Raid Design Redux : Blackwing Descent

In my opinion Tier 11 succeeded in providing a variety of environments and options for raiding. While this was a pleasant change of pace from the one raid instance per tier we had been used to since 3.1, each instance on its own felt more like a series of chambers with boss encounters, lacking a sense of scale and identity.

In these articles I’m going to examine each raid in terms of several factors and I plan to keep the format the same throughout the series.

Blackwing Descent

Blackwing Lair was merely a setback! Sorry, had to say it. Part of Cataclysm’s overall theme was reinventing the world of Azeroth, revisiting areas and lore of the past and showing how it has progressed over the past several years in the fiction. As such, it was to be expected that we would see bosses and elements of the past brought back.

That said I was disappointed that there was a severe lack of lore explaining not only how Nefarian came back, but also what happened in the story to catch our attention of his presence and decide to take him out once and for all. To the best of my recollection no quest lines throughout the levelling progress refer to Nefarian or any of the minor characters introduced to us as bosses in the raid.

Some of you may find this nitpicking, and to a degree I won’t argue that, but it’s been my opinion that raids are made more epic when there’s a buildup to that final encounter with the last boss. Icecrown Citadel is the biggest example of this payoff. Zul’Aman and Obsidian Sanctum are on the other side of the spectrum.

For those who just care about cool fights and purples, lore and buildup will be very low in importance. I’m a lore nerd though, and the lore and storyline to me are initially just as important as the final boss kill.

Blackwing Descent is supposed to evoke memories of Blackwing Lair in terms of ambiance, and the instance succeeds in doing so with the color scheme and backdrop. Dead dragons can be seen, victims of Nefarian’s experiments which are continued by his assistant Maloriak. Trash mobs resembled some of what had been encountered in the past. The tribute to the Black Iron Dwarf lords of Vanilla was a nice touch.

The layout of the raid however felt very awkward and unnatural. This place didn’t feel like it served an actual purpose as part of Nefarian’s stronghold, even though when you first enter this instance, Nefarian mentions this place is the home of some of the best (or worst) of his experiments.

While it was nice to have some options on the order in which to take on the 3rd-5th bosses of the instance, one had to wonder just what Magmaw was doing that kept the heroes from progressing further into the stronghold. The Omnitron Defense System in concept made perfect sense as an entry boss, regardless of the initial complexity to the encounter.

Once you get past the first gate and ride down the Elevator Boss, you witness a big circular room with chambers on the North, West, and East sides. Sound familiar? It should… that’s similar to the layout of Icecrown Citadel once you get past Saurfang. It was a bit disappointing and uninspiring to be honest.

Chimaeron and Atramades make sense being where they are in the raid. Maloriak’s place in the raid felt a bit off to me though.

Personally I would have moved Magmaw to Maloriak’s chamber. This would make the Defense System a singular entry encounter which makes sense as the “gatekeepers” of the sanctum. Magmaw is better explained as an experiment gone bad rather than just some random magma worm giving Nefarian a headache.Maloriak himself would make more sense as the penultimate boss encounter to the instance, accessible only after all the creations were disposed of.

With that tweak alone I think the entire raid’s flow and layout would have made much more sense in terms of progression in a storyline sense.

As for the general difficulty and progression of the raid, this was just something that failed from the get go. There’s nothing wrong with encounters being hard or taking multiple weeks to learn in my opinion. There is something wrong though when one of the first two raid encounters is far more complex than anything else in the raid outside of Nefarian’s battle itself. Omnitron Defense System was a neat encounter and full of gimmicks. Had it been the first boss encounter of the last tier of raiding in an expansion I would absolutely say “job well done.” Being where it was though it provided a swift kick in the jaw to a large group of raiders.

I’m not saying the fight should have been removed or toned down, mind you. It just felt out-of-place in terms of where it was in the instance when you’re talking about difficulty progression… which is frustrating since from a lore and layout perspective it was perfect in its placement.

I don’t have much to say on the Nefarian encounter. It was a tough fight, and a rewarding one. Heck I didn’t even mind seeing Onyxia again. At least I knew how Onyxia had her head reattached.

I originally planned to do the whole tier in one day but I’m running a little wordy by my standards already. Expect to see Bastion of Twilight and Throne of the Four Winds this weekend.

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestion about this or other posts feel free to write to me at

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