Trial of the Crusader was, for all intents and purposes, an experiment. The world part of raiding, from suppressor rooms to the Twin Emperors and beyond, has always been the stifling mechanic of trash. "The real meat of the dungeon's content should be the boss fights," the masses cried! And for the most part, they are right. Trash serves many purposes, from creating artificial time sinks and flavor, to teaching players mechanics that they would then need to hone, skill wise, against a boss. Trial of the Crusader paved a very different path, succeeding in many areas, but ultimately failing in many others. ToC was uneven at best, soul-destroying at worst.
Let's look back!
ToC, my bane
Thus, the grand experiment began. It must have looked awesome on the white board in the Blizzard design room. The premise was simple: a tournament designed to test the mettle of brave warriors from both the alliance and the horde. Those that survived would join the Ashen Verdict in the final assault on Icecrown Citadel. Tirion had it all planned out, didn't he? What could go wrong?
From a design perspective, ToC was the ultimate "boss corridor," a fixed point that spat out boss after boss for your raid to tackle. Not only that, but five new bosses had to be itemized in such a way that a whole new tier of gear was available to players. And on top of that, heroic mode replaced the Ulduar hardmode concept of triggering a more difficult version of the encounter. Four raid lockouts made player's heads spin.
I did raid ToC for progression. The guild had an easy enough time with the normal modes for both 10 and 25-player versions of the Trial. Things got dicier during the heroic mode fights, but it was doable on 10-man. 25-player heroic ToC was more of a challenge for many guilds who had an easy enough time on 10-player.
Where did ToC go wrong?
Trial of the Crusader missed the mark on a good number of factors. There were three factors that decimated the raid in the minds of many players, especially those players with a limited amount of time to play each week like we did in our business-casual guild. These factors did not alone sully ToC to many people, but rather the deadly combination of factors. First, the environment barely changed. ToC was situated completely within the tournament stage and players were not treated to unique scenery until the end, when Arthas dropped the floor out from under the raid and everyone dies because a death knight thought it would be hilarious to use Path of Frost. One location could be an excellent idea in theory, but in practice it was boring, plain and simple.
Second, the revised lock-out system and subsequent four available raids, 10-regular, 25-regular, 10-heroic and 25-heroic, made many players uncomfortable because they felt like they had to raid them all each week. Top guilds eventually got the run time on these instances down, but fighting the same five bosses four times a week was excruciating. There was nothing new. At least in Ulduar and Naxxramas the encounters varied considerably. ToC felt like a monotonous job more than a fun raid.
Third, and finally, ToC was not only small in size but also in the number of bosses. The content felt lax. The player base definitely understood that a lot of manpower went into creating the entirety of the Argent Tournament on the whole, but the number of encounters in ToC were painfully limited. Not to mention, as stated above, you were stuck doing the same five encounters many, many times over the course of the week.
Where did ToC go right?
For all of its flaws, ToC had some excellent qualities. First, there was no trash. For many people, this jump in/jump out type of raid was excellent, as it allowed more casual guilds to spend less time getting ready to raid and more time actually fighting bosses. There was no fear that trash would respawn during a tough and tense learning night on the encounters. In fact, the pace of the raid itself was fairly steadfast, only pausing when the group was setting up for the next challenge.
Second, the encounters were fairly fun. The first fight, the Northrend Beasts, set the tone for the rest of the dungeon -- frenetic and fast paced. Each encounter was, to its credit, on the shorter side. The fights did not creep into the wee hours of the night, unlike some of the Ulduar fights like Yogg-Saron and Mimiron. The Beasts provided a challenging new staggered boss type encounter, whereas the Jaraxxus encounter was all about situational awareness, running away from the group, interrupts and unique sets of adds. The Faction Champions, love them or hate them, provided headaches-a-plenty when things didn't go as planned. It was a cleverly randomized fight that had non-PvPers quaking in their boots and veterans of the battlegrounds laughing as they were masters of their Medallions of the Horde. The Twin Val'kyrs, Eydis Darkbane and Fjola Lightbane, provided players with a make-or-break concentration fight that required on the ball target switching, situational awareness, and interrupts.
Anub'arak was the surprise encounter, especially since many players believed this powerful character was not given his due as a 5-man dungeon boss. Well, Anub'arak was given his due and became one of the better encounters in Wrath.
Third, the characters are memorable. In particular, Tirion's chants and introductions are now classic sound clips, and the eternal struggle between Jaraxxus and Wilfred Fizzlebang, master summoner, is now legend. ToC was full of flavor in the characters that occupied it, but sadly, that old kindergarten adage of "show, not tell" wasn't followed in ToC's environmental design.
Strengths and weaknesses aside, ToC just never measured up to Ulduar for me. It felt too much like filler, a plea for raiders to head into this tournament and fight for the chance to march alongside Tirion to Icecrown. It was disconcerting, then, when after vanquishing Anub'arak, Tirion casually asked me if I would be interested in doing it again on a more heroic mode. How could I say no to you, Tirion?
Four raids a week
Burnout was a problem with ToC, and looking back it was plain to see. The number of lockouts were brutal, and while the game never forces you to play, the many other factors that revolve around the core raid game made missing ToC a hellish experience. Emblems of Triumph were required to purchase upgrades to dungeon loot tier sets, but players were forced to also spend badges on the "of Triumph" ilevel 245 versions of their pieces as well. Trophies of the Crusade dropped to allow players access to the new tier gear, but still required a heavy emblem investment that could only be achieved through heavy raiding. Unlike the Icecrown Citadel tier system now, which requires only an initial, albeit higher, emblem investment on the first tier of set gear, the ToC system put a heavy emphasis on emblem collection and doing all four lockouts to farm the required emblems.
Blizzard learned a lot from Trial of the Crusader, as Icecrown Citadel went on to fix a good portion of those mistakes. At the end of patch 3.2, ToC left players with mixed reactions. Was the trash-less raid a success? Did players truly want the epitome of a boss corridor instead of the sprawling environments of Naxxramas, Ulduar, and the dungeons prior?
I do not think that the concept itself is flawed. The tournament was a good idea with some excellent execution. Trial of the Champion, the companion 5-man regular and heroic dungeon was excellent, save for that whole jousting thing. In a 5-man the concept worked. You were not in the arena locale for very long. For a raid, however, it left a lot to be desired.