16 Jan 2012

The Best Raids: Past, Present Or Future?

Last week a subject cropped up in one of the article discussions: is Warcraft raiding getting steadily better all the time, or has it reached a peak and is in decline. Answering this by itself can go either way – more people than ever are able to experience tier 13 due to the predicted arrival of LFR, but by contrast I’m observing more raidgroups than ever struggle with recruitment and retention.

Talk to your fellow raiders about the tiers that they’ve done and it’s likey that you’ll get some interesting answers depending on how long they’ve been playing. I did a similar straw poll on twitter recently. The top two raids were Ulduar and Karazhan by some margin, with Sunwell grabbing the third spot. Raids from Vanilla and Cataclysm barely got a mention.

I’ve asked the same question before and I constantly get the same answers. Ulduar, Karazhan and Sunwell. I’ve been trying to think why these instances are so well loved by so many raiders, and I can only think of a couple of reasons.

The first is the story. Karazhan started off with an attunement quest before you could even get into the place. It unfolded a bit of the lore, told you about the Violet Eye and introduced some of the people you’d be likely to meet. There was also the reoccurring chain to introduce Nightbane as a summonable boss.

More than that, both raids continue with the story as you get inside the instance. After using the entire Storm Peaks questline as a warm up for Ulduar, your entry feels like you’re going in there with a job to do. The first four bosses are fairly standard scene-setting loot fodder, but it’s only when you enter inside the complex and find the corrupted Watchers that you begin to realise just how bad things are. The subtle scenery changes during the Descent into Madness further help to propel the story along.

There are clear comparisons between what Blizzard’s done in the past with wrapping their raids in story and what we’re seeing with the Dragon Soul raid, yet the enthusiasm just doesn’t seem to be there as much. By all rights we got exactly what we asked for – varied combat mechanics, rich encounters and a leading story that’s taken the entire expansion to tell. Plus we have a range of difficulty options from LFR through to Heroic. So what gives?

Ultimately I think it’s a symptom of general Warcraft-weariness. It almost doesn’t matter if a new raid dungeon was released tomorrow that was technically, conceptually and artistically better than anything that had gone before, as I doubt if our hearts would really let us move on from the heady days of The Burning Crusade and Wrath. Nostalgia is like that.

It’s one of the reasons I’m quietly optimistic about Mists of Pandaria. What Warcraft needs right now is a good kick up the arse – for both the franchise and the playerbase. Blizzard needs to prove to us that eight years on it’s still relevant and innovative and fresh as it was when we were killing bears in Dun Morogh all those years ago. Likewise as players we need to be willing to move on from our rose tinted memories and look at the game in a new light.

It’s why I think almost any game is going to get a chance against Warcraft at the moment. Not because they’re any better or worse, but because they don’t have to compete against the memories players have of their own game’s history. And it’s why I think we’re going to see more radical changes as we come closer to the beta for Mists of Pandaria, as Blizzard tries to break with history without alienating players.

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7 Responses to The Best Raids: Past, Present Or Future?

  1. Azuriel says:

    The conclusion I came to regarding why Ulduar, Kara, etc, were so good?

    Because they very clearly were lovingly crafted experiences.

    The Kara attunement bit was crap, to be honest. But once you were inside, the place felt like an actual magical mansion. Attumen was in a stable filled with other spectral horses. There was a ballroom with undead mobs dancing. There were butlers, people sitting at tables, users, ghostly audience members watching you take part in an Opera. The higher you traveled in Kara, the more esoteric and obviously evil the encounters became. Demons, dragons, constructs. Kara felt like an actual place in the world, a World of Warcraft zone in miniature.

    Same deal with Ulduar. At all times you got a sense of scale with the place, that this could actually be a Titan-made prison for an Old God. The raid trash was a lot less refined than in Kara (more generic mobs), but who can forget the train ride over to Mimiron’s section, or the big, red DO NOT PUSH button? It’s sometimes easy to forget how much those seemingly irrelevant touches create a coherent, cohesive raiding experience, but they matter. They truly do. I still remember leaning back in my chair and absorbing the vibrant beauty that was Freya’s room, after having dealt with stone and steel for the past 6-7 bosses.

    Places like Naxx and ICC looked good, in those brief moments of consciousness between spacing out doing your tanking/DPS rotation. But they were otherwise hollow, devoid of meaning. Same with T11 raids (and presumably T12/13, although I quit before then).

    I don’t want “memorial” trash when that means “cheesy, throwaway mechanic that can wipe the raid.” I want trash with unique models, looking like they belong in the area and were doing things before you got there. I want raid bosses that make sense to be where they are, doing what they’re doing, within the context of the raid itself. And… maybe I just don’t care about solitary, expansion-spanning villains anymore. Yogg was foreshadowed around Northrend and was critical in the history of Warcraft, but he also wasn’t on the box. Karazhan was apropos of nothing (or at least felt that way). And that’s good! I don’t necessarily want to be fighting the same fight for 2 years. Give me a good stand-alone story any day, especially if the final boss happens to be goddamn boring.

    • Gazimoff says:

      I think you might be right about the way they were crafted. But I still can’t help but wonder what would happen if the same quality of instance was produced in the next expansion. Would we welcome it with open arms or pass it off as a cynical ploy?

  2. Arazu says:

    Tier 11 was the best tier of raiding I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been raiding since 1999, it was the best tier in the past 12 years.

    Vanilla raiding was hilariously bad, BC was decent but it still wasn’t the best in the genre at the time. Wrath was pretty good but stumbled a little bit because Blizzard was experimenting with things all the time, Cata is the culmination of that and the best so far. The last three tiers (on heroic, with all the intended mechanics) have all been fantastic.

  3. Bernard says:

    In the last few expansions the rhetoric has increasingly directed itself to the cost of content. Community managers and devs in Blizzard keep mentioning how some content is prohibitively expensive – class quests, unique model mobs, detailed environments etc.
    It is this obsession with cost (or perhaps I should say how they model it) which has made the game immensely profitable but I would argue has robbed some of the soul.
    It is visible everywhere, from the rehashing of old dungeons to the less frequent updates and raids with fewer bosses. I would be surprised if a Karazahn would ‘cost in’ today. Hopefully competition from other theme park MMOs should invite Blizzard to up their mid-expansion spend.

    • Gazimoff says:

      Indeed, the cost conversation becomes tiring after a while, as it feels that budgets for set components are arranged without thought to player demand or expectation. I’m in agreement with you – I hope that competition encourages Blizzard to raise their game.

  4. Paul says:

    This reminds me of a saying from science fiction fandom, about the Golden Age of SF.
    (Answer: 14)

  5. Join my optimism for Mists of Pandaria club XD

    Good post, well put!
    Jamin (@JaminToTheTop) recently posted..Covered In Dust & NostalgiaMy Profile