WoW Archivist: Icecrown Citadel

Was any raid in WoW ever anticipated as voraciously as Icecrown Citadel? Players had been eager to face the Lich King in person since the game was announced. The hype only intensified after the blockbuster reveal that players would travel to Northrend for the game’s second expansion.

Ghostcrawler fed into it by stating (jokingly) that the raid would have a total of 31 bosses. In retrospect it sounds absurd, but the game was still new enough, and the hype train was real enough, that many players believed him.

Five years after WoW took the MMO industry by storm, we finally zoned in to Icecrown Citadel (with only 12 bosses) on December 8, 2009.

This month, the Hearthstone team brought us their own take on Icecrown Citadel. The adventure has been an amazing trip back to the Icecrown raid, including their take on the classic bosses’ dialogue and abilities. What was it like to raid Icecrown back in patch 3.3? Let’s go back eight years and remember!

Gates and locks

It’s a mere footnote now, but players hated how Blizzard released this raid. Only the first of four wings was available when the patch went live. We had to wait an entire month for the second wing to open, then two more weeks for the third wing and two more for the final wing. So the whole raid took two months to become available.

That wouldn’t have been the end of the world, except that you also couldn’t face any Heroic bosses until you had cleared all of Normal mode. That meant progression guilds were stuck with Normal bosses for two months, and the race for Heroic world first didn’t begin until February.

In addition to gated wings, raids also encountered another type of obstacle: locked attempts. When Professor Putricide became available, raids could only pull him 10 times. As the other wings opened, more attempts were added — but the final bosses shared the same “attempt pool.” The day the Lich King became available, a raid only had 20 total attempts to kill him, along with the other three end-of-wing bosses.

Why on Earth would Blizzard do this? Well, they were concerned about the unhealthy “poop-sock” behavior that world-first races encouraged. Blizzard thought that by limiting the number of pulls, they could force guilds to prioritize quality attempts over quantity of pulls. They thought that guilds would put in their attempts and then eat, sleep, and live their lives for the rest of the week until the next reset. Oh how wrong they were…

Alt madness

Instead of that, serious progression guilds made their players gear up max-level alts. They would use their attempts with alts first. After they had seen the boss as much as possible on alts, they would bring in their main characters for the “real” attempts. Because raids during Wrath had four completely separate lockouts (10-player Normal/Heroic and 25-player Normal/Heroic), raiding guilds could do all of this four times. With one set of alts, that meant eight clears per week.

Limited attempts were removed from Normal a week after the entire raid became available, but they remained in effect for Heroic. Even after Wrath, Blizzard didn’t entirely abandon the system. It reappeared for Ra-den in Throne of Thunder.

icecrown trash

Traps and trash

The very first room in Icecrown posed an unexpected challenge for those first venturing inside. The Lich King was no fool — and he guarded the seat of his power with cunning as well as might. Those who blundered in set off a number of traps, summoning extra enemies and probably wiping your raid since you weren’t ready for them.

Blizzard hadn’t made use of Rogue’s Detect Traps ability since Blackwing Lair’s suppression room in Tier 2, and suddenly it was relevant again. For a brief moment, it was catapulted to the most helpful spell in a raid’s arsenal.

Icecrown really went out of its way to have interesting and engaging trash. Precious and Stinky were basically “mini bosses,” as were the two dragons in Sindragosa’s room. Remember that incredibly thematic moment in Frostwing Halls when friendly NPCs are killed and then raised by a val’kyr to fight against you? That was just part of the trash clear to Valithria.

lord marrowgar

Game of bones

Lord Marrowgar was Icecrown’s first boss encounter. Let’s take a moment here to appreciate all the memorable voice acting in this raid. Marrowgar’s “Boooooonestooooorm” became an instant meme and the non sequitur of choice for interrupting raid strategy discussions, forum threads, and eulogies (OK maybe not the last one).

