Blizzard has officially announced World of Warcraft: Dragonflight’s first major content patch - update 10.1, Embers of Neltharion, alongside news that the next minor update, 10.0.7, Return to the Forbidden Reach, will be arriving extremely soon, on March 21.
Both announcements continue World of Warcraft’s shockingly swift content cadence in Dragonflight, a welcome surprise after the several months-long dearth of content in recent expansions. Dragonflight is the best World of Warcraft has felt in years. If a revamped endgame experience, a new method of traversing the world, and an updated crafting system wasn’t enough, Blizzard has managed to fill a rich new continent to the brim with satisfying content to tackle and lore to delve into.
Now, with a whole host of new features coming in Embers of Neltharion – including the next raid, a fresh rotation of Mythic+ dungeons, a huge new underground zone filled with quests to complete and creatures to bludgeon and a tonne of new lore surrounding Azeroth’s dragons and their conflict with the dastardly Incarnates – will Blizzard manage to keep up World of Warcraft’s promising revival in 10.1?
Delving the deep depths
Arguably, the best aspect of Dragonflight so far has been how seamlessly its world content has tied into the gameplay of Season 1. It’s so simple to fly around completing world quests, hunting for treasures or taking part in Community Feasts and Grand Hunts while you wait for your Mythic+ group to form.
The connectivity of the Dragon Isles and the swiftness of dragonriding means you can always quickly swoop to your next objective. But in patch 10.1, we’re delving deep under the isles to the vast Zaralek Cavern, a whole new landmass complete with three distinct biomes. I was curious whether this new explorable region would disrupt the gameplay flow the developers seemingly worked so hard to perfect.
“Something we talked about a lot early on with Dragonflight was intentionally making the open world feel more like a living, breathing world, with lots of public events for people to engage with,” associate game director Morgan Day says, “And when we were talking about Embers of Neltharion and Zaralek Cavern, we really focused on what that experience should look like, asking what percentage of time you should expect to spend there.”
The conclusion was that while the new region will be chock-full of new activities – including a new faction to befriend in the mole-like Niffen, side activities like snail races with the craggy Drogbar, and a story campaign focusing on the Incarnates and the dark history of the Neltharion and the Black Dragonflight – the existing zones in the rest of the Dragon Isles will be getting some love too.
“Based on a lot of player feedback, we really wanted to make sure that you’ll still want to be in those zones that Dragonflight launched with. They’re epic, they’re so beautiful, and we felt like there’s still more content that we could be adding to those spaces,” Day says.
The fiery Incarnate proto-drake Fyrakk, the main antagonist of the patch, will be launching assaults on Dragonflight’s existing zones once empowered from the lava pools of Zaralek Cavern, and many of the public events out in the world will also be getting an update, both inside and out of the cavern. A whole separate story campaign will also feature the Blue Dragonflight up on the Dragon Isles’ surface.
But surely a whole new zone will disrupt that ever-so-carefully mapped connected landmass slots so niceley into Dragonflight’s gameplay loop? According to Day, the team already has that covered: “Even though it’s an underground cavern, the new zone is actually a contiguous space that you can fly into from multiple locations across the Dragon Isles. You can fly straight into Zaralek Cavern on your dragonriding mount without any load bars at all. We wanted to make sure this felt like an addition to the already existing Dragon Isles, not something that replaces them.”
We’ll be gliding between stalactites and crystal caverns on our dragons, collecting dragon glyphs to power up our dragonriding skill with new abilities, and even discovering a brand new slinking serpent drake to ride.
Exploring the lore of dragons
The story in this expansion, compared to World of Warcraft’s recent histor,y has pointedly been taken in another direction. Dragonflight still has the usual big bad group of enemies, with the traditional pantomime peril, but there’s also been a refreshing renewed focus on the world itself. A sense of exploration, of telling the stories of smaller characters and building the lore of the Dragon Isles, rather than jumping hastily between massive, often jarring, story beats. Blizzard has stated firmly that this is set to continue into 10.1.
Players have in the past bemoaned timegating in World of Warcraft, especially regarding story content. Waiting a week to unlock the next small chapter of an evolving story often took away any engagement with it. The updated Renown system – a novel approach to World of Warcraft’s reputation grind – has allowed Blizzard to gate some quests behind reputation, so not only are these story vignettes spread nicely throughout a patch cycle, but also so players can target which faction they want to hear more about. Will this continue in 10.1?
“We tried something new with Renown unlocking different quest chapters in Shadowlands, but having multiple Renown paths in Dragonflight felt like it gave players a lot more agency over how they wanted to engage with different groups and the rewards they were getting for doing so,” narrative director Steve Danuser says.
“We do have a new Renown track in Zaralek with the Niffin – these cute little mole people who are small but mighty, with an adventurous spirit packed into those little bodies with a big giant schnoz. But with this update, we will have some content that unfolds weekly. Part of that is because, as a raid unlocks, you need some content to contextualize that, it makes sense to timegate it rather than have it be around something the player does. We try to make decisions that best fit the feel of an update, and the right cadence can be different for a patch than what it is for a whole expansion.”
The Blue and Black dragonflights are the ones we’ll be hearing most about in 10.1 – with the lore surrounding the new raid Aberrus, the Shadowed Crucible focused on how the Black dragons’ former aspect Neltharion fell from grace, complete with gear themed around Black dragon aesthetics – but Danuser was keen to point out that the other flights, and even dragon factions not included in the five chromatic groups fronting the expansion, will be getting some love throughout the rest of the expansion.
Dragonflight has been a hit so far with players, and in 10.1 Blizzard seems keen to curry even more favor with a surprising announcement that cross-faction guilds will go live on day one of the new patch. Alongside more new UI updates and a commitment to closely look at how affixes impact the Mythic+ rotation heading into Season 2, the team looks to be on the right track in making this expansion something of a renaissance moment for World of Warcraft. Here’s hoping 10.1’s new features add to an already refreshing Warcraft revival.
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