Tomorrow marks, to the day, the sixth anniversary of World of Warcraft, and Blizzard is going to celebrate Azeroth’s birthday by completely destroying it. The moment we’ve all been waiting for — the Shattering, the moment at which Deathwing is figuratively reborn into the world by making a literal hole in it — is nigh. I recommend looping the following for effect as we briefly discuss which changes you can expect in 4.0.3a (sorry internet parodies, the original is still the best):
The Shattering — Patch 4.0.3a
Even with the normally well-informed folks on the PTR, I noticed this week that many were baffled about what they could and could not access. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re juggling live, test, and beta versions of content at the same time, causing anyone who isn’t following the proceedings that closely to become easily confused.
To clarify, here are the new features you can expect when 4.0.3a goes live:
- Major Zone Changes — All changes to existing zones will be available to everybody. This includes the revamped Troll and Gnome starting areas, but not any other brand new zones/subzones.
- New Class/Race Combinations — Feel free to start up that new alt, as long as it isn’t a Worgen or a Goblin! Holy Cows (Tauren Paladins), Dwarven Shamans, and Troll Druids will no doubt be amongst the most popular choices. Expect starting areas to be crowded all over again.
- Universal Cataclysm Content — This is media essential to the game whether or not you plan on purchasing the expansion (though, why wouldn’t you?). It encompasses things like the new log-in screen and cinematic, as well as updated music for some existing zones.
- City Changes — Despite the bleedingly obvious ones (a complete, but badass revision of Orgrimmar, for instance), there are a few smaller tweaks you should be aware of. Portal Masters in Shattrath City and Dalaran have been removed and replaced with Class Trainers. There are also City Quartermasters who you can purchase new Tabards from if/when you have the appropriate level of Reputation.
- Dungeon Changes — At BlizzCon, it was revealed that some old-world dungeons would be significantly streamlined, so you should be able to experience the new versions of any instances you could access previously.
- Class Balance — Most of the class balance changes were added in 4.0.3, but there are still a few more to be added, which you’ll find in the patch notes after the break. In addition, Hunters will have access to new tamable pets, and the following classes will have their Talent Points reset: Druid, Paladin, Priest, and Shaman.
- Leveling Experience — It was recently announced that getting through Northrend would be a lot easier. Treat yourself to a 20% reduction in required XP from Levels 71-80.
- Bug Fixes — Self-explanatory.
Cataclysm — The Purchased Expansion
Of course, Blizzard ain’t just giving away everything for free. The following content will require a retail purchase of the expansion, which arrives in two weeks (Dec. 7), so don’t expect any of it with tomorrow’s patch:
- New Races — Cataclysm gives you access to the new Goblin and Worgen races, as well as areas specific to them. That means — if you’re a Horde player, for instance — that the Lost Isles are off limits in 4.0.3a, but you can level up in Azshara, which has been greatly transformed by the presence of Goblins.
- New Zones/Dungeons/Raids — Speaking of zones, here are the ones you will not able to get to without the expansion (so don’t bother people in General/Trade by asking about it): Kezan, Gilneas, Lost Isles, Mount Hyjal, Vashj’ir, Uldum, Maelstrom/Deepholm, Twilight Highlands. Likewise, the dungeons and raids associated with them will be locked out.
- New Profession: Archaeology — Can’t touch it unless you buy the expansion. You won’t see any artifacts in the wild, either, since being able to do so requires that you’ve learned the profession.
- Level Cap: 85 — You’ll be stuck at 80 until you get Cataclysm.
- Illustrious Grand Master — Likewise, since you can’t level up any further, you won’t have access to professions past 450 until the expansion.
- Guild Leveling/Achievements — While The Shattering will get people excited and bring lapsed guildies back to the game, don’t expect things to get truly exciting until after Dec. 7th, when Guild Leveling and Achievements are available.
So, hopefully things are a bit easier to understand now. Don’t forget to read up on the patch notes after the jump!