We've done analyses and retrospectives on various boss fights for years here at WoW Insider, and as a new raid looms large in patch 5.4, I started thinking about which boss might be considered the most difficult to ever grace World of Warcraft. It's not a simple question to answer, because of the diversity of fights we've seen in WoW over the years, as well as the way the game itself has evolved. I turned to the rest of the WoW Insider team for some opinions on this, and they quickly weighed in with typically interesting and thoughtful opinions. As can be expected with such a subjective topic and a good-sized group of people as the WoW Insider staff, opinions varied on which might be the hardest boss of all. Yet, four names in particular kept popping up.
Matt Rossi: If we're talking "hardest for people in the best gear available to do at the time", then C'thun. They HAD to nerf C'thun before anyone (and I mean anyone) could kill him without exploiting. For a group of level 60's in BWL/AQ gear, pre-Naxx, C'thun was the hardest fight. Not even Naxx fights compared. There has never been a fight tuned that high again.
Joe Perez: I agree with Rossi, C'thun was by far the hardest fight. You couldn't even pull the boss without losing people immediately. That fight was so terrible I remember my guild at the time having to take a break from raiding for a week as a group because it was so damn stressful. It remains probably the only fight that has caused me to actually visit harm upon a wall near me while raiding.
2. M'uru (pre nerf)
Allison Robert: I can't have been the only tank who woke up in the middle of a nightmare screaming, "Shadowsword Berserker has gained Flurry! Shadowsword Berserker has gained Flurry!"
Matt "Matticus" Low: Pre-nerf M'uru takes my vote.
3. Heroic Lich King 25-man at 0% buff
Dawn Moore: Heroic Lich King 0% buff. It was killable, but no one killed it before 5% came out. I started attempts at 10% in my guild and it was a ridiculously unforgiving fight then. Not quite instant death at pull, but definitely death within the first thirty seconds to a minute due to any number of issues. I can only imagine how fantastic 0% was.
I should point out that it's pretty normal for any guild, when pulling a boss for the first time, to die to any number of things. It takes time for people to get a hold on everything that's going on. For that period of time to last for more than an hour or two is very uncommon, especially in a guild raiding 20-25 hours a week. We spent all of 10% and most of 15% in phase 1. I didn't really learn phase 2, or even see phase 3 until 20%.
Allison Robert: 103 million health on a boss that could two- or three-shot a tank in full heroic ICC gear and that lashed the raid with equally horrific AOE. No one killed this bastard until Icecrown's zonewide buff kicked in. 25 guilds on the planet managed it with the buff at 15%. Enough said. Just getting to phase 2 on heroic LK-25 was a victory.
4. Yogg-Saron +0 25-man
Allison Robert: Absolute brutality. Yogg could, and often did, RNG even the best players into a sliver of sanity approaching phase 3, and there was nothing you could do about it. The margin for error on this fight was close to nonexistent.
Scott Andrews: Besides C'Thun's original bugged version (which was actually impossible), my vote is for Yogg +0. The first guild to beat it did so using an exploit. When they got caught, they claimed that the fight could not be beaten as designed. That turned out to be untrue, but it was still punishingly difficult, as intended.
Runners up: Alagalon, pre-nerf heroic Mimiron, and TK Kael'thas.
There were also several votes for bosses that had what we (very scientifically) often call "That Guy" mechanics; abilities or requirements that demand every single player accomplish a specific thing or the entire raid could be jeopardized. These included Shade of Aran (how hard is it really to just take your hands off the keyboard?), Archimonde, Heigan, and Thaddius. I know some players that have lovingly referred to these as "Idiot Check" bosses; the ones that didn't necessarily require great gear, perfect DPS, or complex strategic executions, but tested a raider's ability to simply pay close attention and sometimes do counter-intuitive things. It can be very disappointing to find out just how difficult that can be for 10, 25, or 40 people to all do.
