guilds. It's something Blizzard has been seriously considering ever since the game's patch 9.2.5 introduced the ability for players on the Alliance and Horde to team up in order to conquer dungeons and other instanced content together.
Cross-faction guilds was the obvious next step, but much like cross-faction instances, Blizzard wanted to make sure the feature was opt-in.
"We see this as a conservative step in the same vein as cross-faction instances," Hazzikostas said. "We want to make sure the focus is not on tearing down Alliance and Horde as entities in Warcraft, or making complete unity the default experience, but making sure players who have real-life or other out-of-game bonds with folks on the opposite faction can play with them and experience WoW together, because at the end of the day, that's the prime value here."
When asked what's next when it comes to cross-faction play, Hazzikostas said while there aren't any actual plans to do so, Blizzard would probably take a look at making it so members of opposing factions could team up in the game's open world. It's a theoretical change that would introduce "a lot of technical and logistical challenges," Hazzikostas said, due to much of WoW's older content having been built under the assumption that Horde and Alliance players would never be in the same group.
Cross-faction guilds won't, however, mean players can expect cross-faction matchmaking for dungeons or Looking For Raid anytime soon. Hazzikostas said Blizzard is currently happy with how those systems are working, and introducing an opt-in feature to matchmaking could potentially divide the player pool further and make wait times longer.
With a major new update also comes a new Mythic+ and PvP season, and Dragonflight Season 2 will be looking to shake things up on the Mythic dungeon front. In recent months the topic of Mythic+ and its various difficulty-increasing affixes has been the subject of debate amidst the game's community, with many players feeling that affixes are currently more punishing than challenging, and can sap the fun out of running high-level Mythic+ keys. Hazzikostas said Blizzard has heard that feedback "loud and clear," and that changes are on the way.
For starters, Hazzikostas said the team is looking at each dungeon included in the Dragonflight Season 2 Mythic+ rotation (which consists of the four Dragonflight dungeons not featured in Season 1, as well as dungeons from previous expansions like Freehold, the Underrot, Neltharion's Lair, and Vortex Pinnacle) and making sure the "baseline experience" of each one is something Blizzard feels good about. Some of the baseline complexity of Dragonflight's new dungeons, Hazzikostas said, were "a couple of notches higher than really makes for a healthy Mythic+ ecosystem." As a result, the team will be looking at each dungeon in Season 2 individually and "disarming or pruning certain abilities" to ensure for a smoother, and less frustrating experience, something Hazzikostas said he thinks will go a long way.
Additionally, Blizzard is planning on getting rid of seasonal affixes, something that has been a staple of Mythic+ since the start of the game's Battle for Azeroth expansion.
"If some aspect of that seasonal affix is more frustrating than fun for a particular role, for a particular class, based on mobility, based on whatever else may come into play, that can actually just hurt the experience of the season as a whole for them," Hazzikostas said. "There's no escaping it. There's no off-weeks or on-weeks."
Instead, Blizzard decided to focus its efforts elsewhere, and for Dragonflight Season 2 will introduce a refreshed affix pool that will see old mainstays taken out of rotation and new affixes introduced.
At the end of last year, Blizzard released a roadmap of its planned content updates for Dragonflight in 2023. As part of that roadmap, WoW executive producer Holly Longdale expressed a goal for Blizzard was to deliver a steadier stream of content updates than in years past. So far, Blizzard looks to be accomplishing that goal, with the game's 10.0.5 patch introducing the new Trading Post system back in February and the upcoming patch 10.0.7 set to usher in new story content in March. Peppered in between have been fast and frequent balance changes and hotfixes, with 10.0.7 even going as far to overhaul the entire Retribution paladin specialization (something that Hazzikostas described as an "exceptional" circumstance and not something players should expect to happen again in future Dragonflight patches).
It's a far cry from just a few years ago, when the game's Shadowlands expansion was in full swing and both content updates and balance changes felt like they were few and far between. So what changed? A large part of it is the fact that Blizzard's WoW team has expanded in the past year, with the studio recently acquiring Spellbreak developer Proletariat to help create the future of the MMO. Hazzikostas said the goal of the development team's growth is to ensure that the studio can deliver more content for players in the present expansion while continuing to work on what comes next.
"I think it reflects Blizzard's investment in World of Warcraft and our commitment to recognizing that the health of the game and the ongoing success of World of Warcraft is not just hinging on these singular expansions that come out every so often, but on the steady stream of content that follows them," Hazzikostas said. "When people look back at their favorite, most cherished expansions, really a lot of that has to do with the extent to which they were supported. That's something we fully understand."
WoW: Dragonflight's Embers of Neltharion update does not yet have a release date, but will be available for testing on the game's public test realm in the coming days.
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