Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why Ulduar Was the Best Raid Design

I had started to post a reply on another blog when I noticed in my standard long winded way I was writing a novel, as usual.  So I decided that I would take what I started to write as a reply on his post and put it on my blog and then link it for him.  Better to have it here anyway where I can take my time posting instead of just leaving a novel as a reply on the fly.

For those interested the reply is for a post over at screaming monkeys asking for help finding the best raids ever.  So of course, ulduar popped into mind instantly and the rambling began.

Ulduar without a doubt holds all the elements of the perfect raid.  You name any aspect of what I think makes a raid great and ulduar nailed it or at least came as close to nailing it as any other raid I have ever seen.  I would be hard pressed to find many, if any, faults with it.  So what makes uldaur so great, here goes.

1) Scale -

The place was huge, you could tell a lot of work was put into it.  The scale not only helped with giving it that epic feeling but it felt like a zone of its own, like you were exploring it.  Kara also had that feeling of exploration if you want something else to compare scale to when it comes to giving an epic feeling based on surroundings.  These raids were not just rooms we fight in, they were whole worlds in and of themselves.

2) Travel -

Nothing makes a person say wow more than riding the rails on their way to mimron.  It is not just walking from one room to another, it is traveling, in raid, even doing it the 10th or100th time you can't help but stand on the side and look out the open door at the scenery while you are on the tram.  Even running from FL down the halls it felt like a group of adventures traveling together into battle more than lets just move to the next room to face the big baddie.  Since ulduar the only time I ever had that feeling was seeing marrowgar down the hall in ICC the first time I entered and that feeling did not last long, everything else was just some baddie in a room and the sense of travel to get to them was completely missing.  The travel to each boss in uldaur felt like an adventure itself and even after doing it as many times as I have on as many characters as I have I still enjoy that run down the hall and that tram ride.  It amazes me today just as it did my first time in there.

3) Hard Modes -

Once we had them the way they were in ulduar no raid will ever be the same.  Ulduar was not the first raid to have hard modes but it was the raid that mastered it.  Switching to heroic is boring, but letting the group roll to see who gets to press the do no press button or telling people to pop all cooldowns when the heart is exposed or the OMG FL+4, is this really a first boss encounter because it is hard, lets start with 1.  Switching to heroic can not compare to that, ever, don't even try to argue that switching to heroic is even close to the same as activating hard modes even if some of the activations were actually just as simple, it just felt better activating them.  Like I said, there is no comparison.

Activated hard modes were the absolute best addition to raiding ever and nothing has ever come close to comparing to it.  Why it was abandoned is beyond me.  The change of normal to heroic before you even stepped in was the ruin of raiding after we had a taste of what hard modes could be.  That design was an effort of genius and the person or team that thought it up as it was implemented in ulduar should have been signed to long term contracts and that idea should have been used in every raid ever.  Heroic mode should have never been introduced.  Hard modes are where good design lives.

4) Bosses -

This is 4 and 5.  4 is the fact there were so many.  It was a real raid, not a glorified dungeon with more people and a few more bosses.  Raids have not felt the same since wrath.  Ulduar was the best with its collection of bosses but even ICC had an excellent amount.  Since then we have not had one raid introduced to the game.   They just call them raids because of the number of people needed to complete them but they are just dungeons that were a little harder, or mini-raids if you must use the term raid.  A raid should not be 4, 6, or 8 bosses.  Ulduar had it right, and even had a bonus boss.  Perfect.  A raid should be jam packed with bosses, not have less than some dungeons.

5) Bosses -

The bosses were all different.  They did not feel repetitive.   Even bosses that were similar in concept were different in implementation.  There are always going to be the same concepts over and over like group up and spread out and avoid the fire or hit the special button but at least make them feel different like uldaur did, each fight felt like its own fight even if we were stuck with the type of mechanic we might have done a hundred times before.  All thanks to the bosses all being their own and not just carbon copies of some other boss fight with different color effects.

6) Lore -

Nearly every boss in there I met while questing, I helped them, I knew them.  They were not just some nameless, faceless bad guy I had no care in the world about with the exception of killing it for loot.  They were a part of a greater story and that made the feeling of the raid so much better.

The depth of the story behind the characters made a lore person out of me.  I was never into lore all that much.  I read quests, I read what was going on, I listened to all the speeches, but when uldaur came around I wanted to know more about these people and this place.  I knew that guy from the hodir quest line and I remember her from the basin and didn't I see that guy somewhere before.  I might not have been a lore person but ulduar made me one, even if only slightly, because it made me feel as if I were a part of the story.  I was there for a reason, all thanks to the excellent story development behind it.  A good raid needs to give you a reason to be there besides just to kill things.  That isn't enough.

