Thanks to a well-timed Anniversary retrial, I've been able to take WoW's 3.3 patch for a test drive.
Probably the biggest feature is a new five-man dungeon. Non-raiders get to knock on the back door of Icecrown Citadel, kill the doorman and some of Arthas' other servants, raid his fridge, and bravely run for our lives when the Lich King comes home to find us trashing his bedroom. This is supposed to make us feel like all the best lore isn't being reserved for raiders, as it was in TBC and will be in a few months when Blizzard lets raiders actually kill the expansion's title character instead of playing some practical jokes on him. The dungeons also drop ilvl 232 loot on heroic, marking the second complete gear reset in the year since I hit 80.
Lore and loot quibbles aside, the dungeon(s) are actually very well executed. The encounters are basically an 8-boss raid, broken up into three wings to insert convenient stopping points. The bosses do interesting things (the very first is probably my favorite, for sheer uniqueness), and the dungeon tuning seems about right for a group that's geared to the levels of previous 5-mans. That was the group I had for the first wing on patch night, and we actually had to work - wiping a few times and even using crowd control - to clear the dungeon.
On the downside, many players are geared well beyond the levels of the previous 5-mans. I joined a group last night for wing two and wound up burning through that and the third wing (the dungeons are connected to allow groups to chain them in succession, which would probably take experienced players under two hours) without really being challenged.
Finally, on the incentive side of things, I won [Seethe] outright off of the last boss of the first wing. There was no reputation to earn, no tokens to collect, and, now, no particular reason to ever go back to that wing of the dungeon. This weapon was a huge upgrade over the [Spire of Sunset] healer staff I'd been using and I would have been willing to do substantially more work to obtain it.
Such, I suppose, is the peril of the RNG; sometimes you don't get what you wanted (e.g. the caster weapon off of the Black Knight in last patch's 5-man) and sometimes it's almost insultingly easy. Even so, it feels like the purpose of these dungeons is to gear up raider alts quickly, rather than actually occupy 5-man players in the way that the 5-mans at Wrath's launch did.
Misc 3.3 impressions
- The new quest display on the map is great, even more polished than Warhammer's version.
- The Blizzard outfit manager now labels items in your bags with what sets they're in, so you can tell what goes in your bank.
- As promised, it's now possible to mail heirloom items to cross-faction alts on the same server. (If you're planning to test this, be warned that your level 1 alt will have to kill some stuff for the 30 copper needed to mail the heirloom back!) I've always preferred to have my Horde alts on another battlegroup, partially so they won't have to share character slots and partially because that way I have another server to play on if one is down. I'll have to ponder whether it's worth setting up Horde camp on my Alliance server for the heirlooms. Also note that this now includes head and shoulder rep enchant items.
Overall, it's looking like a major polishing patch as Blizzard gets its house in order in preparation for the expansion. It's well executed, but it will be very interesting to see whether the content that's here will keep players entertained through to whenever Cataclysm happens (personally, I doubt that it will be anytime before summer).
The weapon that Greenwiz will probably take into Cataclysm, barring the rare and coveted Quel'Delar drop.