At the time, I was fairly derisive of Halion. What was the point of another small raid when we already had ICC? I remember doing heroic Halion attempts in July and feeling like the whole thing was a complete waste of time and a sidetrack from ICC. But now that we've had the same experience in Cataclysm of a long time in our end raid, and this time no intermediate raiding to tide us over until Mists of Pandaria, I'm rethinking my position.
Halion served two purposes. First, he introduced us to new mechanics we'd bee seeing again in Cataclysm. Both Valiona and Theralion and later Ultraxion used elements of the Halion encounter's mechanics. But second and more importantly, he served as a bridge between the ICC fights, with their Scourge, undeath and plague motifs and the coming expansion's introduction of Deathwing and his Twilight's Hammer cult minions. A third but related purpose was to give us something to do that wasn't ICC after six months in the place.
So now I wonder: Did Mists of Pandaria need an intermediate raid? Was it a missed opportunity that we didn't get one? And would it have made sense if we had?
The biggest problem with a Halion-style raid for Mists would have been what it should be. While Mists is similar to Wrath in that we're going to a new continent, this time that new continent isn't ruled by a Lich King-style adversary who would credibly make attacks on both Stormwind and Orgrimmar. Since our travel to Pandaria is motivated by the expanding war between the Alliance and the Horde, any intermediate raid would have had to be rooted in that conflict.
We're going to see something along those lines in the Theramore event during the pre-expansion event, so possibilities for a raid would have included a Siege of Theramore where Horde players help force their way through the Alliance lines while Alliance players work to evacuate the city. But since the event itself will include that content as well, it's understandable that we're not seeing it twice. The first difficulty with an intermediate raid for Mists is that there's no suitable thematic preview of Pandaria. Villains like the mogu and mantid are so part and parcel of the setting that having them pop up on Kalimdor or the Eastern Kingdoms for a small raid encounter makes no sense.
Another possibility for the intermediate raid could have been a battleground-style experience highlighting the increasing conflict between the Alliance and Horde. Take an old BG like Alterac Valley, put in some refurbished bosses based off of the classic NPCs, including the summoned Ivus The Forest Lord or Lokholar the Ice Lord, and give players the feeling of being an elite unit of the Horde or Alliance settling the score once and for all. The problem here is, while it does the job of ramping up the conflict, it would not only be revisited content, but it doesn't bring much to the table for Pandaria.
For an intermediate raid, you want to accomplish the two purposes outlined before. You want to give players a diversion from their usual raiding (Dragon Soul), but you don't want to dethrone it as master of its house, so to speak, the way Sunwell Plateau did to Illidan. And you want to give people a taste of what's coming.
The first purpose could have been achieved fairly easily with all sorts of raids, but the second purpose is extremely difficult considering what Mists of Pandaria is. Sunwell doesn't count as an intermediate raid for a few reasons. It did replace Black Temple as the final raid of The Burning Crusade, thereby dethroning Illidan from his starring role in the expansion. It did become the raid everyone was running instead of BT so it didn't serve as a diversion. And it didn't preview Wrath of the Lich King at all. Some people believe Sunwell was intended as a raid similar in role to Ulduar, a raid that wouldn't have been entirely connected to the main event, but the way it was implemented it became the main event.
It wouldn't be hard to avoid that first trouble, but doing an intermediate raid for an expansion so heavily rooted in its setting is very difficult without going to said setting or having said setting come to us. Now, one possibility that comes to mind is the wreck of the Skyseeker. A really unique raid could have been constructed around the idea that the players are either the crew of the Skyseeker or its captives seeking to escape. The Alliance version is all about trying to save the ship and capture the ringleaders of the Horde prisoners, while the Horde version is about escaping and sabotaging the ship. Force the players to escape in an airboat and be picked up by their respective fleets, and each fleet's commander then orders that their colleagues be found, which helps to avoid seeing Pandaria itself until the expansion but gives you a purpose in looking that way.
In the end, it's probably the case that an intermediate raid of this type isn't really necessary. We'll get the Theramore event as lead up, and while we'll have been in Dragon Soul for about 10 months when Mists launches it's a shorter raid than ICC was. But I do think for future releases the concept of the intermediate raid should be revised and used. It's a very nice way to get people used to what's coming.
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!