It's the beginning of the end to seven years of Warcraft lore as Patch 3.3 hits servers today, bringing players to the Lich King's fortress of Icecrown Citadel to meet Azeroth's ultimate evil face-to-face.
If you played 2002's Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, then it's likely that your jaw hit the floor at the conclusion of the game's Human campaign when you saw the cinematic embedded below - I know mine sure did. The campaign told the story of the fall from grace of Loradaeron's Prince Arthas, who fell into madness as he sought to save his people, before being consumed by the sacrifices he was willing to make and turning into the very thing he'd fought against. Arthas' tale would be continued in the rest of the campaigns as well as the expansion, 2003's The Frozen Throne, which ended with the Prince becoming the King: The Lich King, to be precise.
Since WoW launched five years ago, that's been the major question on peoples' minds. When we fought Kel'Thuzad in Naxxramas at Level 60, we were asking ourselves, "When will we fight Arthas?" When we fought Kael'thas Sunstrider in Tempest Keep and Illidan Stormrage in the Black Temple at Level 70, we were asking ourselves, "When will we fight Arthas?" And when we fought Kel'Thuzad (again) and Malygos in the Eye of Eternity, we were still asking ourselves, "When will we fight Arthas?"
As it turns out, the answer to that question is "today."
Well, okay, not really. Though Patch 3.3 - the third and final major content patch of World of Warcraft's second expansion - goes live today and brings with it the Lich King's sanctum of Icecrown Citadel, we won't actually get to fight the Lich King himself just yet. Similar to how progression was "gated" in Sunwell Plateau, the final raid of The Burning Crusade, the raid will open up piece by piece over time.
Right now, only the first four bosses are available in the Lower Spire, and it will be a couple of weeks before raiders get to take on the next three in the Plagueworks, a few more weeks before we get to hit up the Crimson Hall, and then still more before the grand finale at the Frozen Throne, where raiders will face down Arthas as well as the Frost Wyrm Sindragosa (the one raised in the fantastic Wrath of the Lich King opening cinematic, in case you were wondering).
But, the patch still has a ton of extra stuff in it beyond the progression-capped raid. There are three new dungeons in Icecrown Citadel meant for groups of five players, with Horde and Alliance alike getting to fight alongside lore figures who have a slightly more personal interest in the Lich King - Sylvanas Windrunner and Jaina Proudmoore, respectively.
Patch 3.3 further introduces cross-server instances and the new Dungeon Finder feature, which is at long last a group-finding tool that actually doesn't suck - five years late, but better late than never, right? There are also a ton of improvements to the quest tracking system and in-game maps, the requisite class balance changes and bug fixes, and best of all, new level 1 characters no longer have useless food and water cluttering up their inventory. A comprehensive list of all of the changes can be found at WoWWiki.
Fans of the Warcraft series (like yours truly) should be having a nerdgasm right about now, because holy crap guys, Icecrown Citadel! I'd say "see you in the raid," but since we all know that the servers will be broken for the next three or so days, that probably won't happen.