ith the launch of World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, the winds of change will blow from the frozen north and sweep across the face of Azeroth, altering it forever. For the first time in the history of the land, death knights will ride side-by-side with heroes of the noble Alliance and the mighty Horde. Spellcasters and melee combatants will unlock the power of glyphs and scrolls from the all-new inscription profession. And player-vs.-player battlefields will ignite with the exploding payloads of siege catapults, goblin shredders, and gnomish flying machines.

Azeroth will never be the same again.

To help you prepare for the epic changes coming with the second World of Warcraft expansion, we have crafted this special Wrath of the Lich King primer. We've gathered and distilled all of the essential information you need to know for day one of the expansion into one handy compendium.

So read on, for the air grows cold, and soon you will ride into the jaws of Northrend!

Getting Started in Northrend

Once the expansion launches, expect general chat to bubble with questions about how to get to and from the continent of Northrend. Ignore the fallacious rumors of the flight path from Shattrath City. Do not attempt the swim from Azshara. Here’s how to embark upon your epic journey to the roof of the world:

  • Alliance
    • Take the Menethil Harbor warship to Howling Fjord
    • Take the Stormwind Harbor steamship to Borean Tundra

  • Horde
    • Take the Undercity zeppelin tower to Howling Fjord
    • Take the Orgrimmar zeppelin tower to Borean Tundra

You'll notice that you have a choice of beachheads in Northrend: Borean Tundra or Howling Fjord, which lie on opposite ends of the continent. Borean Tundra is a frozen landscape marked by coastal barrens, glaciers, and mineral-encrusted hot springs. Howling Fjord is a temperate forest perched atop some of the sheerest seaward cliffs in all of Azeroth. Whichever starting point you choose, arrive with your blades sharpened and your mana replenished. Battle will find you soon enough.

If you ever need to travel back and forth between Borean Tundra and Howling Fjord to group with comrades on the other side of the continent, you can hitch a ride on the turtle boat that is run by a tribe of neutral tuskarr. Note that you will not be able to ride a flying mount in Northrend until you have mastered the cold-weather flying skill at level 77, nor is it advisable to attempt the dash across Dragonblight until you have honed your skills in less dangerous areas.

To get an overview of the harsh new terrain opening up in Wrath of the Lich King, visit the interactive map of Northrend.

Forsaken CatapultForsaken Catapult

Abilities:
  • Plague Barrel
  • Flame Breath

Required Rank: Corporal
Seats: One

DemolisherDemolisher

Abilities:
  • Hurl Boulder
  • Ram

Required Rank: First Lieutenant
Seats: Two

Siege EngineSiege Engine

Abilities:
  • Fire Cannon
  • Ram

Required Rank: First Lieutenant
Seats: Three

Starting Dungeons

Many are the dark and guarded tunnels, ruins, and towers of Northrend. Still, reliable scouting reports of the continent are scarce, and so this primer will cover only the first two dungeons that you are likely to encounter in the course of your adventures.

Utgarde Keep - Situated in Howling Fjord, the vast fortress of Utgarde Keep looms over Daggercap Bay. Here, vrykul loyal to the Scourge gather their armies to attack nearby Horde and Alliance settlements. A full description of the lore and background of Utgarde Keep can be found in the Wrath of the Lich King Utgarde Keep preview.

The Nexus - Magically infused rings of gigantic size loom over Coldarra in the Borean Tundra. Here, the Dragon Aspect Malygos has begun his efforts to siphon the magical energies from Azeroth and ultimately deny arcane power to all mortal spellcasters. Opposed by the Kirin Tor of Dalaran, Malygos and his blue dragonflight guard the gates of this mysterious tower. Further details on this dungeon are available in the Wrath of the Lich King Nexus preview.

Death Knight

Descending from Ebon Hold in the Eastern Plaguelands, the death knight is an all-new playable class that wields the necromantic powers of blood, frost, and unholy runes. With a predilection for two-handed weapons and heavy plate armor, the death knight is best suited to fill tanking and DPS roles within a group.

As World of Warcraft's first hero class, the death knight stands apart from other classes, and special circumstances and rules surround its creation, progression, and management. Players can only create a death knight on a realm on which they have at least one level-55 or higher character, and they can only create one death knight at a time on any given realm. All races are able to start as death knights, who begin play at level 55 with basic gear and no mount. At first, death knights are bound to the service of the Lich King -- and before they are able to group with members of the Horde or Alliance, they must find a way to break free from Arthas' control.

For those seeking a more detailed look at the creation and management of death knights, visit the full death knight creation FAQ on the official forums.

There are many more facets to World of Warcraft's first hero class -- such as how death knights will augment tactics in PvP battlegrounds or what role they will ultimately play in the inevitable showdown with the Lich King -- but you'll have to discover them for yourself as you make your way through Northrend. In the meantime, check out the death knight gameplay preview to get a better idea of the skills and powers wielded by this formidable new class.

Glyphs and the Inscription Profession

Players with the inscription profession can ply their trade to create scrolls and glyphs. The scrolls scribed via the inscription profession are similar to scrolls commonly found throughout Azeroth -- meaning they offer a one-time, limited-duration boost to a character's abilities.