Anyway, back to our top four up there. I tend to think that's a good set of candidates for consideration for WoW's hardest boss. It's true that C'Thun was initially unkillable, as Rossi pointed out. However, that was at least partially due to a bug that existed at implementation, where C'Thun's tentacles in phase 2 would spawn in places they weren't supposed to (such as inside C'Thun's stomach) and weren't reachable by DPS, not only because he was just that tightly tuned. Or, to put it a different way, C'Thun was that tightly tuned... by accident. Once the hotfix that ended the tentacle-spawing problem was deployed, C'Thun went down. Now, that doesn't mean it wasn't a brutally punishing encounter. C'Thun deserves the reputation he has, and, as Joe mentioned, you couldn't even pull the boss without losing some raiders, and that design was intentional.
So what, in particular, made the fight so hard? Chalk it up to numerous adds (Eye Tentacles, Claw Tentacles, Giant Eye Tentacles, Giant Claw Tentacles, and Flesh Tentacles in his stomach) that had high hit points and damage as well as AoE attacks. Add in his Eye Beam and Dark Glare attacks, which could be instant-kill if you weren't careful, and you have a recipe for raid disaster--exactly what happened to many guilds, including Matt Rossi's: "I remember working on C'thun and becoming main tank of my guild because ALL the other tanks quit," he told us. "We went into Naxx and had to BEG two of them to come back, and they only did on condition of us not forcing them to do C'thun again. And no, not even Four Horsemen 40 broke them, after C'thun."
I'm surprised that, though M'uru's name came up immediately in my inquiry thread, no one went into detail as to why. I have vivid memories of angry of forum posts, impassioned discussion, and guild laments during his time as progression content. As the second-to-last boss of Sunwell Plateau, M'uru took the cake in an instance brimming with encounters that left raiders in misery. In fact, though the quote is lost to the old WoW forums that disappeared with the Blizzard website revamp, I distinctly remember a developer stating flat out that they would likely never design anything as hard as Sunwell ever again. Thank goodness for that.
M'uru's difficulty could really be pinned to the hybrid nature of the encounter (both a DPS race and an add-control fight) and the fact that both M'uru and his five different types of adds had a lot of health and hit really, really hard. Once M'uru transformed into Entropius, in phase 2, it became an all-out DPS race as the multi-target damage he dealt ramped up every 12 seconds to eventually overwhelm the raid. Very unpleasant.
Heroic Lich King 25 0% buff and Yogg-Saron +0 were discussed pretty extensively by the staff, and I've copied a lot of that already, so I'll try to be brief. It is very telling that, like C'Thun, nobody managed to beat Heroic Lich King until he was effectively nerfed--that is, until the player buff kicked in. However, unlike C'Thun, that wasn't because of a bug. For those of you unfamiliar with the fight, it was a multi-phase punisher that, although not quite as add-heavy as C'Thun or M'uru (though adds there were), dealt huge amounts of AoE damage to the raid while demanding constant movement and precise placement to avoid Shadow Traps and Defile, while also not falling off the edge of what was quickly found to be an uncomfortably small raid platform.
Yogg +0, meanwhile, simply took what was already a difficult encounter and then removed your tools for coping with it. Without Freya, your healing is weakened and you have no way to regain lost sanity. Without Mimiron, you're slower and the boss is faster. Without Hodir, you take more damage. Without Thorim, you have less health and the Immortal Guardians are, truly, unkillable. Yogg-Saron has an enormous number of abilities, as well as multiple adds and three phases. It's a complicated and overwhelming fight with a lot of moving parts. Without the aid of the Keepers of Ulduar it became next to impossible. There were servers that took more than a year to get a Yogg +0 kill. Ouch.
In the end, I think the honors probably go to C'Thun, partially thanks to one aspect of his fight that is unique to our top four: it required 40 people. Coordinating 40 people to accomplish that kind of task is an achievement in and of itself, and no other boss we picked includes that same combination of high damage, multiple adds, and sheer management. Really though, in all honesty any one of these four bosses could easily be considered the hardest that WoW has had to offer.
What do you think, readers? Which one of the four would you pick, or would you choose something else entirely? Tell us about it in the comments; we'd love to hear your thoughts. And good luck on all the new challenging bosses that are sure to wipe your raid in patch 5.4!