With the next major update for World of Warcraft already live on public test servers, and with seasoned WOW-watchers expecting release towards the end of this month or some time in April, it's time to detail what players can expect to see in Fury of the Sunwell - known to decimal point fans as patch 2.4.
Blizzard isn't resting on its laurels after the sweeping changes of patch 2.3, The Gods of Zul'Aman, which was released in November last year. Fury of the Sunwell adds Sunwell Isle to the map - the first ever outdoor zone to be added to the game via a patch. The Isle, located off the northern coast of Blood Elf starting area Eversong Woods, is an adventure hub for max-level players, featuring two new dungeons, a new town and quests, and a new faction.
The first of the new instances is Magister's Terrace, a dungeon for a party of five players, offering both normal and heroic modes and a second pop at Blood Elf lord Kael'thas Sunstrider (also the boss of the raid zone in The Burning Crusade's Tempest Keep).
It's joined by Sunwell Plateau, a new challenge for a full-sized raid of 25 players. This is intended to be the hardest raid in the game until the next expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, appears. Its final boss, Kil'jaeden - who will have to be unlocked by the combined efforts of all players on the server - is acting leader of the Burning Legion and creator of the Lich King. So, Fury of the Sunwell appears to offer a climax to the Burning Crusade storyline, and a bridge to the new adventures in Northrend, expected later this year.
Sunwell Isle also adds a new town and quest hub, Sun's Reach, but this will have to be reclaimed building-by-building from the monsters over-running the island. This will mostly be done through the completion of daily quests. To reflect the new focus on dailies, the limit on them will be raised from ten to the quest log maximum of 25.
Outside of the new content, there will be the usual swathe of adjustments and fixes to class balance, much of it aimed at creating more evenly-balanced player-versus-player combat in anticipation of the forthcoming pro-gaming Arena tournaments. In terms of the interface, Blizzard is overhauling the combat log, with new filtering tools and the ability to define custom colours for friends and enemies.
Not quite the revolution that Gods of Zul'Aman was, then, but Fury of the Sunwell still sounds like a treat for all level-70 players, and a fitting end to WOW's Burning Crusade era. If, indeed, that's what it turns out to be. Ever hedging its bets, Blizzard says it hasn't ruled out further new content before Lich King comes out, in case it gets delayed "for any reason".
Look out for our verdict on the state of WOW today when Eurogamer's MMO channel launches in the coming weeks.
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