Glyphs, on the other hand, are permanent and offer an entirely new way to customize characters. These magical runes are infused with energies that permanently augment a character's existing abilities and powers. Common examples include glyphs that decrease the amount of mana required for a specific spell, increase the damage done by a particular ability, or add a bonus buff or other effect to a skill.

There are several things you should keep in mind when dealing with glyphs:

  • A new tab has been added to the spellbook to attach glyphs and show you which glyphs are currently in use. If you want to use a glyph to augment a spell, simply navigate to this tab and use a glyph from your inventory on any available glyph slot.
  • All level-80 characters will be able to use up to six glyphs at any given time -- three minor glyphs and three major glyphs. These slots gradually become available as a character progresses through levels, so be sure to check the glyph tab regularly to see what you've unlocked.
  • Most -- but not all -- glyphs can be traded or bought and sold on the auction house. In addition, practitioners of the inscription profession can create special vellums that enchanters can use to trade and sell certain enchantments.
  • Similar to jewelcrafting gems, glyphs cannot be removed once they have been applied. They can only be overwritten and replaced by other glyphs.

For players just getting started in the inscription profession, herbalism would make an ideal supplement, as most of the components needed to create scrolls and glyphs are derived from the flora of Azeroth and Outland. For further details on inscription, be sure to check out the inscription guide on the official World of Warcraft site.

Alliance and Horde Factions

The Alliance and Horde have each mobilized their forces to fight the mounting threat of the Scourge. Although these two valiant armies share a common enemy, they still vie against each other for control of Northrend's territories and resources -- particularly around the zone of Wintergrasp, where all-out war has erupted between the longtime rivals. The heroes of Azeroth must contend not only with the Lich King, but also with one another.

Here is a list of the Alliance and Horde factions and sub-factions that have joined the front line in Northrend:

  • Alliance Vanguard – Recognizing the threat posed by Arthas' latest aggressive actions, the Alliance Vanguard represents a larger campaign dedicated to halting the Scourge in Northrend before the undead menace can spread further southward.
    • Valiance Expedition - The Valiance Expedition is the Alliance Vanguard's main military presence in Northrend. Dedicated to the destruction of the Lich King, the Valiance Expedition contains several of the Alliance's greatest heroes, including King Varian Wrynn himself.
    • Explorers' League - The Explorers' League is a predominantly dwarven faction committed to uncovering new territory, discovering ancient ruins, and compiling the history of Azeroth. The league has joined forces with the Alliance Vanguard in the hopes of recovering lost artifacts from the forgotten reaches of Northrend.
    • The Silver Covenant - This group of high elves represents the Alliance in Dalaran, the floating city hovering above Crystalsong Forest in Northrend. The Silver Covenant opposes the entry of the blood elves into the Kirin Tor, the council of elite magi that rules Dalaran.
    • The Frostborn - These frost dwarves, native to the Storm Peaks, have welcomed their southern cousins and agreed to join the Alliance Vanguard in its stand against the Lich King.

  • Horde Expedition – After the Scourge's latest attack on Orgrimmar, the Horde has organized a counteroffensive against the Lich King. The following sub-factions have joined the Horde Expedition:
    • The Warsong Offensive - Led by Garrosh Hellscream, the Horde's main military force has mobilized in Northrend to end the reign of the Lich King forever.
    • The Hand of Vengeance - Led by Sylvanas Windrunner, the Hand of Vengeance is comprised of elite Forsaken loyalists dedicated to the utter destruction of the Scourge.
    • The Sunreavers - This group of blood elves has agreed to represent the Horde in Dalaran. The Sunreavers campaign to bring their kind into the fold of the Kirin Tor.
    • The Taunka - Ancient relatives of the tauren, the taunka have aligned with the Horde Expedition in the hopes of driving the Lich King from their homeland.

Other Factions

In addition to the factions loyal to the Horde and the Alliance, many other groups both native and foreign can be found throughout Northrend.

When advancing your standing with certain outlying factions, remember to take advantage of the new championing system. Don the tabard of specific factions, such as the Wyrmrest Accord, Kirin Tor, Argent Crusade, and Knights of the Ebon Blade, and you will be able to improve your reputation with that faction by defeating a wide range of enemies in their name. Be sure to ask around to find the tabard of any faction with which you wish to gain standing.

Good Luck!

The information in this primer should serve as a solid foundation for your journey into Northrend. But be warned: Many twists and turns wait along the path to the inevitable showdown with the Lich King, and the way will be dark and treacherous.

We leave you now with these words of warning, spoken by the Lich King Arthas Menethil himself:

"Young heroes, I was once like you. You have come to this place seeking to bring judgment upon the damned. You will venture deep into forgotten lands. You will see wonders beyond imagining. But be warned. The land itself will rise up against you. Long-forgotten terrors will smother your courage. Sacrifice everything as the final darkness falls. In the end, all that awaits you is death. Only then will you understand you've been following in my footsteps all along.

"So come then, you heroes! Come in all your power and glory! For in the final hour, all must serve the one... true... king."