7) Difficulty -

My guild only made it 10 bosses in, we were on mimron when ToC came out.  Admittedly one of the largest faults with uldaur was it had a short life as top content but it is not the fault of the raid, it was bad timing by blizzard.  And you know what, that is the last raid I did not kill the last boss on until I was grossly over geared doing it.  I did not give a crap I never finished the raid when it was current, I loved it, completely and totally, that I could not finish it in one night or even two being that is all we raided didn't matter at all, I still would have done it every week for another 3 months.  I wanted to raid it even if we were not finishing it.

It was a challenge, it was fun, I did not need to finish the raid in 2 hours to feel like I accomplished something because just moving along and getting as far as mimron was enough for me, I know if we were given more time we would have gotten further without extending.  It was real progression for a casual guild and it was great.

Blizzard keeps saying that they want all people to see content and that makes the game better.  I disagree 100%.  Ulduar was loved, even by people like me that did not see the end of it when it was current.  Ulduar is proof that if something is done well it does not need to be super easy to let everyone see content to be great.

I will bet you that 99% of all the people in LFR that were playing at max level when uldaur was new never saw the end boss of ulduar when it was current and yet most would still say it was the best raid ever.  Why?  Because it was, not because it was easy.  Easy does not and never will equal good.

8) Scaling Difficulty -

Difficulty is a good thing when it is well balanced and it was progressed in each boss getting slightly harder with ulduar.  Even a guild like mine could have a great time and great fun progressing thought it.  Ulduar was the perfect level of difficult.  Who gives a flying crap if the last boss was seen by fewer guilds than any boss ever in game.  It was still perfect the way it was.

It was developed in a way that we could pick and choose which bosses to do and when to do them.  One boss was slightly harder than the next but some might be easier for some groups than others.  So you picked your own path based on the people you had and their respective skill levels.  Because they were not huge jumps in difficulty you would actually become a better player doing them as your skills were constantly being raised by new and compelling challenges.

There were no blanket nerfs to help us get past anything and that made us feel as if we were really earning our way through it and not that we had to thank a 5% or even 30% buff to do it.  We got better from going in there each week and meeting the new challenges.  Our skills as a team improved and each week we would get further and further with our 2 nights a week for 2 hours.  If we were given enough time maybe we might have made it to the last boss, maybe we wouldn't have, but it always felt as if we could because of the way the difficulty scaled up.  It let us feel, even when failing, as if we could do this, it was just one little dance step away between success and failure, always.

9) Trash -

Not too much, not too little, and it was meaningful.  With the exception of freyas room that seemed to have 12 million mobs, or those one shot mobs to mimron, every bit of trash made sense where it was and never felt like we had too much of it.  Walking right up to bosses in one pull or even two only makes sense if the mobs you are killing in front of them makes sense.

While the trash in ulduar was not perfect it was damn near close to it.  Some harder ones, some easier mow them down ones and not too much to make it feel like it was taking forever but not too little to make you wonder why it is there anyway.  Add to that the trash did drop useful things like items and patterns and even the good old BoP purple here and there along with BoEs.  So the trash could sometimes be as exciting as the bosses when filling out those spaces in your gear.  It wasn't to the point were you could ever do trash runs, but also never to the point where the trash became useless either.  Ulduar had decent trash.

10) No Holds Barred -

My guild might have only got to mimron when the content was current but we did do FL+2.  Okay, we are not world beaters so you can stop laughing, but we also did not need to finish the raid to try different things.  This was a huge plus for ulduar.  Activated modes are awesome and while it is true that uldaur was not the first raid to use them it was the first raid ever to make large use of them and to great success.

Letting the player choose how to do the encounter created a world of options for all types of players, from the world beaters, to guilds like mine that would dabble in a few here and there to guilds that just went in and killed what they could straight out.  Even some encounters like freya and FL had it so you could gradually increase difficulty as you see fit.

All encounters can be done as you feel like doing them.  Nothing is holding you back.  If you can do one boss only on hard mode, you do one boss only.  If you can only do 2 towers you do 2 towers, if you can only kill the middle guy last with no issue you do that one.  You do not need to finish the entire thing to experience the entire thing.

If you were capable of doing the first boss in one of the various levels of hard mode the day it came out, more power to you, all you had to do was activate it and do it.  That is how raids should be designed, let the players dictate how they fight the fight.  It makes it so they can design the base encounter easier for the masses and the levels or hard modes increasingly difficult for the hard core players that want a huge challenge.  All this right from the get go, no need to finish it to open it up.  There is no reason that anyone should ever be locked out of content because they did not finish it.  If you are on a boss and that boss has various levels of difficulty that boss is the only one that matters.  No holds barred, you do what you can do, no matter were you are progression wise.  Excellent design.