Become a Watcher

While Bonestorm is one of the community’s favorites, perhaps the most hated sound bite of all time is Sindragosa’s “Suffer, mortals, as your pathetic magic betrays you!” The line was so shrill and repeated so often that it burrowed into my skull and made a very loud nest there. It didn’t help that Sindragosa was incredibly difficult when the wing launched, so most guilds spent a lot of time fighting her.

By far the most painful, however, was from Deathbringer Saurfang’s encounter. Not because of poor voice acting — it was very well done — but because of how often you had to hear it. When Icecrown went live, you couldn’t skip the little RP intro sequence to the fight — ever. You had to listen to it every single pull. The two factions had different intros, and I don’t know which lines were the ones that annoyed Alliance most after you heard it for the 100th time. For the Horde it was definitely “We named him Dranosh. It means ‘Heart of Draenor’ in orcish.”

In terms of great voice acting, it’s possible that nothing will ever top Professor Putricide’s gleeful impression of Futurama‘s Professor Farnsworth.

Sanctum of Blood

Popular mechanics

Icecrown Citadel had far too many creative mechanics and epic bosses to go into detail about all of them, but I’d like to mention a few. Each role in your raid (DPS, healer, and tank) had an opportunity to do something unique. Blood Queen Lana’thel’s “bite your fellow raid members” ability was a hassle for raid leaders to organize, but it was fun for DPS to execute during the fight. As a healer, Valithria’s power-up mechanic let you land insanely massive heals on her. The tanky Abomination “vehicle” in the Putricide fight was an experiment that Blizzard would revisit several times, but I would argue that it has never been integrated into an encounter better than here.

The encounter that’s most often overlooked is the gunship fight. It was easy on every difficulty, and the mechanics weren’t really that awesome, so it never had a chance to stick in players’ minds. But I always loved this encounter. It sums up the story of Warcraft better than perhaps any other in the game’s history. The tragedy of WoW is that as much as the two factions pretend to work together to defeat common threats, when the chips are down, we are far more likely to turn on each other than to cooperate. It was incredibly stupid for these two sides to clash and risk letting Arthas destroy all life on the planet — but there we were, on the doorstep to the apocalypse, unable to let go of past feuds for a single day.

Then of course there was the Lich King himself…

knights of the frozen throne

Wipes of the Frozen Throne

The Lich King is considered one of the most difficult raid bosses of all time. He was never killed on 25-player Heroic difficulty in his original incarnation. The EU guild Ensidia killed him in 25-player Normal mode the day that the encounter went live, but they exploited a bug to do so. Using an engineering item called Saronite Bomb rebuilt the Lich King’s platform, making the encounter significantly easier.

Ensidia received a 72-hour ban for abusing this exploit and had all of their loot stripped away. They claimed that one of their rogues was using bombs as part of his normal DPS rotation, which their combat logs bore out. But Blizzard believed that Ensidia had willfully exploited the bug after discovering the issue. Paragon earned the official world first two days later, and they also scored the world first in 25-player Heroic almost two months after the Lich King went live.

By that time, however, Blizzard had implemented the first of many planned nerfs to the raid: a 5% raid-wide increase to health, healing, and damage. It took that little extra advantage for a guild to finally unseat the Heroic Lich King. The buff went all the way up to 30% by July. Blizzard offered the option to turn it off for the most hardcore, though I imagine very few actually did so.

 

Epic moments

The Lich King encounter had everything: Panic as a Defile went off under your feet. Terror as the platform collapsed around you. Hilarity as your friend got dropped to instant doom by a stray val’kyr. Awe as you entered Frostmourne itself. Shock when the Lich King murdered your entire raid. Drama when Tirion saved you from becoming the Scourge’s most powerful death knights (which is Hearthstone‘s premise in Knights of the Frozen Throne). Heartbreak as Bolvar took up the helm and sacrificed himself to become the next Lich King. It was a fitting finale to WoW‘s most iconic villain, and the game’s most beloved expansion.

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