Blizzard Turns up the Heat in World of Warcraft Patch 4.2

World of Warcraft's Cataclysm expansion brought the forces of Ragnaros the Firelord to Mount Hyjal, threatening to destroy the all-important World Tree. Now, the Horde and Alliance take the battle to the Firelord. Blizzard's Cory Stockton talked me through the upcoming 4.2 patch, from the Firelands dungeon to the new legendary weapon casters will be drooling over.

The Firelord Ragnaros has been pushing World of Warcraft players around since the game first launched, bringing his fiery mace Sulfuras to bear as the boss of Molten Core. After his defeat in the Molten Core, Ragnaros was banished back to the Firelands, but his influence could not be restrained.

With the coming of the Cataclysm, Ragnaros and his allies launched a full-scale assault on Nordrassil the World Tree, still healing after the events of the Third War. Players have been successful in pushing his forces back, but that's not good enough. Ragnaros' flame needs to be snuffed out. Players get their chance in patch 4.2.

The Firelands Raid

With the release of patch 4.2, 10 and 25-man raids will get their chance to strike back at Ragnaros for all of those Molten Core wipes back in the old days.

The Firelands raid dungeon is a massive outdoor affair, large and open enough for players to ride their mounts through. Stockton explained to me that there are six boss fights standing between the players and Ragnaros himself. The first four can be tackled in any order, while the final three (Rags included) need to be done one after another.

Each boss features a completely new model. Even Ragnaros himself sports a stunning new look, and so can the players that take him down, thanks to cosmetic armor that drops off of his corpse.

"It's an extended effort to make the loot really feel like it fits the bosses," Stockton told me. "It's something were trying to do more often." Coordinating loot drops cosmetically with bosses increases development time, the gear creators having to wait for the boss designs before they can get started. "We don't always get a chance to do that."

This time around they have, however, resulting in some sexy Ragnaros-styled armor, a new non-legendary version of his mace, Sulfuros, and a druid staff that drops off one of raid's other bosses that transforms the wielder into a molten cat.

The new dungeon even boasts three new mounts; one for competing all of the raid achievements, one random drop, and a special mount that drops every time Ragnaros fails. Just don't expect him to be a pushover this time around. Judging by Stockton's laughter at my suggestion, 25 frost mages isn't going to cut it.

Help is Just a Click Away

In order to help players tackle these new raid bosses, patch 4.2 introduces the Encounter Journal, a new feature that will allow players to instantly access information on raid and dungeons bosses, from what they drop to how they'll drop you. While it won't go into specifics, each boss entry will list the powers and abilities they'll bring to bear, with a basic description of what those powers will do to you.

The Encounter Journal will also give players a way to see what sort of gear they can acquire from a successful raid. Gear drops can be sorted by class, each piece fully linkable. Drop and item into chat, and when your friends click on it the Encounter Journal opens to the exact page you were looking at.

The Encounter Journal will launch with the Firelands raid, patch 4.1's revamped Troll dungeons, and all Cataclysm dungeon and raid content built in. Stockton told me the plan is to eventually have every instance in the game included.

A Firelands Quest a Day Keeps the Firelord Away

Those of us not hip on the whole raiding thing can still experience the Firelands via a new daily questing hub coming in patch 4.2.

It all starts in Hyjal regrowth, a special area of the Mount Hyjal zone that opens up once you complete the quest line there. After three days of daily quests there, an entirely new zone opens up to the player, along with an entirely new way to do daily quests.

As a player begins questing in Firelands, they'll begin earning currency that can be used to unlock new quest hubs in the zone. At first they'll choose between two different branches. By the time they earn enough currency to purchase a new hub, they might have three new branches to choose from. The hubs you purchase only show up for you, thanks to the game's phasing system.

Making things even more interesting, each hub's quests are randomized. Say there are six quests in total at a hub. Each day you'll randomly have access to three of those.

Eventually you'll unlock all of the hubs and have access to all of the more than 60 unique new daily quests in Firelands. How you get there is your choice.

"It's the evolution of dailies," Stockton explained. "We're trying to take it to a place where it feels less repetitive, more rewarding."

Seeing as players will gain access to tons of new gear, mounts, and vanity items for completing the Firelands daily quests I don't think rewarding will be a problem.

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Thrall: The Inside Story

Former Horde Warchief turned uber-Shaman Thrall was a major player in the Cataclysm expansion, and his role is set to expand once again in patch 4.2. Without giving too much away, Stockton told me that a massive new quest line will delve deeper into Thrall's origins.

Players can expect epic cinematic moments featuring all-new animations for Thrall, bringing the warchief to life like never before, right down to the facial animations.

Stockton called it a "Loregasm," a profound injection of story into the game the likes of which the Blizzard team rarely has time to implement outside of major expansion packs. "Feels like the right time for one of those." I concur.

And Finally, The Legendary Staff

Yes, there is a new legendary weapon coming in patch 4.2, and this time around it's a caster staff. Stockton wasn't ready to give me the weapon's name yet, but assured me it would be worth the agonizingly difficult quest a guild must undergo in order to obtain it for one of their members.

And thanks to the game's recently-introduced Guild Shop feature, players that help their guild mates earn this legendary weapon will be rewarded as well. When a member of a guild comes into possession of the staff, a special blue dragon whelping pet will become available for purchase in the Guild Shop. It's no legendary weapon, but it'll do.

Fire on the Horizon

When will World of Warcraft patch 4.2 arrive? Considering patch 4.1 just went live this week, they probably won't be setting foot in the Firelands for some time. At least they can be assured that when they finally do, there'll be plenty of new adventure waiting for them inside and outside of Ragnaros' scorched domain.