WoW Archivist: The Black Temple
Ten years ago this month, Blizzard added one of its largest and most memorable patches. Patch 2.1: The Black Temple gave us so much that only bullet points can do it justice:
- The very first daily quests — Skettis, Orgri’la, and Netherwing
- The Ruins of Lordaeron arena
- The quest line for Druid’s epic flight form
- Ethereum Prison content
- Draenei and blood elf Children’s Week orphans
- A redesign of the Alchemy buffing system so raiders didn’t have to use every possible consumable for every pull, and the debut of cauldrons
- The first engineering goggle recipes
- A fix that allowed gnomes to walk — not swim — through the pools in the Black Morass dungeon
And of course, 2.1 also introduced one of the most memorable and celebrated raids in WoW history: the Black Temple. Blizzard recently announced that BT will be the first raid to get the Timewalking treatment. There’s a reason they chose this one first: few raids have ever quite captured players’ imaginations like BT, and perhaps no raid in WoW leaves players more nostalgic than BT … at least, if you were dedicated enough to raid it when it was the heart of Burning Crusade progression.
So prepared it hurts
All of the hype leading up to the Burning Crusade expansion featured our showdown with Illidan, so players were disappointed that Black Temple wasn’t available when the expansion launched. Yes, players had vastly different expectations back then, considering that BT wasn’t even in the first or second tiers of the expansion’s progression.
I have no doubt that it’s absolutely by design that Illidan was also largely absent during Legion‘s launch content. Blizzard wanted to mirror players’ anticipation of Illidan from BC.
But while Legion went out of its way to show us Illidan’s history and have players learn more about him as we leveled and progressed at the end game, Burning Crusade showed us only his lackeys and lieutenants. As you can imagine, when 2.1 finally introduced Illidan to WoW, the hype train was running on all cylinders.
Attuning to awesomeness
Before you could face Illidan, however, you had to attune for the Black Temple, like nearly all of BC‘s raids when they first debuted. To complete the attunement quest line, you had a series of solo quests to complete. Then with a raid team you had to penetrate deep into Serpentshrine Caverns, kill Al’ar in the Eye while disguised as an Ashtongue, and then defeat Rage Winterchill, the first boss in Mount Hyjal.
The attunement was burdensome for both players and raid teams alike. It meant that teams had to run old content in order to get their new recruits attuned. Many guilds decided that doing so wasn’t worth it, so they wouldn’t even accept unattuned recruits. The only way to get attuned was to be part of a raid team, so it basically turned into a dead-end Catch-22 for a lot of would-be raiders.
Blizzard lifted the attunement requirements in Patch 2.4. Anyone who completed the quest line back then received the Hand of A’dal title.
Fortunately, unlike Mount Hyjal with its insane trash-clearing requirements, the Black Temple lived up to — and perhaps even exceeded — players’ expectations.
Into the black
I’ve always loved the Black Temple’s zone entrance. With so many other raids we literally just march up to the front door: Icecrown Citadel, Karazhan, Zul’Gurub, Heart of Fear, Firelands, Ulduar, Tempest Keep, both Ahn’Qiraj raids, Throne of Thunder, the Sunwell, all three of the Warlords of Draenor raids, and on and on. But with the Black Temple, we didn’t dare do that. We snuck into a tiny crack at the base like rats and worked our way up.
One of the reasons the Black Temple stands out so much in players’ minds, in my opinion, is not just the variety of its environments, but how those environments told a story. You began in the sewers — filthy and full of Illidan’s naga allies. Then you proceeded into the temple’s utterly massive courtyard, the marshaling grounds for his vast armies. Has any trash clear ever felt so epic as fighting your way through this open space loaded with enemies, both on the ground and in the sky? It all led up to Supremus, still one of the biggest and most imposing boss models ever.
Then we invaded the temple proper, where we encountered the lore-rich bosses Shade of Akama and Teron Gorefiend. In the temple, from the sparring grounds to the weapons caches, it was clear that Illidan was assembling a deadly force, a diverse alliance unlike anything ever seen in Azeroth or Outland before. Next we fought the mutated fel orc Gurtogg Bloodboil, who later made an alternate-timeline appearance in Hellfire Citadel.
Ultimately we climbed into the higher chambers of the Temple, where the upper echelons of Illidan’s self-made society relaxed and consorted. It made for a striking contrast: the lounge-style areas, replete with pillows and curtains, now the backdrop to a desperate fight to take down Mother Shahraz, the Illidari Council, and Illidan himself.
Overall, the raid featured some of the game’s best early model designs, from the architecture to the bosses and their loot drops, especially the incredible Tier 6 armor sets and the Twin Blades of Azzinoth themselves. It’s a testament to WoW‘s designers that so many models from BT are used for transmog today even with their far-lower resolution than modern items.
Hard mode only mode
As all raids were back in the day, Black Temple was significantly more challenging in its “normal” mode (which was its only mode), than contemporary raids. Trash respawned on an unforgiving timer, which meant fighting your way back to bosses multiple times per week. There was also no lockout extension, so you had to reclear everything every week no matter what. Many of the bosses, such as Mother Shahraz, featured mechanics where a single player’s mistake could wipe the raid.
The most difficult boss in many players’ opinions was the trippy Reliquary of Souls encounter. To this day it still gives raiders nightmares, not just for its hideous and uncanny appearance, but also the punishing mechanics. The encounter featured a phase where your healers couldn’t heal at all and the entire raid had no armor, a phase that granted everyone a DPS increase but also a threat increase, and a phase that gave everyone a healing increase but drained everyone’s mana — and made everyone take 50% of the damage they dealt. It was very easy for a player to kill themselves in an entirely different way in each phase.
Illidan himself was also no slouch. His encounter featured five phases and several types of adds. During his flight phase, a player could wipe the entire raid just by standing too far away from the Blades of Azzinoth. In a nod to lore, his demon phase worked best when the raid used a warlock tank with max shadow resistance. Then warlocks never got to tank anything ever again.
Blizzard eventually nerfed Black Temple, and all the other BC raids, before Wrath of the Lich King launched. It was highly controversial at the time, but players who hadn’t been able to experience BT could suddenly run it in pick-up groups. All but the most progression-y of progression raiders appreciated that everyone could get to experience this content at its prime. BT still wasn’t a complete pushover even then, but it was far more accessible to the average player than before.
Blizzard linked the demon hunter’s introductory quest line directly into the events that occurred ten years ago (in Earth time) in the Black Temple. Legion is the perfect opportunity to reintroduce this raid to players to see Illidan’s first major appearance in WoW.
Even if you’ve solo’ed BT before, it doesn’t compare to a full raid assaulting the Temple and clearing the bosses when their mechanics matter. I’m really looking forward to the Timewalking version to recreate this experience. It will not fully capture the original version of the Black Temple. But it will definitely hit the nostalgia button for many players and provide a taste of BC‘s raiding magic for those who never got to live it firsthand.
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