Okay guys. After spending days thinking this over in the back of my mind and trying to figure out which sock drawer Blizzard stuffed the "epic" into, I've come to a conclusion: It's not about the "epic". What it is about, what's lacking, is something that's strictly based on design. Let's go back to Ragnaros and Molten Core for a moment and see if I can get this point across: the reason that Ragnaros felt "epic" was because the dungeon itself was specifically designed with 40 players in mind. The spacing of the zone, the placement of the rocks and bosses was all designed around the idea that there would be 40 players in this zone.
Moving on, Hyjal felt odd at first because I was used to that 40man model. It faded because the dungeons of Burning Crusade were designed with 25 players in mind. Hyjal, Black Temple, Serpentshrine Cavern, all of it, designed with the intent of 25 players being present in that zone, so they felt natural. On the same principle, the 10man dungeons -- Karazhan and Zul'Aman -- both felt exactly right, because they were designed with 10 players in mind. Karazhan was huge, but not once did the experience feel awkward because all boss encounters and rooms were designed around 10 people playing in there.
When you get to Wrath, Ulduar in particular -- Ulduar was designed with 25 players in mind. The boss rooms, the open spaces were all created specifically so that 25 people would feel like this space was absolutely gigantic. But when you take 10 people in that space, what was once comfortably "huge" for 25 borders on the absurd for 10 players. That's why it doesn't feel right -- because the space simply doesn't fit the people in it.
The inherent problem here isn't the loot, or the equalization of content, it's the design of that content that bothers me. While I don't really care about loot (it is nice, I can't lie, but it isn't everything), loot is something that drives a large number of raiders -- way larger than people like me, who just want to play through the thing. However, given that it is much, much easier to recruit 9 people than 24, what I am looking at is a drastic drop of people that want to do the 25man content, simply because people would rather follow the path of least resistance to get what they want -- the loot. This would be absolutely fine with me, except for one small thing -- the design.
I'd be perfectly happy running 10man raids, if those raids were designed around 10 players. Instead, they're designed around 25 players. Taking 10 people into a 25man zone feels about as comfortable to me as taking three people in to kill Ragnaros -- which is to say, not very comfortable at all. It feels in a way like I'm cheating somehow. Like there should be more people present, but there isn't, so we're doing something wrong. And it's because I look around that huge, empty room and somewhere in the back of my head realize that there should obviously be a lot more people in here than I've brought. That this space, no matter how pretty, was designed for something that I'm not doing "the right way."
This is I think why I'm one of a few -- because I do a lot of design work, so something like the space being "off" triggers some sort of odd discomfort in me that I can't quite pinpoint. I don't like the thought that something is being designed for more, then played by less -- to me that seems like an inherent flaw in the design of the zone. Hopefully this makes a little more sense to you; it made me feel much better once I realized where exactly my problem sat.
So how does this get addressed, how does it get fixed? Do we ask the designers to essentially create two raid dungeons, identical in content but differing in scale? Do we hope that they find some way to make the difference between 10 people in a room and 25 people in a room somehow less noticeable? Do they need to maybe cut the 10man/25man model, call it good at 15 raiders, and just design the dungeons with one group in mind? What do you think?