As we prepare for Mists of Pandaria, it's beneficial to look back and capture the good memories of raids past. After some hard thinking, I've compiled a list of the five Cataclysm raid encounters that were, in my opinion, the best and most memorable of the expansion. While it's difficult to get the same experience today, due to gear scaling and difficulty nerfs, these encounters represent examples of things that Blizzard got right and we'd like to see more of.
5. Halfus Wyrmbreaker, Bastion of Twilight
OK, so the trash clear wasn't the most entertaining experience ever, but this opening boss in Bastion of Twilight hit all the right notes. His companions rotated on a weekly basis, forcing your raid to adapt just a little bit every time, but not so much to significantly alter the encounter. The intense healing requirement at the beginning of the fight provided a good challenge for healers, the add swaps kept the tanks busy, and the enrage timer was well-tuned for DPS.
Most importantly, though, all of that stuff happened at an unusual time in the fight -- the beginning. Most typical raid encounters increase in difficulty late in the fight, leading to a tedious learning process where bored raiders sleepwalk through the learned early minutes before reaching a point where they can challenge themselves and learn. Not this encounter; the majority of the time, you were heading for a win or a wipe within the first minute.
"Do a barrel roll!" I admit it: I was a big Starfox fan growing up, and the nods this encounter throws that way are unmistakable. It isn't all about Lylat references, though, as this fight has some great individual elements as well. The tornado phase challenges each member of the raid to be spatially aware in order to dodge the winds. The tanks get to play DPS for a time due to the huge damage buff they get.
And then there's the flying. Are you a fire mage? Do you like dodging clouds, weaving through burning rings of flame, and accumulating huge gobs of haste and crit? This is definitely your time to shine. As long as you're not named Icarus.
"My raid leader said my sound was too high ... I don't get it, I turned off my speakers and everything!" Terrible jokes aside, this fight was an excellent showcase for some of the new tech Blizzard developed for the expansion. This encounter revolved around sound as a mechanic, and instead of tracking it via a debuff, the mechanic actually became part of the UI and was displayed front and center.
This made the connection unmistakable. Boss abilities could have little effect on player health and yet still be deadly. Combine this with an amazing model, a chaotic air phase dodge-and-kite sequence, and some reasonably interesting trash, and this fight became excellent.
This is probably the least-killed boss in Cataclysm (due to the requirement to clear Cho'gall on heroic first), and it's a shame. Sinestra is one of the key lore figures in the Black Dragonflight and a good example of encounter challenge done the right way.
Unlike other heroic encounters that simply throw large numbers or unavoidable RNG at you, this fight demanded personal responsibility. Those Twilight Slicers were coming, and there was no nice debuff/DBM warning to show that they were on you. You had to pay attention and kite it, or get out of the way if you weren't targeted. Healers, meanwhile, got the "fun" of managing Wrack. Dispel too soon, and it spreads too fast to heal up; dispel too late, and your victim's dead. Oh, don't forget the reviving adds, the adds who apparently have a PvP trinket, and the hyper-haste buff. Put all that together, and you've got a great combo.
Not since the Lich King has an encounter captured the feeling of epic like the final showdown with Ragnaros. This lengthy endurance battle tested every aspect of your raid: numbers, awareness, teamwork, and patience. Unlike simpler encounters with one or two phases, this one had five -- six, if you were one of the dedicated few tackling him on heroic, which several people described as being "the hardest encounter in the game to date."
The only problem with the fight was its own creation -- it was too epic. Each new phase required significant learning, which means learning all prior phases perfectly. By the end, each pull required 10 minutes of good execution to even reach the final burn phase; combined with a difficulty level that was overturned, this put players off the encounter. The Firelands nerfs, however, made this encounter much more accessible. Be sure to give this a look before you head off to misty lands.
Beth'tilac, Firelands This fight had all the right elements: split teams working together to accomplish a goal, action in waves, and an excellent final DPS burn. Buggy bugs and general tuning problems just pushed it out of the top five.
Yor'sahj, Dragon Soul The colored-ooze combo mechanic was "good RNG," randomness that could be planned for. Unfortunately, artificial limitations on the combinations made dealing with the situations fairly mechanical.
What do you think? What were your favorite bosses this expansion? Sound off in the comments!