11) Achievements -

Achievement whores like myself love ulduar.  Not just for all the things that make it great but because of all the different achievements that could be done there.  It makes sense to have all these different achievements for doing all these fights in different ways.  It helps extend the life of the raid and for a raid like this it would have had a much longer life than most if they had let it just based on its other merits.  One of the reasons this is still the most run older raid is because it has so many achievements to be had including but not limited to the herald of the titans achievement which I still do not have.  I need to gear up my level 80 priest for that.

But back to the point, achievements for many is part of the fun of the game and ulduar has so many it is insane.  Every raid should be filled with them for doing fights in different ways and at different levels of difficulty but without hard modes those achievements can not exist thus since ulduar we have never seen achievements like them again.

12) Optional Content -

There were bosses you could skip and a boss that was made only for the most hard core of players.  All of this was completely optional.  You did not need to kill the extra bosses and most guilds like mine would skip them when we had no one that needed gear from them so we could try to get further into the raid that week.  Some groups that were much better or more dedicated would work their way through hard modes to try and open the optional bonus boss that was hard mode only.

This allowed people, both top end and otherwise, to choose who they fought and if they wanted to.  Any time you give people content as an option and do not force it on them it is a good thing.  Some might do it, most even, if they are able, but they do not need to and that freedom in a raid is rarely seen but ulduar had it.

I am sure that there are a lot of things I loved about ulduar that I completely missed pointing out because there was so much to like about it.  Maybe the only reason I like it so much is because we have never seen anything like it before or since and if we saw this design all the time I might feel different about it, but when it comes to asking me the question, based on what I know now, what makes for a good raid I have only one answer, ulduar.

In the end I would like to stress one thing.  A raid does not need to be so easy that everyone can complete it to be a great raid.  It just needs to be a great raid to be a great raid.  Ulduar proved that by the number of people that never completed it and still consider it the best raid ever.


  1. Thanks for the detailed post, it's definitively helpful

    1. You're welcome. Always loved that place, don't mine explaining why either.

  2. TGE I was thinkng if this was a comment on another post it was just as well that you made it into a post on its own, because it's a damn good read.

    And I also love Ulduar. Karazhan and Ulduar are fun places that I don't mind revisiting over and over - and of course since I got a legendary from Ulduar, I have very special memories of that place :)

    1. I always wanted to go back and get the legendary on my shaman. Perhaps one day I will.

      Kara was another of those great raids, it did not have a few of the things ulduar did, such as hard modes, but if it had it might have even been better. The design of that place was amazing and you really could spend a lot of time in there exploring.

  3. Where does this expectation that raids should have 12+ bosses come from? It's certainly not the actual game - these large raids are an exception, not the rule. Look back at all of the raids in game and you'll see that very few of them have more than 6-8 bosses.

    Ulduar was great, indeed. I'd like to see at least one raid per expac this size, but it would annoy me to no end if every raid were this size. I don't want to raid more than one two-hour session per week. Two two-hour sessions at the most. Any more than that and my game time for other activities is being eaten into, and I'm not cool with that. Raiding is fun but it's at the bottom of my list for why I play WoW.

    Different strokes, I guess. Great article, by the way.

    1. Not sure where the expectation comes from. It is just how I feel. For me, it seems more epic when you have a series of fights to work your way through. Dungeons have 3-6 bosses, raids should have more. Expectation? Not really. Feeling? Absolutely, I feel it is more raid like with more bosses.

      My guild only raids 1 2 hour session or 2 at the most and we all loved ulduar. Like I said, we did not finish it when it was current, but in a way that is part of what made it great. My opinion of course.

  4. The biggest problem with Ulduar was the First Boss - Flame Leviathan. It was great for the first month and after that it was just pure hell.

    This is the problem with gimmicky fights and one of the reasons why Eye of Eternity was also horrible and Oculus as a 5 Man was avoided like the plague.

    I like to play my hunter, not a hunter sat in/on a dragon, boat, or catapult. Just let me be a badass hunter.

    1. Odd mechanic fights can be an issue but being the vehicles scaled with gear there it did help later on some if not much.

      I loved the alys fight in firelands, as long as we had someone that knew what to do when they went up, but if we didn't, I hated that fight. Might even call it one of the worst fights in the game ever. All because of one mechanic. If the people or person that went up knew what they were doing it was the easiest fight in there and if they didn't it was the hardest, even harder than rag, because the entire fight depended on just one or two people doing a mechanic correctly.

  5. Thanks a bunch for me reliving nostalgia. I never finished Ulduar either but damn this raid was an experience.

    I played as a holy priest and I remember that my guild always wiped at Freya for weeks. We never gave up though. I longed for my epic staff drop. Then we finally beat her. And I got my epic staff.

    Ulduar really was something extraordinary.

    / Johnbrockman lvl 80 /afk Dalaran