With WoW's patch 3.3 presumptively slated for release next month, Blizzard has announced its delayed access plans. As Larisa colorfully puts it, they are once again "treating the gamers like children, only handling out a few of the candies at one time so the chocolate box will last longer". Still, there are some interesting tweaks this time around.
How much gear will players have BEFORE Arthas?
Blizzard isn't announcing how quickly each new wing of the dungeon will be released, other than to state that it will be "several weeks" before the second wing opens. That's several weeks with access to four bosses, each of whom drops loot of their own, along with current tier emblems. (These emblems will also be available two per day for random 5-mans, plus an extra 5 per week for the weekly raid quest.) As more wings unlock, players will have access to even more loot.
The end result is that players will have unprecedented access to current tier raid loot BEFORE the final boss becomes available. This means that Arthas may well be tuned assuming that the raid is already fully geared in Icecrown raid drops.
The raid that nerfs itself
The other kind of new feature is that, as weeks progress, players will be allowed additional attempts at the bosses and an increasing buff to their stats. In other words, the content will actually make itself easier (technically players will be allowed to decline the bonuses, but I doubt that many will).
This point may be a logical progression from the first one. Normally, server-first guilds have to kill the final boss clad mostly in gear from previous dungeons, while less elite guilds can expect to slowly accumulate gear upgrades as they move forward over time. If Arthas is tuned assuming that players ALREADY have current top-end gear, that option goes away.
Reflecting on Wrath Era Tuning
Overall, the major news story of the Wrath Era is Blizzard's attempt to fine tune their new system for multiple raid difficulties. Naxx provided much needed accessibility but too little challenge. Ulduar added challenge but did so with occasionally gimmicky hard mode requirements. TOC was somewhat of a filler dungeon, with a weird two-saves per group size per week hard mode option, and came with the first of two mid expansion gear resets needed to offset the improved loot being generated by all these hard modes. Now, finally, Icecrown will apparently make players wait for possibly months for the chance to fight Arthas, before even allowing anyone to take on the optional hard modes.
If nothing else, I hope that Blizzard is able to finish refining the model for allowing all raiders the ability to participate in the expansion's marquis fight. Changing courses with every patch of the Wrath era blew the entire incentive structure for the expansion out of the water. Perhaps carefully rationed, self-nerfing raid content will find the balance that Blizzard's group game has been struggling to achieve for the last year.