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World of Warcraft v2.4: Fury of the Sunwell (PC)

The biggest update in WoW's history is almost upon us, and as we prepare to rejoin that world, we look at the new features.


If you've been playing World of Warcraft for a while -- or even if you used to and departed before the Burning Crusade expansion -- you'll surely remember some of the beefier updates in its history: the implementation of the honor system in version 1.4; the opening of Ahn'Qiraj in 1.9; the broad reworking of the game's underlying systems in patch 1.12. But from the perspective of pure content, none of these match the upcoming version 2.4. Titled "Fury of the Sunwell," this massive update will bring an all-new zone that includes an evolving quest hub designed around server-wide cooperative elements, a five-player dungeon starring one of the notorious players in Warcraft lore, and a 25-player raid instance that will represent the (current) apex of PvE progression.

By all accounts, it looks like 2.4 may be the last earnest update to hit before the launch of Wrath of the Lich King, so it's a very good thing that there's quite a bit in here to plow through. Whether you're an impatient vet who's unwilling to trawl the net for bits of info or a returning player anxious to get the skinny on this momentous update -- as many of us at GameSpy HQ seem to be these days -- you'll want to arm yourself with this info before version 2.4 hits.

The Isle of Quel'Danas

Version 2.4's piece de resistance (and undoubtedly what's kept it so long in the cooker) is the Isle of Quel'Danas. It's arguably the biggest piece of content introduced via a single update in WoW's history, and the culmination of how Blizzard's design approach has evolved since the game's launch.


The Isle of Quel'Danas will be home to a five-player dungeon instance, a 25-player raid zone, and a quest hub whose borders will expand as players curry favor with its native faction, the Shattered Sun Offensive. Doing so will be a server-wide endeavor; by participating in the daily quests offered by the Offensive's NPCs, players will progressively unlock districts in the town of Sun's Reach. With every milestone (which, on the public test realms, were hit every two or so days), new NPCs will populate the town's liberated districts, bringing with them further daily quests, and hawking all manner of items, from reputation rewards to token-garnered raid gear. Blizzard is upping the daily quest limit to 25, which might encourage players to jam-pack their quest logs with these lucrative activities.

Located north of the Blood Elf capital of Silvermoon City, the Isle of Quel'Danas will be reachable via flight path from Ironforge, Light's Hope Chapel in the Eastern Plaguelands and Hatchet Hills in the Ghostlands, in addition to Silvermoon. After a server's playerbase reaches a certain progress milestone with the Shattered Sun Offensive, a one-way portal to the Isle from Shattrath City will become available. Given the new five-player dungeon and raid zone that will be housed in the zone, you can bet that the Quel'Danas will be a highly-trafficked locale well after Sun's Reach is completely liberated from the malefic forces that assail it.

 

The Magister's Terrace is the name of the five-player dungeon, and it'll boast both normal and heroic modes. On normal, the loot will be more or less on par with what you'd expect from high-end level 70 dungeons, with the exception of the last boss: Kael'thas Sunstrider will drop a single epic item in addition to his assortment of rares. In heroic mode, all the bosses will have epics worked into their loot tables, with a Kael'thas kill garnering gear comparable to Prince Malchezaar, the final boss in Karazhan.

It's notable that players will be able to interact with Kael'thas in Magister's Terrace, as up until this point, such notable personages in Warcraft lore were previously sequestered inside of raid instances, typically beyond the reach of the casual player. This appears to be part of a philosophical shift in WoW's design, as Blizzard is being quite vocal about just how frequently players will get to parley with the dreaded Arthas come the Wrath of the Lich King expansion.


True to the game's current form, however, is the fact that all the big stuff will be going down at Sunwell Plateau, the 25-player raid on deck for the 2.4 update. In it, players ready for the highest of the high-end content will eventually come to blows with Kil'jaeden, the ancient Eredar lord who commands the Burning Legion. This preeminent baddy will be the most powerful raid boss in World of Warcraft come 2.4, with his haunting grounds representing the next step in raid progression following Black Temple. In keeping with the "easy access" ethos that Blizzard is taking with version 2.4, there will be no attunement requirements to enter the raid instance. However, not all of the bosses will be available once Sunwell Plateau opens its doors to assailants -- only the first three will be combatable from the get-go, with the others opening up over periodic intervals.

 

Notable Changes: PvP

2.4 is by no means a "PvP patch," but it does contain some high-level system changes that will have competitive players talking. By far the most momentous of these changes has to do with the seemingly-benign issue of mana regeneration in PvP. Specifically, players fighting in Arena matches were able to drink water to replenish their stores when they managed to get out of combat for a few seconds. Now, they'll have to wait an extra four seconds before the regenerative effects of drinking kick in. Needless to say, this a quite a big deal, given how much can happen in a few seconds during a match. This will probably result, ultimately, in shorter matches overall.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, spell effects that drain mana will have their efficacy decreased by the resilience ratings of their targets. Bad news indeed for priests, hunters, and warlocks, many of whose team compositions were built expressly to outlast their opponents through the use of drain abilities. Resilience will reduce the amount of mana drained by the same amount that it decreases damage inflicted by critical strikes.

There also seems to be something of a concerted effort toward encouraging players to get involved in WoW's PvP scene. The method of choice: oodles of easy honor points with which to purchase the gear that will make them competitive. Once the update hits, there will no longer be diminishing returns on honor gained from player kills, so feel free to camp those Battleground graveyards (though keep in mind that after 50 deaths, a player is worth zilch). You'll be able to spend any honor you gain immediately, meaning no more waiting until the wee hours for the scores to calculate. Further, Battleground tokens will be tradable for honor points -- you'll simply hand in one of each, and you'll get 300 points to spend.


Perhaps more significant is the availability of entry-level PvP sets that players can purchase with gold. Essentially identical to the level 70 blue sets that were previously available for honor, their individual bits and pieces are sold by the reputation vendors tied to the Outland's factions -- the Shat'tar, Cenarion Expedition, Keepers of Time, and the rest. Players will merely need honored-level reputation to acquire them and stack up on the all-important resilience stat that's essential for success in WoW's competitive Arena.

On a more controversial note, raiding players will be able to turn in their raid tokens for arena armor -- as of the latest iteration of the test version, they can redeem tier four pieces for season-one gear, and tier five and six for season-two gear. Welfare epics indeed.

Notable Changes: Raids

As mentioned above, Blizzard's intent in regards to high-level raid content seems to be moving toward a more inclusive approach. All existing attunement requirements will be eliminated, meaning Mount Hyjal and Black Temple will be open to all comers. Karazhan will also have its attunement removed, though a player bearing the Master's Key will need to be present to open the front gate (think Upper Blackrock Spire, or The Arcatraz). Raiders will also get more loot for their efforts; bosses who already drop set tokens will drop an additional one. Furthermore, every raid boss in the game will now drop a Badge of Justice.

Notable Changes: Crafting

Two of the biggest hurdles involved in high-end crafting will be eliminated in 2.4: Primal Nethers and Nether Vortices will no longer be bind on pickup, with the latter becoming available for purchase from Shattrath City's premier epic purveyor for 15 Badges of Justice. A prediction: there will be many more Stormheralds being swung around.

Of note to would-be cooks who don't also happen to be fishermen, a pair of new recipes have been added that will help get you get past the painful 250 skill threshold. Charred Bear Kabobs and Juicy Bear Burgers will be producible via meat acquired for level 50ish bears, found in Feralas, Western Plaguelands, Felwood and Winterspring. Their respective recipes can be purchased from faction-appropriate vendors in Felwood.