I know what you're thinking: What's the Raid Finder got to do with Warcraft lore, of all things? I hadn't really given it much thought, either. Generally speaking, Warcraft lore is a wholly separate animal from game mechanics. After all, the endless carrying of flags in Warsong Gulch doesn't exactly tell a compelling story, and returning to the same dungeon repeatedly to kill the same bosses over and over doesn't really make sense from a lore perspective, either.
When the Raid Finder was introduced, there were plenty of people curious about how it would turn out and far more who were excited about the possibilities of the feature. Along with cross-realm raiding, the Raid Finder has entirely changed the face of raiding as we know it. Much like the downsize from 40-man to 25-man with the release of The Burning Crusade expansion, the Raid Finder revolutionized raiding and changed it into something that far more easily accessible for players who don't necessarily have the time to dedicate to regular raiding.
This isn't to say that the Raid Finder is a magical solution to everything, however.
Bloggers write about rude behavior in the Raid Finder all the time. Players who deliberately wipe raid groups, players who roll on gear they don't need, players who berate those new to raiding and kick without warning, players who queue as one spec and do the raid as another -- these are all common complaints about the Raid Finder system. The problem with the Raid Finder is that there's a trade-off to the convenience of having a much larger pool of people to pull from for groups. That much larger pool of people also includes a much larger group of people out to ruin everyone's good time.
However, having the convenience of the Dungeon Finder applied to something like raiding outweighs these inconveniences for most involved. Players who have never raided in their gaming career now get to experience endgame content, and that's something that's never happened before. It's also something that leads directly into how the Raid Finder folds into the presentation of in-game lore.
A recent post on Reddit got me thinking about this. The post simply asked people to state who they thought was the most epic raid boss in WoW. My mind immediately went to Illidan, who was one of the best fights in The Burning Crusade. Keep in mind I never experienced Kil'jaeden at the appropriate level. Why did I like Illidan so much? Part of it was the fight itself, which had so many phases and so many different requirements that it was a challenge to complete and thus was really rewarding when we finally defeated him.
And the other, larger part of it was that we were fighting Illidan Stormrage. Illidan's one of those big lore characters that I always loved, and the chance to interact with him in game was fantastic. But beyond the fact that I was interacting with and beating the stuffing out of Illidan Stormrage was the fact that we really knew very little about Illidan in The Burning Crusade. He wasn't a huge presence anywhere in the expansion. Nobody really knew what he was doing in the Black Temple. Nobody knew what to expect out of the place. It was a mysterious element that I loved.
As I thought about this, I realized it was an odd thought to say the very least. One of the larger complaints in The Burning Crusade expansion was that despite Illidan's placement on the box of the game and in the trailer, most people simply didn't get to see him. The only place you could see him was in Black Temple. And if you didn't raid, the only glimpse you got of Illidan was a small cameo in a quest chain out in Shadowmoon Valley. Because of this, a lot of people were understandably disappointed.
In Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard took the tactic of placing the Lich King out in very visible areas all along the leveling process. The intent was that you got a real sense of threat from the Lich King, even if you weren't a raider and you weren't fighting the Lich King in Icecrown Citadel. As I mentioned in my Wrath retrospective piece, this ended up falling short -- not because you didn't get enough of the Lich King, but because you got too much. He popped up everywhere, and by the time raiders got to Icecrown Citadel, they were almost Lich King'd out, so to speak.
In addition to having the Lich King pop up everywhere, Blizzard also added a feature so that everyone on the realm could see the end cinematic for the Lich King's death once he had been killed. That way, people could see what exactly happened up on Icecrown Citadel. Unfortunately, this didn't really have the impact that I'm sure was desired -- yes, players got to see the death of the Lich King and who took his place on the Frozen Throne. However, without experiencing the fight in its entirety, the cinematic fell a little flat. It didn't have the same impact as actually fighting the boss and completing the encounter.
In Cataclysm, Deathwing made his presence known by randomly flying over zones and leaving a trail of flames and destruction in his wake. He was present, but he wasn't popping up and interacting with players all over the place. That worked to a degree, but Deathwing really didn't feel like much of a threat to most. And when it was time to confront Deathwing and put an end to his madness once and for all, we got the Raid Finder feature.
Here's the good thing about the Raid Finder: Pretty much anyone who wants to experience that last raid of the expansion and see what all the fuss is about and kill Deathwing themselves can actually do so now. Here's the bad thing about the Raid Finder: Players who did not raid prior to the implementation of the Raid Finder have no idea what came before. They didn't experience the raid content; they don't really know what the story is. All they know is that they are in Wyrmrest Temple for some reason, fighting bosses and doing things that don't seem to make a ton of sense.
The problem with the Raid Finder in Cataclysm isn't that it exists -- it's that it didn't exist soon enough. Had players been able to do the earlier tiers with the Raid Finder, Dragon Soul would have made, if not perfect sense, a lot more sense than it does to those who aren't familiar with the material. But this is going to be addressed in Mists of Pandaria, because the Raid Finder will be out there from the first raid onward. That's great, right?
Here's what's greater: With the Raid Finder, anyone who wants to can experience raid content. They can experience the big, bad bosses. If we had the Raid Finder in The Burning Crusade, Illidan's exposure wouldn't have been an issue. That mysterious element of "I don't know what's going on in that big Temple over there, but it's probably bad and I'd like to see what Illidan's up to" would have been experienced by a giant chunk of the population instead of the small percentage who were raiding.
With the Raid Finder, Blizzard no longer needs to worry about villain exposure anymore. It doesn't have to watch and make sure the big bad guy on the box is seen throughout the world. It can even, if the devs want, keep that big bad guy a secret and play with that element of mystery -- because when the time comes to take that big bad guy down, anyone can hop in and do it. Anyone can experience it.
Ultimately, this means that the folks telling the story don't have to worry so much about showing us that story anymore. The tools are in place in such a way that there's no need to worry about content that people can't see. Everyone can see everything, so the focus can be turned instead to telling that story, to creating great raid encounters full of the story that we love to see -- encounters like Illidan, mysterious and silent at the peak of the Black Temple. I'm really excited to see what this will mean for story development in Mists. It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!