Preview: World of WarCraft: Wrath of the Lich King hands-on update

All raiding dungeons will have 10- and 25-man modes! The Death Knight can summon a minion! You will not be released from your addiction!

Even bigger news... featuring smaller groups

As our aerial tour of Azeroth continued, we found the floating necropolis of Naxxramas, the legendary final frontier of the original, pre-expansion WarCraft world. Naxx, widely considered to be one of Blizzard's coolest dungeons, was elite for most players to reach, so the developers wisely decided to move it to Northrend and repurpose it as the level 80 starter raiding dungeon. It was here where the day's biggest news was delivered:

All raiding dungeons in Wrath of the Lich King will support 10- or 25-man parties.

That's right, every high-end dungeon will be tuned for either size, and players will actually be able to participate in both types of runs each week without locking out the other. And 25-man raiding will not be dependent on 10-man achievements; there won't be any attunement or keys necessary to get into the big raids. But the 25-man dungeons will have their own distinct loot tables, itemized one tier higher than their 10-man counterparts. This loot will use the same texture art with a color shift, and, similar to current PVP gear, set bonuses will be granted across both versions.

This is huge news for smaller guilds that don't want the drama and politicking of the 25-man raids, because any 10 like minded folks will be able to advance all the way to Arthas at the endgame. Wyrmskull Village

Take shotgun

New "vehicle tech," developed for WOTLK's new siege weapons, promises to create a bevy of new opportunities for gameplay mechanics. We watched as a player hopped on the back of an NPC's horse and stunned assaulting Scourge enemies by dropping explosives while the NPC guided them to safety. Blizzard listened to the feedback of fans who enjoyed the bombing runs in TBC, and we can expect more vehicle-based missions, including aerial combat.

After we completed our tour of Northrend, we were given some hands-on time with the game. I trolled around Howling Fjord, infiltrating the downtrodden Wyrmskull Village as it was being pilfered by Dragonflayer Vyrkul. I took my trusty frost mage (a pre-built character Blizzard offered up, with mediocre level 70 blue gear) into the Utgarde catacombs, an open-world dungeon beneath the Utgarde Keep instance, and found a battle ring where I faced three opponents to reclaim a tablet. Then I headed back up, freed some imprisoned enemies of the Vyrkul, and found a diving quest that wasn't too hard once I equipped a helm with a breathing tube. I headed back to Valgarde, the nearby town, to turn quests in, and decided it was time to explore further. I ascended a cliff wall to reach the higher level of the zone.

Soon enough, I encountered the Tuskarr, a cool new race of anthropomorphized walruses. Emboldened, I traveled north to the Grizzly Hills, where I faced a level 73 Silverbrook Hunter, who surprised me by turning into a werewolfer, worgenhalfway through our battle. I frost nova'd him, summoned my water elemental, popped my trinkets, pew pew and soon I was dancing on his corpse. Alasno loot. Seems like these guys' loot tables haven't been itemized yet.

Homey don't fight for free.

And so, I left the hallowed halls of Blizzard, salivating to enter Northrend with my own beloved characters. But I took comfort in the fact that progress is being made. How much? How far? As always, Blizzard says it'll be ready when it's ready. Rumor has it that friends and family are already in pre-beta testing, and word on the street is that the game is in a solid alpha, but the company line is... you got it... it'll be ready when it's ready.

They be cookin' in Azeroth, folks! You can already smell it!

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Hugh Sterbakov

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