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WoW ArchivistJun 27, 2016 1:00 pm CT

WoW Archivist: Classic’s Naxxramas and the Scourge event

As Blizzard reminded us last week, June 20 marked the 10th anniversary of patch 1.11, Shadow of the Necropolis — the release that gave us WoW‘s first incarnation of Naxxramas. Almost no one playing the game at the time set foot in there. Only the hardcoriest of the hardcore raiding guilds had any business inside the raid zone. The ones who did found a highly innovative but also incredibly difficult challenge.

The cobwebbed halls of Naxxramas have since become a key part of WoW‘s legacy, inspiring a revised and far more accessible version in Wrath of the Lich King and more recently the setting for Hearthstone‘s first adventure. But what was 1.11’s version like? Let’s zone in.

naxx over stratholme

Tier 3

We’ve had so many raid tiers I can’t even keep track of the numbers anymore, but the first few are seared into the memory of everyone who played in classic. As an actual new tier, the release of Naxxramas was a huge deal. The Temple of Ahn’Qiraj is affectionately referred to as Tier 2.5 because it didn’t actually include “official” tier sets or represent a big jump in item level. Given that parts of Tier 2 were available in Molten Core and Onyxia’s Lair, that meant Naxx represented the first completely new tier in WoW since the game’s discs were first put on store shelves a year and a half prior.

Blizzard had teased us with the possibility of this raid zone throughout classic: Naxxramas could be seen in the distance over Stratholme. Once the necropolis could be assaulted, guilds were anxious to dive in with their 40 raiders. First, though, everyone had to attune to the raid. Unlike the nightmarishly complex Onyxia attunement, Naxx attunement only required forking over some gold and items to the Argent Dawn. Cost varied based on your reputation, and became free at exalted.

naxx kel'thuzad

Resisting the Scourge

If you raided the Wrath version, the bosses in original Naxx will be familiar to you. The names are all the same and the mechanics are similar, often identical, although a few aspects were changed significantly or removed, such as Heigan’s Eye Stalk tunnel. The mechanics may seem simple to us today, but this was a world before highly advanced raiding addons like Deadly Boss Mods. You had to coordinate 40 raiders to be in the right position, doing the right things, surviving 360-degree melee cleaves, and — most importantly — not pulling threat from the tanks. You also had to have the right gear.

Classic raids (and even some bosses in The Burning Crusade) put a heavy emphasis on acquiring resistance gear. Naxx bosses had an array of different magical attacks: nature, fire, shadow, and frost. To make these encounters more survivable and easier on your healers, you had to equip gear that increased your resistance by the desired amount. Most raiders already had sets of fire and shadow resistance from their time progressing through the Tier 1 and Tier 2 raids. AQ required nature resist, so any guilds that had tackled the Temple already possessed “NR” sets.

Frost was the new one. Frost resistance gear recipes could be purchased from the Argent Dawn and crafted with Frozen Runes, which were obtainable only in Naxxramas. The runes were also frost resist consumables, but they were considered far too valuable to waste as such. Everyone in your raid needed to stack frost resistance gear to take on the frost wyrm Sapphiron.

Speaking of consumables, you had to bring a boatload every raid night in Naxx. The biggest offender in this regard was the Loatheb encounter, which only allowed each healer to cast one healing spell per minute. Your raid had to survive by using every type of healing consumable available.

Finally, you needed the right classes. Razuvious required Priests with lots of +hit gear to Mind Control his students. Anub’Rekhan required Hunter/Warrior teams to kite his Locust Swarms. Most famously, the Four Horsemen encounter required eight tanks (aka eight Warriors in classic’s terms), leading to rampant tank poaching among raiding guilds. Many guilds called it quits over the Horsemen encounter without even attempting it, because they simply didn’t have enough geared tanks. If they did, they discovered that getting 40 players in four groups to rotate correctly was perhaps the most intense cat-herding experiment in WoW history. 
naxx tier 3

The shinies

Blizzard’s art folks really outdid themselves for the item designs in Naxx, such as the tombstone-shaped Death’s Bargain, the pulsing Noth’s Frigid Heart, and the Spire of Twilight with its floating candles. Some of these designs can be obtained for transmog in Wrath‘s version of Naxx. The tier set items can be purchased on the Black Market Auction House from time to time.

Naxx’s nine-piece tier sets remain the largest tier sets in WoW history. The ninth piece was a ring that dropped from Kel’Thuzad. You only needed to equip eight pieces, however, to receive all four bonuses — beginning a trend in tier set design that continues to this day. Each class had only one set of bonuses, focused around the “correct” spec for that class in a raid: warriors had tanking bonuses, while druids, priests, shamans, and paladins had healing and “decursing” bonuses.

We could of course fill an entire Archivist column about Atiesh and another one about the Corrupted Ashbringer, so I’ll save those for another time.

naxx scourge invasion

The first invasion

So while the dedicated guilds were puncturing Patchwerk and face-melting Maexxna, what was everyone else doing? Along with the raid, Blizzard introduced one of several world events featured in classic: the Scourge Invasion.

It’s interesting how much the Legion pre-expansion event resembles this event design from classic. In both cases, icons on the world map show where the invasion is currently active. Pushing back the enemies (whether demons or the undead Scourge) earns you currency, which you can turn in to a vendor for some sweet, limited-availability items. Obviously the new event is more complex, but the basic setup is very similar.

The Scourge also showed up from time to time inside Stormwind and Undercity, sending NPCs into a panic. Elite packs of Scourge would even target the city’s faction leader. The mobs wouldn’t attack a player unless the player attacked them, however, so they didn’t completely disrupt cities. Blizzard added new bosses to several dungeons, including lower-level instances such as Shadowfang Keep and Razorfen Downs.

The Scourge invasion is so far the only nonseasonal event ever to be repeated in WoW‘s history. It was reintroduced as part of Wrath‘s Zombie Infestation event and retuned for level 70.

A turning point

Ultimately, the extreme inaccessibility of Naxxramas was a turning point for WoW. It sounded the death knell for 40-player raids, and brought WoW one step closer to today’s vastly more friendly endgame. Bringing Naxx back in Wrath of the Lich King gave players a second chance to experience the incredible raid zone that Blizzard’s design team created after all but a small fraction of us missed it the first time around. Some will always pine, however, for the extreme difficulty and epic experience of Naxxramas 1.0.

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