Three raid instances were immediately available at the release of Wrath of the Lich King. I don't want to spend a lot of time breaking down these three, since they were actually released in 2008. However, all three still see traffic even today, and each exemplifies some portion of the new raid design in 2009. So, without further ado, let's start talking about the Raids of 2009.
The Obsidian Sanctum proved to be the home of Sartharion. While there's not a lot of lore you easily encounter, the basic idea behind the fight is that Sartharion was protecting the eggs of the Black Dragonflight. That's bad. So you go to the basement of Wyrmrest Temple, and beat him down. We have to kind of gloss over the fact that Alexstrasza and dozens of other big, beefy dragons are right there and presumably perfectly capable of dealing with this issue themselves. If it weren't for little suspensions of disbelief like that, we wouldn't have much to do in the game world.
Sarth was a fairly simple raid on its normal difficulty. You go in, and you fight three little dragon bosses. This is the first of fights in Wrath which involved a "dance," though. Raiders were required to not-stand-in-stuff, click portals to enter a phased world, and otherwise react to environmental stimulus. The dances weren't difficult for most people, but they still had a learning curve for people who had never raided before. The final fight with Sarth himself was definitely a dance routine: dodge waves of lava, handle adds, and tank Sartharion. Again, not the most difficult fight out there, but certainly new content for many people.
Sartharion, however, is the home of the first Hard Mode in Wrath of the Lich King. Not only did he have a Hard Mode, but he had the first variable Hard Mode. If you wanted a bigger challenge -- and better loot -- you could decide just how hard you were going to make the fight. With each of those little drakes you left up, you got a more difficult challenge. And with that greater challenge, came greater loot.
The level of difficulty you could handle became known as Sarth-1D, Sarth-2D, and Sarth-3D. Sarth-3D was, obviously, the most difficult version. With each drake you left up, Sartharion got tougher and tougher. You raid had to spontaneously handle the big boss himself plus all those mini-bosses (and their respective dances).
Sarth-3D became a litmus test that proved or denied the abilities of different tank classes. Death Knights rose to prominence for a while, since their cooldown-based defensive abilities were perfectly suited to this scripted dance routine. By comparison, Paladins were called into question as effective tanks, since they had no real defensive cooldowns (at the time). When Sarth-3D was considered bleeding-edge content, the small cooldown differences were a big deal
Naxxramas was relatively straightforward compared to Sartharion. While Naxx didn't have any real Hard Modes, it did have more Achievements than you could shake a wand at. Almost every boss had some kind of achievement, and mastering them all became a point of pride for many raiders.
Probably the most difficult achievement was the Undying and the Immortal. These elusive achievements were obtained when no raid member died during any boss fight in a single raid ID. When you consider that Naxxramas had 15 different boss fights, that was one heck of a task when Naxxramas was contemporary content. Both versions of the title were rewarded with a special mount, and that mount became a mark of prestige on server communities.
When Ulduar was released, and better-than-contemporary gear hit the streets, the special mounts were stripped from the achievements. However, the character titles were left in place, as a goal for new raiders. When you consider something like server lag can rob you of the title, I think that's pretty reasonable. Even a tank with 60k health or more could die to a bad lag spike nowadays.
Eye of Eternity
Few raids can produce as much frustration as Eye of Eternity. With only a single boss, Eye of Eternity can still feel like three entirely different fights. You start off fighting Malygos, then his henchmen, then you hope onto vehicles to fight Malygos again.
Eye of Eternity was the first raid to use Wrath's new vehicle technology. Players had a taste of dragon-riding and vehicle-piloting through the Occulus (which everyone hates), Wintergrasp, and about a dozen different quests. But when you hit the third phase of Malygos, your piloting skills were truly put to the test.
The problems with Malygos's vehicle phase felt numerous. Raiders' efforts to improve their gear were relatively meaningless to the third phase, since the dragons you rode weren't originally affected by your item level. The phase felt buggy and random, and can be very confusing to raiders to this day.
But the third phase of Malygos did something brand new in WoW raiding. The fight literally introduced players to a third-dimension. You no longer simply moved your character forward, backward, left, and right. You now had to contend with "up" and "down."
With this brand new third dimension being a real factor in the fight, it's no wonder many players struggle with Malygos. Iterative changes to the encounter have made it much more palatable, but it can still be a tough experience. Most raids with which I'm familiar categorize it as a "when we have to" raid, as opposed to something they farm for fun.
In the next edition of Ready Check, we'll start looking at the actual raids released during 2009. These were all direct outgrowths of the philosophy and initial raids of Wrath.
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