Today is the day World of Warcraft players have been waiting for since...well, since patch 3.2 launched in August. But more importantly, it's the beginning of a moment Warcraft fans have yearned for since first witnessing the rise of the evil Prince Arthas in Warcraft III. With today's launch of patch 3.3 for World of Warcraft, titled "The Fall of the Lich King," Blizzard finally wraps up all of the major content for their second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. And it's all leading to a major showdown with Arthas in his sanctuary of Icecrown Citadel, which is now home to three new five-man dungeons and one huge new ten- or twenty-five-man raid.

I had a chance to talk with Blizzard lead world designer Alex Afrasiabi about the patch, the build-up to this huge fight, and what's coming next for World of Warcraft. Read the full interview below.

Game Informer: Patch 3.3 is arguably the biggest patch you’ve done for Wrath of the Lich King, if not for the game as a whole. You’re adding three new five-man dungeons and the new ten- or twenty-five-man raid. Did you guys set out to make patch 3.3 this huge to lend it an epic feel since it’s the last major patch for the game before the next expansion? Or is that something that just happened as you were designing it?

Alex Afrasiabi: It was definitely intentional. With all the big fanfare around the expansion itself -- I mean, it’s called Wrath of the Lich King -- we wanted to make sure that the 3.3 patch lived up to the name of the expansion. It was definitely one of those things we set out to do. We wanted to go out huge.

GI: Was it planned that way right from the beginning of when you started plotting out patches for the expansion or was it a more recent decision as you started nearing patch 3.3?

AA: We don’t set everything out in stone as we start an expansion. Things change, playstyles change, and we have to be in tune with everything. But the final patch is certainly something that we planned on going big with.

GI: A couple weeks ago you announced that the final raid is going to be released section by section over the course of a month or two instead of all at once. That’s similar to how the bosses were released for the Trial of the Crusader raid in patch 3.2. Why did you come to this decision? And what’s your response to the critics saying that it’s just a way of stretching out the content to keep people playing until Cataclysm comes out?

AA: We feel really good about the content. We feel like the content we’re releasing with in patch 3.3 will definitely give the players goals and things to work on. One of the things we noticed about gated content is that it almost feels like a mini-patch as we release the content. Think about world events and things that you can prepare for every month. It tends to give you something to look forward to, and I think gated content definitely works in that regard.

GI: I know it’s looking a bit ahead since there won’t be another major content patch for the game until after Cataclysm is released, but now that you’ve done it twice in a row, do you expect future raid patches to follow the gated content pattern?

AA: We can’t really commit to anything. It’s entirely possible. We haven’t hammered out everything for Cataclysm raid progression. It’s definitely a possibility. We’ll take what we learn from Icecrown and obviously apply toward the game going forward, but that’s several months of learning left to be done.

GI: Whether people are interested in raiding or not, I think one thing everyone’s excited about in patch 3.3 is the big finale to the Lich King storyline, where players finally get to fight Arthas, which most of us have been wanting to do since Warcraft III. I talked about this a little bit with Jeff Kaplan a couple weeks ago, but I’d be curious for your thoughts as well. I think it’s really unique for an MMO to have a villain and a narrative that players are actually invested in. How has that affected the build-up to patch 3.3 and the execution of that final battle with Arthas?

AA: When we started Lich King, one of the big goals was to make a much more cohesive story than Burning Crusade. Burning Crusade was cool, and it was definitely a step up from vanilla World of Warcraft, but if you recall, there really wasn’t much about Illidan. Each zone was it’s own self-contained zone. There were hints here and there, but we really didn’t play the story or narrative up at all.

Going into Lich King, straight out of the gate, we decided it was going to be three acts, and we knew how it was all going to play out. We had it all basically planned out from day one. It’s playing out the plan. When 3.3 hits and once the Lich King is unlocked, players will have -- I’ll go on record as saying -- probably one of the most epic battles they’ve ever taken part in. I don’t think they’ll be expecting what they’re going to get for this fight. I think it will be something that they’ve never seen the likes of. The finale will be amazing.

GI: Like I said, fighting Arthas is something that Blizzard fans have been waiting for and building up the excitement for since Warcraft III. That’s a long time. Have you guys felt any additional pressure beyond what you would from a regular content patch because you want to fulfill players’ expectations?

AA: I wouldn’t say we felt pressure. We really had our eye on getting this thing out the door and making sure it would meet and then shatter the expectations that players have. Bold words, I know, but I’m really proud of what everyone’s done. I think this thing will be amazing.