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WoW Archivist: The changing raid design of Naxxramas, page 2


Instructor Razuvious

Similar to the issues with the Anub'Rekan fight, Instructor Razuvious suffered from the "bring player abilities" to the fight rather than having all of the tools necessary already available in the encounter itself. The 10- and 25-man dynamic differed greatly here, considering the 25-man version of the fight stuck to the old ways whereas the 10-man version had to change dramatically to make the fight possible for only 10 players.

In the original 40-man raid, Instructor Razuvious was accompanied by four death knight Understudy adds who could be Mind Controlled by a priest in order to turn the tables on the Instructor and tank his untankable damage with innate abilities. Student becomes the master, etc., etc. You had to off-tank two of the adds and have your priests Mind Control two for the purposes of taunt and tank rotations on Razuvious, and then keep the Understudy adds off of their respective Mind Controllers because they would gain a debuff that would prevent reapplying Mind Control for 45 seconds. Taunts could break, adds could die, and a million other things could go wrong. Did you priest have enough hit rating to even keep the Mind Control going for as long as needed until the add-tank swap? It was a daunting task for many raid groups, especially since the fight assumed that you had priests with enough +hit gear to make the encounter viable. Most did, usually.

For the 25-man version of the fight, Blizzard still assumed you had two priests ready and willing to do the job, and the fight remained fairly similar to its original version. Priests would Mind Control the adds, Razuvious would be tanked and people would run around to keep his abilities out of line of sight. For 10-man, however, there was no way Blizzard could expect raiding groups to have two priests readily available for the fight each week -- it just wasn't fair or good design to require two priests when there were only 10 spots available. Instead of using player abilities to Mind Control the adds, raid members used control orbs at the base on the ramp to control the adds and swap tanking. There were only two adds, so you did not have to worry about off-tanking anything.

Instead of the player bringing the abilities to the raid fight, Blizzard provided players with the means to get the job done, making for a more compelling fight. I am still of the opinion that the Razuvious encounter should have been done the same way for 25-man that it was for 10-man, freeing up even more diversity in raid/class makeup.

Blizzard began to realize that raid design was faltering because of the makeup issue. With the impending heroic boss modes coming, as well as the choose-your-difficulty fights like Sartharion already part of the expansion, issues with class balance in raids were already bubbling to the top of people's complaint lists. Sadly, class makeup for the harder fights, especially in 10-man, would continue to plague the raid game for a long while after even Naxxramas' redo tried to stem some of that concern months and years before its time.

The Four Horsemen
The Four Horsemen

The Four Horsemen encounter was, hands down, the most controversial of the original Naxxramas encounters. It was the ultimate council fight, with four unique bosses that needed an intricate tanking and taunt rotation to deal with their many range-based stacking abilities. The Four Horsemen was also the guild-killer encounter of the raiding tier, where most guilds that even got into Naxxramas and made it this far fell apart due to the harsh and demanding nature of the raid makeup.

Originally, the fight required the use of two tanks per horseman, totaling eight tanks all equipped with enough gear to survive the many devastating abilities that the Horsemen would deal out. Eight fully geared tanks. Sure, raid sizes were larger at the time, but the average raiding guild at the time of the encounter had maybe three tanks totally decked out with two more in the wings for backup purposes. Eight tanks. Some tanks didn't even get to see the other fights in Naxxramas and were only swapped in for the Four Horsemen. It was a punishing fight that made no sense when applied to the accessible raiding paradigms of the next expansions.

The Four Horsemen encounter had a flavor unlike any other encounter in Naxxramas. It was one of those encounters that could be hectic and crazy if something went wrong but utterly fun and engaging the whole time. To keep the spirit of the encounter and the frantic nature of the swaps, Blizzard retuned the entire mechanic to require only two tanks on both 10- and 25-man versions of the encounter but making two of the ranged Horsemen tankable with ranged classes. As long as someone was in range of both Sir Zeliek and Lady Blaumeux, their abilities would be used in the same fashion. The encounter was greatly simplified and the number of tanks needed was reduced to a manageable state.

A great lesson was learned with the original Four Horsemen encounter, and an even greater lesson put into action with the revamped encounter: Tanks do not necessarily have to be tanks. Tanking dynamics change constantly, from the most recent threat buffs to the number of tanks any raid needs to be successful. Four Horsemen showed that an encounter that relied on four mobs needing tanks could be done with non-tanks for the 10-man crowd. Back in The Burning Crusade, this phenomenon was already working for the High King Maulgar encounter in Gruul's Lair, where a mage or warlock was range-tanking on the ogre council encounter long before Wrath. But the Four Horsemen was the encounter that solidified intense mechanics with a tanking twist, something we have not seen much of in the present or the near past. Where did this lesson go, especially considering the lack of tanks in Dungeon Finder queues and the potential impending lack of tanks in the Raid Finder queue?

Naxxramas represented a high point in terms of raid design from the old days and a low point in terms of what would become of the philosophy that the original WoW's raid game was built on. The average MMO player was evolving into a customer who wanted and appreciated more endgame content that was usually just reserved for the elite and the top percenters. Raiding was no longer one aspect of the endgame, but the endgame itself. Punishing fight mechanics were reworked into compelling content that could be defeated by a wider spectrum of player groups. Player skills were less about the precise abilities brought to any given encounter and more focused on the player's role. Raiding evolved in an unimaginable way the moment players could not pass the Four Horsemen and the change to 25-man raids took place. The impossible raid became the difficult raid. The average MMO player got one step closer to the true endgame.

The WoW Archivist examines the WoW of old. Follow along while we discuss beta patch 0.8, beta patch 0.9, and hidden locations such as the crypts of Karazhan.

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