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Welcome, O WoW rookie, to patch week madness. If you thought run-of-the-mill maintenance and minor patch days could be dicey, here's your chance to enjoy the epic-level chaos wrought by epic-level content patches.
World of Warcraft has evolved considerably since its launch in what's now been almost a handful of years ago. Blizzard regularly releases downloadable updates, called "patches," to add new content and features, fix problems and tweak game play and balance. Through patches, players have gained access to new quests, instances, Battlegrounds, events, items and tools.
This week's Patch 3.1 is known as a content patch – a nice way of saying "a ton of new stuff we've added to the game that's going to make all hell break loose." The realms go up, the realms go down. The realms go up. Did we mention they also go down? You may log in only to find your characters nowhere in sight ("Oh #%$&, my characters are all gone!"). You may experience disappearing mail or auctions, random disconnections from the game and insufferable lag. You may find yourself merrily rolling along only to find the NPCs have disappeared, you can't zone in or out of instances or log out of the game, and you and every other player who's trapped in your zone are left with nothing to do but chat about the whole thing. (Almost makes you wonder if the Ice Stone has melted yet.)
Patience, young grasshopper
Your best weapon against the madness is patience. Game instability brings out the worst in many players. Players who've been waiting for weeks and months for access to new features and content may become furious when they find themselves denied. Raiding and PvP schedules go to hell in a handbasket as instances crash, lag out and lock down. Missing items, abilities and talents throw players into a panic.
If you're having a problem, it's probably not you. Technical troubles may not even be consistent. You may ramble around town all afternoon, half-AFK as you finish up at work or home, but find yourself locked out of the game when evening rolls around and you're ready to hit it. Your realm may crash repeatedly while others sail along without a bobble. If you're really curious, ask other players in game if they're having similar troubles, or visit the official forums to look for specific known issues. Otherwise, unless you need to submit an in-game petition for a lost item or other specific problem (be patient – remember, the GMs are stretched thin at times like these), your best choice may be to log out and enjoy a spring stroll.
If all this talk of patch madness sounds negative toward Blizzard – we don't mean it to be, really. We think Blizzard generally does a pretty good job of cleaning up the inevitable confusion. Any growing pains you may encounter will eventually subside. Until then, patience and a sense of humor go a long way.
So what's in all this for me?
Patch 3.1 doesn't contain a lot of new content for new players still leveling their first character, so you're unlikely to run into immediate changes beyond the technical chaos. The biggest changes are the addition of dual talent specs, Ulduar raiding content, the Argent Tournament, major class changes, swimming mounts and new inscriptions. You'll find a good summary in WoW, Casually's "What 3.1 means for casual players". For the whole Patch 3.1 enchilada, visit our complete WoW Insider Guide to Patch 3.1.
Patch 3.1 brings a lot of juicy new content – but that's not to say every player will be thrilled. "The changes to characters can be difficult to cope with at times," wrote Amanda Dean last year in WoW Rookie. "We all select our characters based on their abilities and grow accustomed to what they are capable of. Patches often change spells and abilities, which in turn modifies how they affect game play. Some of the changes are beneficial to some classes while weakening others. These 'buffs' and 'nerfs' are a source of considerable controversy but are implemented as the developers see fit for game balance."
Need help navigating the new waters? WoW Insider walks you through all the changes. See the complete WoW Insider Guide to Patch 3.1 for a class-by-class analysis of changes and additions.