OK, so this is a sort of a WoW update and a sort of review of the “new” (to me) raiding content in WoW, called “Ice Crown Citadel.”

The citadel is the last redoubt of the Lich King himself. The goal of storming the citadel is to defeat a series of progressively more difficult encounters until you fight the Lich King. As with most raids it can be done in “10 man” or “25 man” mode.

Most of my raiding in WoW has been done in the Wrath of the Lich King instances. I did a very small amount of raiding on the “Burning Crusades” content but since WotLK came out just after I reached level 70 and joined a guild, I probably only did half a dozen raids before doing the level up grind from 70 to 80, and since there is very little to gain (except “achievements”) for doing lower level raids, I’ve only gone back and done an earlier raid a couple of times.

Wrath of the Lich King intially provided several new raiding areas, most notably being the “Naxxramus” raid which was the Big Thing to do in WotLK. In that you had to defeat a major flunkie of the Lich King called “Kel Thezud”. The Naxxramus raid was broken into four “wings” and you had to complete all four wings before you could approach Kel Thezud, but first you had to defeat his mount, a frost-spewing bone dragon.

Raiding is much more difficult than it looks. And since these sorts of games are just about 20 years old now, game designers go to great lengths to provide raids which are both a challenge and are interesting to play. Sometimes that can mean you end up with some silly concepts where the game designers created such a bizarre and arbitrary encounter that it strains verisimilitude past the breaking point.

Even so the Naxxramus raids are mostly well designed and interesting. To complete them requires a mastery of your character class skills well beyond just mashing the “hit” key until the bad dude goes down. As a rogue Rhlyssa is a melee combatant, meaning she has to be right in the middle of the fight, which is where all the immediate area of effect damage is done. Having leather armor she is highly vulnerable to effects which do damage. So many fights where the “boss” does area of effect spells, that spell is “interruptable” meaning that something that a player character does, can cause the spell to fail. In a fight like that if you don’t interrupt the spells, the area of effect damage will kill a rogue quickly.

For a rogue the “interrupt” mechanic is to kick the enemy. Other classes have other ways to interrupt a spell being cast. Well, a FEW other classes do. So during the fight you have to watch the boss to see if they are casting the spell, and when you see it being cast (you can see the spell being cast if you watch the enemy’s status bars closely) you have to kick the boss before the spell goes off. Of course at the same time you have to be careful to remain behind the boss since most bosses have some sort of constant damage directed out in front of them. And of course they don’t stand still, they move around and twist and turn, so you have to constantly run around to remain behind the boss. And of course you have to monitor your basic mechanics, which for a rogue means monitoring your energy level and watching your power points stack up so that you can complete a “finishing move” when your power points are maxed. If you don’t carefully apply the proper attacks and finishing moves, your damage will go down drastically and if you don’t do enough damage to a boss, they will reach an “enrage timer” where they effectively become twice as powerful until the end of the fight. In most cases if you hit the enrage timer, you are looking at a full party wipe since even a top rated tank can rarely take a hit from an enraged boss.

So.. the whole trick to raiding is knowing your character’s abilities well enough that they are pretty much second nature. When you know what to look for, when it pops up on the screen your reaction has to be more or less second nature.

Of course when you reach that level a simple stand-up fight against a boss can get pretty boring. So to keep you one your toes the game designers throw in things specifically designed to throw you off your game. Frequently that is something like a super powerful area of effect spell that will kill anyone who remains in range, with some sort of warning that gives you just enough time to run out of range before the spell goes off. But again, once you get used to that effect and can predict when it’s going to happen, you can adjust for it and it becomes just part of the fight. So the designers come up with other ways to make you have to think on your feet.

In the fight that Rhlyssa died several times the boss had a variety of these sorts of interruptions which force you to react and adjust or die. For example, there is a periodic range-limited area of effect with a very tight timer between when you see the spell is being cast and when it goes off. If you are half a second late in reacting, you’re probably gonna die. Unless you have some way to accelerate your speed immediately, which fortunately Rhlyssa does. In addition to that Sindragosa also has an unlimited range AoE spell that will kill you unless you duck behind a shield. The shields you have to duck behind are the frozen bodies of your comrades who were hit by a different spell that turns them into an icecicle until you beat the ice off of them. So now you have to watch to see who is getting turned into an icecicle, and then hide behind them until the four separate AoE blasts go off. Since they go off in different random locations, you have to watch to see where they will land, and hide on the other side of the icecicle. Of course as soon as that attack is over, you need to get the icecicle off of the character and resume the fight.

Anyway, before this becomes a Sindragosa strategy post, I’ll just say that there is a lot to master and a lot going on during the fight. It’s really sort of amazing that a bunch of random folks can get together and complete these fights successfully on a fairly regular basis.

After Naxxramus, Blizzard released new raid content called “Ulduar” which was universally hated. To avoid the boredom of more typical boss fights, in Ulduar for some fights you don’t fight as your character, you take on other roles, such as driving a tank. I never even completed Ulduar partly because I didn’t like the content and partly because my computer broke down and I had to stop playing.

But the content for IceCrown Citadel is a lot more fun. There is one fight where you are on board an airship and have a battle with another airship. For that fight you are given a rocket pack which allows you to “jump” from one ship the other for certain parts of the fight. This is surprisingly fun to do. And the visuals of the fight with people rocketing from one ship to another while missiles and cannon fire are zooming around, and other enemies are magically ported onto your ship, those visuals are very well done.

I’ve now done all but the final fight against the Lich King (although I haven’t successfully completed the Sindragosa fight yet) and I have to say that the game designers did a superb job of making fights that are a good mix of traditional fights which allow you to “relax” and fall back on your well-grooved attack techniques (this allows you to really ramp up the damage output, so it becomes a standard measure of your ability), and totally new fights which make you have to think and react in a situation that is so dynamic, you can do the fight a dozen times and still learn something new.

So kudos to Blizzard for IceCrown Citadel. I hope it bodes well for the “Cataclysm” release and we see more out of the box thinking for future raids.