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dire maul exterior

WoW Archivist: Patch dungeons

In many ways, Legion has been Blizzard’s most innovative expansion. World Quests and Artifacts have completely changed how we play WoW. Crafting and gathering professions have received a massive overhaul. Classes and specs have all been drastically redesigned to feel unique. The Suramar campaign gave us one of WoW‘s most compelling ongoing storylines and its most fully realized urban landscape. Even with all of its innovation, Legion has still managed to return a few things that players missed from earlier expansions.

One of the biggest player requests on that list was to bring back “patch dungeons” — dungeons that don’t launch with the expansion. Both Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor lacked such dungeons. Blizzard mentioned in the past that they didn’t like patch dungeons because they made all of the starting dungeons obsolete. But with the Mythic+ system, that’s no longer the case.

Return to Karazhan and the Cathedral of Eternal Night are the first patch dungeons since the spring of 2011. Let’s look back at other such dungeons and the new ideas they brought to the game.

princess theradras

Maraudon

Maraudon wasn’t quite ready for WoW‘s launch in November 2004. About six weeks later, Blizzard added this dungeon in Patch 1.2, the game’s very first content patch. The patch was called “Mysteries of Maraudon.” It was originally a level 40-49 dungeon, back when dungeons had wider level ranges than today.

Like many class dungeons, Maraudon was big and complex, with different paths. It had two entrances with purple and orange crystals, which became known as the “purple side” and “orange side.”

One innovation of Maraudon is that it offered a teleport item. The Scepter of Cerebras allowed you to skip the orange and purple sides and teleport directly into the final Princess Theradras wing. The Princess fight was often very amusing — players would accidentally get knocked off her platform into the water far below and were unable to return to the fight. Sometimes those players would get eaten by another boss, the crocolisk Rotgrip, who patrolled down there.

When your tank got knocked off, you were extra screwed. Then ranged DPS got to show off their skills by kiting her.

Maraudon remained a fun diversion while leveling until the arrival of the Temple of Ahn’Qiraj. Then it became a key instance for raiders who suddenly realized they needed the Nature Resistance gear that dropped in Maraudon.

dire maul west

Dire Maul

Some of my fondest memories of WoW happened in Dire Maul. Before my guild had enough players for raiding, Dire Maul tribute runs were a big part of our endgame experience.

DM had three wings. Two were fairly standard, but the third, northern wing, had a unique mechanic that has never been replicated in WoW since. To pull off a “tribute run,” you had to reach the end of the dungeon and the final boss without killing any of the other main bosses along the way.

Each boss had a different mechanic that you had to use to bypass them. One you had to sneak past as he patrolled. Another you had to catch in a massive ice trap. Toward the end you had to fool one of the bosses with the Gordok Ogre Suit. (The suit also enabled ogre dance skills. The person using it always showed off the ogre moves.)

If you could then defeat King Gordok, the surviving ogre bosses would offer you a tribute as their new kings and queens. The tribute chest contained better loot than you could get from defeating them individually, so it was worth the hassle.

DM also featured a free-for-all PvP arena where rare bosses would occasionally spawn. If two groups of the same faction descended on the boss at the same time, they had to decide whether to join forces or massacre each other for the right to kill the boss. Most groups I encountered there opted for the latter. It was, after all, more fun that way.

kaelthas in magisters terrace

Magister’s Terrace

The Burning Crusade had just one patch dungeon, but it was a memorable one. Added in Patch 2.4, Magister’s Terrace offered better loot than TBC‘s launch dungeons, but at a price: this was not a cakewalk. At the time, Heroic Magister’s Terrace was one of the most difficult 5-player experiences WoW has offered.

Become a Watcher

The most controversial by far was the “PvP boss,” Priestess Delrissa. The idea of an “aggroless” encounter was first featured in the “Tier 0.5” quest line in Blackrock Depths. Delrissa took this and ran with it. She had a large group of mobs with her, each with different abilities. Players had to try to keep most of them crowd-controlled while they focused and burned them down one at a time. Often this ended in pure chaos as PvE players suddenly had to contend with mobs they couldn’t herd around. Blizzard later adapted this idea for the better-known Faction Champions encounter in Wrath‘s Trial of the Crusader raid.

The final encounter with Kael’thas gave nonraiders a chance to face down the Lord of the Blood elves, and a mighty meme was born. “I know what you’re thinking,” he said when you first approached him, “but Tempest Keep was merely a setback.”

Fun fact 1: MT was the first dungeon to feature a cutscene.

Fun fact 2: During early testing, Kael’thas yelled “Well, that sucked” after you transitioned out of his gravity phase (credit to Wowpedia for preserving this tidbit).

Fun fact 3: The new Trial of Style contests are held in Magister’s Terrance.

frostmourne in halls of reflection

The Icecrown dungeons

Wrath‘s patch dungeons were a mixed bag. Trial of the Champion featured a heavy dose of jousting and took place in one room. Most players hated it.

In contrast, the three Lich King-themed dungeons that released along with Icecrown Citadel were all incredibly well designed, challenging, and fun. They offered epic drops to help players and alts catch up on gear.

Halls of Reflection was by far the most difficult of the three, and many players complained about how punishing it was after this dungeon first went live. It featured a unique encounter with Arthas himself, where instead of defeating him you had to flee and escape from him. Back then, this encounter was frantic and utterly terrifying. Perhaps no other encounter in WoW has ever made a boss feel so invincible.

zanzil in zulgurub

Zul’Again

In Cataclysm‘s first content patch, Blizzard reintroduced two early troll-themed raids as 5-player dungeons: classic WoW‘s Zul’Gurub and TBC‘s Zul’Aman. Like the Icecrown dungeons, these offered epic drops to help players and alts catch up.

Many players were unhappy about the updates to these instances. The original content was now “gone.” Blizzard did remove most of the original loot table, but they kept many of the item models and added new mounts to replace the old ones. They even brought back the speed run mechanic from ZA’s first iteration, with a recolored version of the famous bear mount. Many of the bosses were recycled, although a few were new or significantly changed.

Players also didn’t like how disconnected these dungeons felt from the expansion overall. Trolls became the poster-child race for recycled, unimaginative, and overdone content. Perhaps partly because of all the backlash, Blizzard put patch dungeons on hold through two entire expansions.

Over time, however, many players missed the excitement of exploring a new five-man instance after an expansion’s launch. As the Icecrown dungeons and the Cathedral have proven, patch dungeons can make effective vehicles for story-telling. Let’s hope Blizzard continues to offer them as we progress through Legion and into the next expansion, whatever that is!

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