In commemoration of Blizzard for Blizzcon, I present this fun, totally unofficial, totally biased list of my Top 5 Raids (pre-Mists of Pandaria) in our beloved World of Warcraft.
Alright, so this might be surprising to some of you, but hopefully not most of you because Zul’Gurub was not only awesome, but a popularly demanded raid by the non-raider crowd. On release, Zul’Gurub helped fill the huge gap between veteran EQ raiders and the new crowd WoW created on it’s own with 20-man raids. The gear was meaningfully designed, relevant, strong, and unique. The encounters were better than most of Molten Core (OK all of MC), Blackwing Lair, and certainly AQ. Finally, it introduced gear tokens which made sure that every member of the raid received rewards for their efforts. You just earned your rep, bought gear from the Zandalari, and collected the plentiful tokens to buy higher tier pieces. ZG was the coming-of-age of raiding and an extension of Blizzards invitation to casual raiders.
The bosses really expertly hit the mark on being both challenging and reasonably difficult for the target audience (non-40 man raiders). They felt extremely satisfying to defeat. Mandokir was one of the most memorable encounters to overcome, but it’s mechanics were what made it fun and even acceptable to fail (at least the first few hours). It was a fight that had a trade-off for poor performance: you can continue the battle, but the boss will become stronger. This single mechanic was Blizzard saying “we understand our audience and we offer you this compromise.” Beautifully executed for it’s day.
Ghazranka was the pre-Lurker Below boss archetype, requiring only the best angler in your raid to lure him into a fight. Jeklik and Thekal were my favorite priest and priestess to kill.
ZG brought more set-items, more crafting, more opportunity to the massive crowd of players who just weren’t into Molten Core and/or who hated it. It’s successor, Ruins of Ahn’Qiraj didn’t do bad either, though it didn’t offer the same level of excitement as ZG. Zul’Gurub gets #5 because it responded to a significant community need, delivered in spades on the challenge, and gave guilds a valid alternative to Molten Core for those who aspired to do places like BWL and beyond.
Black Temple makes #4 for it’s urgent lore and creative boss encounters. But largely due to the lore and story because the loose ends it tied up were heavily anticipated. Players couldn’t wait to meet *the* Illidan Stormrage, couldn’t wait to learn what the Betrayer had up his sleeve this time. It’s one of the richest story-telling raids in the game because so many important figures’ fate ended there. There’s the story of Akama, a not insignificant factor in what happened to Draenor or the Draenei. Players were anticipating teaming up with Maev Shadowsong who would certainly be aiding in the recapture of Illidan. Then there’s Teron Gorefiend and the ominous quest series players take on in Shadowmoon Valley and which recovers important pieces of the history of the Orcs and the demise of the Draenei at Karabor. It’s parallels to Lord of the Rings what with the horsemen galloping around Shadowmoon (the ring wraiths) made it that much more intriguing for the average Tolkien nerd. The set-up was perfect and walking into the Temple just felt epic.
Of course, the ultimate villain of the Temple, Illidan Stormrage, is the intersection of several tales that players adore. The story of Azshara, Malfurion, Tyrandae’s romance, the defeat of Arthas …there was so much packed into the Black Temple that it’s glory isn’t really in the raid encounters, but in the stories it ended and began. Illidan will come back into the lore one way or another.
The Reliquary of Souls, Teron Gorefiend, and Illidan himself are my favorite fights in this raid.
Oh the epic, EPIC Naxxramas …in many ways this raid was and still is the pinnacle of Warcraft raiding. It symbolizes so much and held so much meaning for players that it still rings in our hearts as one of WoW’s greatest achievements. There’s no raid in the game which was as anticipated and adored by the player base as Naxxramas. It’s draw was so great that even as Burning Crusade was announced, players dreamed of hitting level 70 so they could finally raid Naxxramas. That’s saying more than a lot about it’s place in the hearts of adventurers.
Since at least half the endgame of vanilla was about roaming the Eastern Plaguelands, the lore of the area ran deep with players no matter what side you were on. The game defining quest lines of EPL were echoed through Naxxramas, were it’s lifeblood. The ravages of the countryside were matched with the horrors faced by players in the necropolis.While Kel’thuzad was the ultimate enemy of the time, Warcraft 3 fans knew just how close we were to seeing the return of Arthas. It was a nicely planned sequel later to see Death Knights, Arthas, and Naxxramas return together to finish the stories vanilla had begun.
There’s probably not been a raid to date which was as anticipated as Naxx was for vanilla. It’s difficulty was insane for the average raider and it still holds the record to this day for longest lived bosses (4 Horsemen) …and it’s not because they were broken. Naxx required group coordination and planning throughout and, like many a final raid, was unforgiving. Encounters like Heigan focused on group movement while Razuvius and Four Horsemen asked players to think outside the box. Loatheb asked players to master their patience and limited resources while Thaddius punished even the slightest mistake, demanding perfect execution. In other words, Naxx was rightfully regarded as a strong measure of raid skill in ways previous raids had not been. To raid successfully in Naxxramas spoke volumes about your guild, not least because so few could even down the trash. It’s design was praiseworthy, so much so that it merited a return in Wrath of the Lich King. Even the designers thought it tragic that so few would see the glory of the necropolis and understand why raiders loved Naxx so much.
