Bridging the old world and the real world
I loved the way it connected to the old world. Before the heady days of summoning stones, you got to Karazhan by hopping through a portal, flying to nearby Stonard or Darkshire, and riding your horse through Deadwind Pass. While this is hardly a huge escapade through the entire old world, it still helped keep Burning Crusade raiding firmly rooted in Azeroth. Northrend feels like another planet compared to that "back to the real world" feel of Kara.
And speaking of real worlds, that's the second thing I loved about Karazhan. It was clearly a fantastic, magical castle ... but it was still a castle. It was obviously a castle, and you felt like you were going through someone's home -- sure, someone rich enough to have a castle to put the Clue manor to shame, but it was still set up like someplace we could identify with. You entered through the front door, had to deal with the horses, and then you went up to the dining room. These were all real places and something that made sense to players.
A good friend of mine says at the beginning of every single raid, "I miss the harpsichord." While Blizzard is well known for its incredible music, the old-world feel of Karazhan's soundtrack was especially good. It always reminded me of movies like Dracula and Frankenstein. This made Karazhan feel like its own movie to me. It didn't feel like I was just trying to get loot to drop. I was in there to explore the old monster castle up on the hill and fight down the evil inside.
That's why I loved the cursed peasants outside the place. They were the beleaguered, suffering people that I (the hero) was there to defend. The trash mobs inside? I knew them all. It didn't matter if it was just a Wanton Hostess, a Spectral Chef or even a Spectral Retainer. Karazhan was filled with the kind of monster-movie archetypes that permeate every gamer's deepest soul. The place was more than just accessible to our imaginations. Karazhan's cast was built from the fundamental ephemera that makes us pick up a computer, dice or even just a good book and go play in the realm of our imagination.
The bosses were all just as iconic to me. Attumen soon became an old friend. His fight was simple and relatively straightforward; it was a great way to introduce brand new raiders to the idea of "this boss has a trick." Midnight is probably still one of the most sought-after mounts in the game, with those fantastic good looks and incredibly rare drop rate. Moroes was the first coordinated pull for hundreds of raiders, when you had to keep his dinner guests carefully controlled. And so on.
But isn't that really the thing that's important about a raid? Memorable bosses? Karazhan had those in spades. I remember every single boss in Karazhan fondly and in crystal-clear detail. None of those fights was as complicated as, say, Arthas -- but that means that every Karazhan boss gimmick stands out in my mind in crisp, clear detail. Those boss fights didn't just have a bunch of gimmicks; those fights were those gimmicks.
However, I maintain that there has never been an encounter so completely awesome as the Opera event. If you haven't had the chance to do it, you should go back and do so. Every week, you got the opportunity to throw down against characters from the Wizard of Oz, Romeo and Juliet or the Big Bad Wolf. Hell, Big Bad Wolf's sound bite is so awesome that Deadly Boss Mods still uses it: "Run away, little girl!"
Details and thorough design
Karazhan was a little long, I'll grant. Even moving at a full run, it can take a few hours to get through the place. But every one of those minutes spent fighting mobs and bosses was memorable. Karazhan had some of the most memorable raid details ever created. Recall the skeletal gryphons circling the tower of Prince Malchezaar, or the largely superfluous spectral kitchen near the dining area.
And to this day, Karazhan had one of the best developer gifts in any raid. The animal bosses gave raids something to do while waiting for "that guy who is late to raid." You could go kill time in the animal room to get a little rep and maybe a shardable piece of gear. It didn't really help you clear the instance, but it killed some time.
I don't know. Maybe I have some rose-colored glasses on today. But I loved Karazhan. And as cool as Marrowgar is, he just doesn't measure up to the Curator. (The Menagerie is for guests only.)
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