Raid Design Redux: Firelands

(This article is part of a series giving my review of the raids in Cataclysm and how their design and execution failed or succeeded. These are just my opinions and you’re more than welcome to agree or disagree.)

Tier 12 raiding brought us to the elemental plane of fire, home of Ragnaros the Firelord. In my opinion Firelands was the overall best raid in Cataclysm. Dragon Soul did a couple of things better, and Tier 11 had its highlights also, but looking at the whole package I’d say Firelands was the most enjoyable raid to progress through. Mind you I just said progress through. Not farm for weeks and weeks into Dragon Soul to complete a legendary staff on 10 man.

If you wanted lore and a build-up to the confrontation with Ragnaros, you got it in spades. Ragnaros’ ultimate defeat has been building up since the days of “vanilla” raiding when groups of two-score raiders had defeated him too soon.

Mount Hyjal was an amazing zone in how it told a progressive story of the battle fought between Ragnaros’ forces and the defenders of Hyjal, leading up to an early confrontation with Ragnaros at the end of the epic quest chain. Just when you think that’s all the build up there is, we get introduced to the Molten Front dailies, taking the fight to the firelord’s doorstep while learning more about the secondary characters in the battle on both sides.

I felt motivated to defeat Ragnaros. I’d even go so far as to say that Ragnaros could have been a decent boss to vanquish to end the expansion, keeping the Deathwing build-up growing with time. Alysrazor and Majordomo Staghelm’s ties to earlier questing in Hyjal were well placed. I don’t demand that we have lore and quests for every boss vanquished in a raid… but it’s nice to see a couple of bosses besides the last one and say to yourself…

“You! I remember you… in the mountains…”

… or something like that.

I’ve rambled enough about the best part of the raid design. Now on to the worst of it. The color and theme of Firelands was very singular. There was fire, lots of fire. You want reds, oranges, and charred earth? You got it. You want lava? You got it. You want anything else? Sorry friend, this is the elemental plane of fire.

Was I expecting rainbows, robots, flowers, and penguins in the Firelands? Of course not. See, the biggest problem isn’t that Firelands was nothing but red and orange fire everywhere. The problem was that this was our only raid in the tier. Unfortunately, Firelands became a victim in this regard to its success in every other factor of raid design. With Blizzard spending so much time on making Firelands as great as possible, it became the only raid presented in the tier. Some of you may recall the Abyssal Maw was supposed to include a raid encounter at the same time as Firelands, but was ditched due to its supposed plainness and lack of development time in contrast.

I feel that if we had been given even a small 3 or 4 boss raid to complement the Firelands the tier as a whole would have felt that much better and may have even rivaled tier 8 as one of the best raiding tiers in the game. Firelands by its nature had to be nearly monochromatic and that’s fine. Having nothing to compliment it and contrast with it made it feel like that much more of a grind when you’re only seeing red for months of raiding.

The layout of the Firelands was excellent. Raiders had a choice of which order to vanquish the first four bosses. Choice is a great thing. This was not your typical tunnel instance until you got near the climax of the raid, and that’s just fine. Yes there was a lot of trash. Blizzard scaled it down somewhat after time to much approval from the player base. Personally I didn’t mind the trash level being where it was at the start though. Honestly, it was less trash than Karazhan, Serpentshrine, or Black Temple. The environment was well constructed and while there were hints of Molten Core it didn’t feel like Molten Core 2.0 to me.

The difficulty of the encounters were reasonable with two exceptions. Lord Rhyolith was a very unique encounter from a technical standpoint. When you’re breaking new ground with raid mechanics you’re bound to come across elements that feel less natural or more random than others. With Rhyolith, it became a point of great frustration for fellow raiders in my team. For weeks turning Rhyolith was aggravating. This boss could have likely used more polish time in development.

Majordomo Staghelm is my second point of contention when it comes to difficulty. Staghelm felt less like the right hand man of Ragnaros and more like the skinny doorman of a motel who couldn’t bounce a 20-year-old from a night club on his best day. While Staghelm’s difficulty was below the mark, I did love how Blizzard created an encounter that let the raiders entirely decide when and how to handle phase changes. This is a wonderful design area to touch upon and I hope we see more encounters like it in future raid tiers.

(Insert my QQ about grinding for the Legendary staff in a 10 man group and not obtaining it til a day before we killed Madness of Deathwing here.)

Seriously though, while I didn’t care for the weeks and weeks we had to revisit Firelands when it was old content, I am nonetheless grateful that Blizzard gave 10 man raid teams the opportunity to obtain the item. That’s all I’ll say about it since I know the issue has been beaten to death more than Hogger.

Next week I’ll catch up to the here and now with Dragon Soul and finish off the series. If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions please feel free email me at RhoWoW@gmail.com.

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