World of Warcraft Patch 4.3 is an understatement. The title does nothing to capture the significance of the content it introduces to a game that, now approaching its seventh anniversary, has proven to be as enduring as it is popular.

With 4.3 comes the final battle against Deathwing the Destroyer. This ancient, corrupt dragon Aspect is the Cataclysm expansion’s primary antagonist and his inevitable fall at the hands of the World of Warcraft playerbase marks the beginning of the end for Cataclysm content.

Last week, we sat down with Scott Mercer, World of Warcraft’s lead encounter designer, to learn just how Blizzard intends to deliver a gripping climax to another year in Azeroth.

The Dragon Aspects that occupy Wyrmrest Temple have a problem, begins Mercer. They know that if they cannot destroy their fallen brother, he’ll consume the world. There’s only one artefact with the power to weaken the Black Scourge, but it has long since been destroyed: the Dragon Soul.

To retrieve the golden disk the Aspects must charge the heroes of Azeroth with its retrieval from the depths of time. Deathwing first unleashed the power of the Dragon Soul to stop Sargeras and the Burning Legion from entering Azeroth through the Well of Eternity, “a critical point in Warcraft history”, explains Mercer.

That means sending players to the Caverns of Time and Nozdormu. Upon arriving, the Aspect of Time will tell them that his ability to send them back to the battle at the Well of Eternity is being interfered with by an entity in the future. First then, players must go forward into the End Time and kill Murozond. Within they’ll witness a charred vision of the world should the plan to defeat Deathwing fail.

With Murozond's defeat, players will be able to venture into the past and partake in the near-apocalyptic clash at the Well of Eternity. There, players will fight alongside such prominent characters of Warcraft lore as Illidan, Malfurion Stormrage and Tyrande. They’ll see the demon Mannoroth and the delusional highborne queen, Azshara.

Once the Dragon Soul is secured, players will return to the present and in the third instance will be charged with protecting both Thrall and the artefact as they make their way to Wyrmrest Temple in Northrend. In The Hour of Twilight, they'll discover the Temple is now under full assault by Deathwing and his myriad forces.

It’s a conceit that players will be familiar with from Wrath of the Lich King’s patch 3.3, and it perfectly stages the final Cataclysm raid against Deathwing himself. The instances must be completed in order so as not to spoil the experience, says Mercer, but they won’t be necessary to attune oneself to the raid, that will be available as soon as patch 4.3 goes live.

“It’s something we’ve done before but we’re really going nuts with it this time, [we’re] really trying to make the experience through the three level 85 heroic dungeons that you go through, through the raid, all one continuous story.”

The raid picks up right where the final instance finishes. Thrall and the Dragon Soul are now nearby Wyrmrest Temple and raiders begin by attempting to relieve the beleaguered Aspects. Deathwing’s host includes the Twilight dragonflight, Earth Elementals, servants of the Old Gods and the Twilight’s Hammer cult.

The first boss raids will encounter is an earth elemental at the base of Wyrmrest Temple. Morchok is pounding at the foundations of the spire, explains Mercer. “So you fight him and he’s got a really cool mechanic where he raises up these huge stone pillars and you have to use them to avoid one of this other abilities.

“We’ve had stuff in the past where there have been pillars and stuff like that to avoid mechanics but I think this is one of the first raid encounters we’ve had on this kind of scale where you’re going to use the pillars that he raises up to avoid really nasty things!”

Beyond, players will encounter two servants of the Old Gods, Warlord Zon'ozz and Yor’sahj the Unsleeping, one of which the development team jokingly refers to as “the Pong boss”.

“There’s this big mass of energy that he creates that you actually bounce between the boss and your raid and you have to control it, and how you control that mass of energy has a huge impact on how you win the fight.”

“Then we’ve got another Old God servant,” continues Mercer. “During that fight three different colours of ‘Blood of the Old God’ rise up and move towards the boss. Each of them provides an ability to the boss and you have the opportunity to kill one of these slimes, so you get to choose which ability you don’t want to see – which one would make for a bad combination.”

The idea, says Mercer, is to allow for variety: “That should be a pretty interesting fight, allowing players to actively choose or say, ‘hey, we’ve got this raid composition, we really don’t want that ability so lets kill that guy [or Blood].’ So a bit of choose your own adventure which is always fun.”

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