The weird new world of World of Warcraft patches: smaller, leaner, faster

Tim Edwards at

Pretty please kill me with fire, sir dragon?

Something odd is going on in World of Warcraft, and it's really worth talking about. In the last expansion pack, Wrath of the Lich King, every major patch (3.1, 3.2, 3.3) delivered a raid dungeon and a new tier of armour to aim for. The patches were monolithic, anticipated beasts. 3.1 opened Ulduar, the best raid WoW has seen and kept us occupied for near six months. 3.2 dropped the Trial of Champions which, admittedly, was a bit ropey. 3.3 delivered Icecrown Citadel, with it's vast raid instance and multiple five man dungeons, and the culmination of the Arthas storyline.

But in Catacylsm and the forthcoming 4.1 patch, there's no new raid instance. There are a couple of new five mans, and the usual balance changes. But there are no new raid bosses. Whaaa...?

The initial statements from Blizzard suggested that the players were still struggling with the initial raids in Cataclysm. "We feel like the player base isn't ready for the next raid yet," said J. Allen Brack, speaking to Eurogamer. "And that led to some changes where Firelands is now actually going to be in 4.2"

Fair enough. But yesterday, on the Battle.net forums, Zahyrm rowed back from that statement. "The point isn't really that we're delaying Firelands... or because we don't think players are ready for a new raid. [...] What we're really saying is that we want more frequent, slightly smaller updates to the game so that content keeps coming. Since Firelands isn't quite ready yet, we've made the decision not to hold back the other 4.1 patch content for it. Instead, we're going to release patch 4.1 with the content that's ready to go so the majority of players have more things to do, while also putting some finishing touches on Firelands so we can ship it out in 4.2 shortly thereafter. We're not arbitrarily holding back Firelands. On the contrary, we don't want to hold back other content updates for Firelands."

That doesn't mean that 4.1 is bereft of content. If you've been following the updates on MMO-Champion, it's fascinating just how much is being added. It feels like Blizzard are clearing their to-do list ahead of the next major expansion. Old Ironforge is finally being added. There are new mounts, and a what looks like a new legendary staff. It's frustratingly exciting stuff.

Even if the messaging is confused, I really appreciate what Blizzard are doing here. Wrath of the Lich King as an expansion lasted for nearly two years, and only saw three major updates. That was just too slow. I love that the developers of WoW are looking to drop smaller patches, faster. Even if they don't come with new raid bosses.