Raid Design Redux : Dragon Soul

Deathwing. The Aspect of Death. The Worldbreaker. The Cataclysm.

Tier 13 brought us to the culmination of the Cataclysm storyline in the Dragon Soul raid. In the same vein as Icecrown Citadel, the release was of this final raid came with three 5 man dungeons which helped set the stage for the final confrontation. In truth, I would say the Hour of Twilight dungeons did an even better job of setting up the raid than the final Lich King 5-mans did in setting up ICC.

The Dragon Soul raid feels like a natural continuation in the story following the death of Archbishop Benedictus in Hour of Twilight. I still feel the Firelands raid had better setup with quests and dailies that took place in the Firelands themselves, but Dragon Soul lore has a strong showing and there’s no finger-pointing to be made here.

Dragon Soul does something that I really can’t remember any raid doing before, with Ulduar perhaps being one exception. Dragon Soul encounters take place in multiple environments with different colors and themes. We’re all over the place in this raid, from the inside of the Old Gods’ maws to the Eye of Eternity to a gunship flight to the Maelstrom itself.

I feel that this was almost an experiment in raid design. How will players react to a raid where a story is told spanning more than just one locale? It was an interesting change of pace. I don’t think I would want to see this done too frequently, but it does add one more tool to the kit in creating a more diverse set of raids.

My greatest disappointment with the color and visuals in the raid would have to be Blackhorn and Spine of Deathwing. The cloud background was very plain and uninspired. It felt like we were on a large stage in a theatre where behind us was a curtain with clouds painted on it. Cataclysm showed us that dynamic cloud effects are possible. I have to wonder why the cloud effects we saw in the Skywall areas of Uldum couldn’t be applied to those two encounters.

Blackhorn’s encounter could have been made more visually impressive with additional background objects. More drakes perhaps? As for Spine, I think the inability to really see Deathwing roll breaks the immersion. If you’re going to hype up a fight on the back of a giant dragon flying through the sky, then the visuals should add to the hype.

Seeing nothing but clouds is boring. Couldn’t we have seen the flight from Northrend to the Maelstrom. Given, most of this flight would be over water but at least the initial portion could have shown us leaving the land behind while on the airship, or seeing the Maelstrom approaching once we made it to the third plate of the Spine.

Layout wise Dragon Soul is primarily a tunnel instance. If you’ve read my previous posts you know my general feeling on those. In this instance however I think the tunnel instance formula isn’t as large of a problem, and that’s primarily due to the dynamic progression of the encounter and the multiple different locations that encounters take place. While the raid is a tunnel instance, it doesn’t “feel” like one as much.

I find it amusing that in an expansion where a great deal of old content was revisited, the final raid would involve old location content that was revisited. We’ve been to the front of Wyrmrest Temple. We’ve been inside the maw of an Old God (if you quested in Twilight Highlands.) We’ve been to the Eye of Eternity and fought on an airship.

Fighting on Deathwing’s back was different, but I kind of felt it lacked the punch it should have had primarily because of just how centralized the fight was. I think a fight that could have involved moving from one part of his body to another would have been more impressive. The Maelstrom backdrop was fine and a fine place to end everything where it began.

In terms of difficulty, I’d have to say the raid felt easier than I expected it to be. I think that might be due to how geared we were. It was the first tier that my raid team actually progressed a fair bit into heroic content the tier before. We went 5/8 on Normal on our first week. Each encounter after that took a couple of weeks, and I feel we downed Madness on Normal in a fair amount time considering how little our group raids compared to most.

Heroic encounters were challenging, and still are. I don’t think I’ll be 8/8 on Heroic before Mists, and that’s fine. I still think it’s not necessary to buff players or nerf bosses over time in Heroic content. I understand that Blizzard wants us to see all the content, but really, heroic content for the most part involves bigger numbers and one to three additional mechanics.

Dragon Soul wasn’t the best raid I think Blizzard has created, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. The team continued to try new things, break new ground, and provide encounters that are fresh and engaging. If my biggest gripe on the raid is about some painted cloud backdrops on two encounters, that’s not the end of the world.

No, the end of the world takes place in a little over twelve hours when I vanish from Azeroth from a few days and moonlight as a Demon Hunter in Sanctuary. It will be a welcome change of pace, and by the time I’m done there Mists of Pandaria raids on beta shouldn’t be too far away.

Comments, questions, or suggestions? Feel free to email me at

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