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Northrend uncovered

Your guide to World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King's frozen continent

Make space in your social life, because World of Warcraft's second expansion is almost here. We've already been playing it for a solid month, exploring the nooks and crannies of Azeroth's new continent, Northrend. Now it's time for you to find what awaits adventurers fresh off the boat. Over the coming pages you'll discover the zones, quests and improvements that make Wrath of the Lich King essential. Are you prepared?

Meet the Death Knight

The really funny thing about the Death Knight is when you start experimenting with your selection of starting powers. This isn't like WoW's typical class development, where you're gradually introduced to mediocre skills. With the Death Knight, you begin with the ability to warp a character to you, dragging them over like Scorpion's "GET OVER HERE" attack from Mortal Kombat. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The Death Knight is the first new class to be added to World of Warcraft, a kind of unholy Paladin. He uses a mix of melee combat and necromancy, wielding double handed swords and bidding hordes of zombies to do his bidding.

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To create one, you'll need to have reached level 55 on any server. From that point on, you'll be able to create a new Death Knight on any realm you like. The good news is that by the end of the Death Knight introduction quests, you'll have gone from level 55 to 58: it's a neat way of quickly joining friends on other servers. They play in a similar way to Warriors: you unlock more powerful attacks by engaging in combat - what looks like a Rage bar in fact holds your Runic Energy. But it's complicated by the limitation of runes etched onto your main weapon. You have six: two unholy, two blood and two frost. Each attack costs a certain number of runes as well as Runic Energy - preventing you from repeatedly spamming your most powerful attacks.

And they're hilarious. When played well, they can zip through similar level monsters, pinning them in place, stacking them with diseases, and dragging any fleeing stragglers back into combat. In dungeon groups, they lead the charge, acting as the main or secondary tank, distracting boss-monsters with flamboyant magic while the standard classes deal damage and heal. In PvP, Death Knights hang at the front of groups, darting in to pull squishy cloth-wearers into the fray where they can be hit upon by the rest of their friends. So beware. You might think you can live without starting a Death Knight. You may also think that your current Priest/Warrior/Mage will do you just fine. You'll be wrong. Be ready to experience class envy.

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Your guide to the Death Knight's starting area

Death Knights have their own starting zone, where Horde and Alliance players alike can get a peaceful(ish) start. The story begins in a floating Necropolis, about to launch Arthas's invasion of Azeroth and Kalimdor. He's picked a small town on the tip of the Eastern Plaguelands to begin with: Tyr's Hand. The initial attack takes the Alliance by surprise. But preparations are quickly put in place for a counter-assault. The Tyr's Hand zone is an interesting experiment for WoW - it features technology that enables the look and feel of the zone to change dependent on the story quests you've completed. NPCs and quest-givers change location, giving a real sense of progress, and the feel of an ongoing battle. Even if you're not going to continue with the character, it's worth playing the zone just to see the tech in action.

1) Sky tower: Newbie Death Knights start in Ebon Hold, a giant Necropolis floating above Archerus, right in front of the Lich King, Arthas. He'll demand you prove yourself in combat against failed Death Knight initiates, and teach you the art of runeforging, before sending you on a very special scouting mission.

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