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World of Warcraft will go underground in Dragonflight’s first big patch

Plus, adorable mole friends and snail races

World of Warcraft - the elemental beings of the Zaralek Cavern stand perched on a rocky ledge, lifting their hands to the sky with volcanic power. Fire elementals wait by their side. Image: Blizzard Entertainment

World of Warcraft is delving deep beneath the Dragon Isles in its first major content patch, Embers of Neltharion. Patch 10.1, which does not currently have a release date, takes players to the Zaralek Cavern, a vast expanse under the Dragon Isles where the Earth Aspect once kept his secret laboratories. Players will have to face off against the remaining Incarnates, powerful elemental villains with a long-standing grudge against the Aspects. In their downtime, the heroes of Azeroth can hang out with cute little mole friends and visit the snail races.

“This story and setting represents the convergence of a lot of different threads, which all share the common theme of legacy,” says Ion Hazzikostas, game director on World of Warcraft, in a call with Polygon. Our friends, the Dragon Aspects, are racing to the laboratory against the villainous incarnates. Meanwhile, Dracthyr on both sides of the conflict want to investigate the laboratory and find their own origins.

Embers of Neltharion brings three major updates to the game. First is the Zaralek Cavern, which has three distinct biomes: There are sulfur pools, plagued with caustic chemicals, where Neltharion (also known as the raid boss Deathwing) dumped his failed experiment. There are also massive crystalline stretches with stalactites and ethereal teal lighting. Finally, there are natural volcanoes and pools of lava. It’s not all danger and doom; players will meet the drogbar (last seen in Legion) and a rad new race of mole people called the Niffen with a new renown track.

World of Warcraft - A drogbar and a niffen hang out in the Zaralek Cavern. The drogbar is a large, hulking fellow with muscles and big teeth, while the Niffen is a little, round mole person with a cute hat. Image: Blizzard Entertainment

Hazzikostas notes that there were technical challenges in creating the Cavern. “A lot of work has been done by our engineers over the last couple of years to — sorry, forgive this analogy — lay the groundwork for this. There were assumptions made way back in the day in the underpinnings of the game that terrain would never be on top or below other terrain. We can have platforms or geometry and things floating in the sky, that’s no problem.” But the ground level was much more difficult to crack, and it required an investment into underground areas that will likely pay off in future patches and expansions.

The second major update is new content on the Dragon Isles. The fire Incarnate Fyrakk is assaulting the Dragon Isles, going to peaceful locales and bathing them in flame. There will also be new quest lines concerning the Blue Dragonflight and the titan Tyr. The Dragon Isles are connected to the Cavern through tunnels and natural entrances, which means there are no loading portals or instanced zones. Players can Dragonride through the Isles and dip down into the cavern in Thaldraszus, Azure Span or the Ohn’ahran Plains to traverse that massive zone, all without dismounting.

“We don’t want this to feel like — okay, you’re done having your fun in the four zones of the Dragon Isles that you visited so far,” says Hazzikostas. “Now it’s time to spend all your time in Zaralek and never go back.”

Finally, there’s Aberrus, the Shadowed Crucible. It’s a nine-boss raid in the heart of Neltharion’s old laboratory, and all of the different draconic factions in the Dragonflight conflict are racing to get there first.

World of Warcraft players will return to the Dracthyr starting zone of the Forbidden Reach in the upcoming 10.0.7 patch, which launches on March 21. This patch will set up the new antagonists and give players some more context on dragons and the Dracthyr, as well as unlock heritage armor quests for orcs and humans. Though there is no release date available for 10.1, that eventual patch will contain cross-faction guilds and other quality of life updates.

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