There are no words to describe the phenomenon that is Naxxramas. It simply is one of WoW’s most beloved raids.
Karazhan will top many, if not most, players’ lists for Best Raid of Warcraft. Along with the best storytelling of any raid to date, it’s also home to some of the best encounters to date. The overall design of the dungeon was the epitome of accessible raid. Players were invited to fight bosses in almost any order unlike most raids by then. The Tower of Medivh was wide open for exploration purely to satisfy curiousity unlike any predecessors. The variety of encounters was a breath of fresh air for players as as well as pleasant surprise.
The name-dropping alone in this dungeon was enough to make even a newbie start for the gates of Karazhan: Khadgar, Medivh, Moroes, Aran, and the greatest array of RP-centric encounters the game has ever given us (The Chess Event, The Opera, Atiesh, Nightbane …all within a tower fertile for player storytelling). Couple this with what many players were doing at the end of vanilla: exploring the Towers crypts and making up legends about what’s inside fueled anticipation of the raid. Karazhan was one of the wonders of Azeroth.
Environmentally, Karazhan is second to none. Even entering Deadwhisper Gorge feels ominous. Being inside the tower, seeing the ghosts carrying out their lives lost in time, the mysterious crypts, the echoes heard throughout of the dead and the other-worldly encounter at the top (or bottom?) of the tower is enough to make the story felt before combat even begins. I always felt it was clever how Karazhan never quite answered any of it’s riddles. It remains something players speculate on with hopes that the answers will somehow show themselves in a future content patch.
Encounter complexity was again a match for the players and showed that Blizzard understood who those players were. With the introduction of new raid group mechanics, players could very easily pace themselves through the dungeon. Trash, while still plentiful, was as sparse as it could get in order to easy players into it. At any given moment players were typically no more than 5 pulls away from the next boss. When compared with the previous small raids of Ahn’Qiraj and Zul’Gurub, this was a very welcome change of pace (though I’ll admit that the deeper one went into Karazhan, the longer the trash trains became between bosses). Of course, this was also the first time that an official raid tier of gear was available in the smaller raid format. Karazhan was meant to be the start of raiding for everyone and a stepping stone into the larger 25-man format. I don’t know the official numbers on it, but my guess would be that it succeeded in getting more players to raid at the start of the expansion. It was a worthy effort and an incredible raid nontheless.
Ulduar has a very special place in my heart because as a player forged in the fires of the WoW philosophy of November 23rd, 2004, Ulduar was the epilogue to that game in a very positive way. Just as with the other raids on this list, Ulduar delivered fantastically on lore, storytelling, and encounter design — and it did so better than most. I knew the moment Algalon was revealed that Ulduar represented an end to something that had been integral to Azeroth. And I believe it was a spectacular ending to the broader legacy of the original game designers of World of Warcraft.
Razorscale really lit my fire! Kologarn struck awe in my heart by his very appearance! Thorim challenged me and Mimiron delivered the joy of heroic combat we all crave as raiders. Yogg Saron was an encounter truly worthy of an Old God (especially Alone in the Dark).
But then there was Algalon, a mysterious being of mysterious purpose. He held the key to our understanding of Azeroth and it’s design. He was the Alpha and Omega of the original game philosophy; a philosophy that departed when he did.
Ulduar is the well-crafted, long prophesied end of an era. It’s the capstone to everything that started in vanilla. Ulduar is the epilogue to World of Warcraft 1.0 just as Cataclysm represents the beginning of an entirely different game.
The original game brought us Uldaman , rumors of Uldum, and promises of Ulduar. It started the story of the Titans and got players engaged in discovering who they were, what they intended for Azeroth and what they’re up to right now.
Algalon came in time to judge the world and that judgement included whether heroes had done enough and whether we could do much more to save it. The Azeroth that we’d known up until then was an ever changing place. It wasn’t just full of villains who needed to be brought to justice, but it was a place of evolving raiders, questers, of new kinds of players joining the fray with different expectations and definitions of what it meant to be a hero or to exist in an MMO. Defeating Algalon was an event which sealed the fate of Azeroth, which heralded a paradigm shift for the game. It placed Azeroth’s fate in the hands of young heroes like us and in doing so opened the way for dramatically different stories, for a new kind of hero …a new kind of player and a new kind of game. It opened the way for Cataclysm. It opened the way for a whole new kind of World of Warcraft. And that’s exactly what we got at the end of Ulduar. An end to a glorious chapter of WoW’s life. A new beginning, a new era for the game where the gameplay philosophy diverges into a completely new direction.
Ulduar gets #1 because it’s story finished what was started in vanilla and because the encounters were fun, dramatic, and rewarding. Algalon was the true final boss of the expansion for me and his coming was symbolic of what was to happen next for Azeroth. Change is very good and the timing of that change seems to have been perfect for the game. A very worthy ending and beginning.
So those are my top 5 World of Warcraft raids, but I know this list might be dramatically different if I asked one of you to make it. What are your top 5 and why?