Folks who played at the beginning of Wrath of the Lich King definitely experienced Naxxramas, the expansion’s first tier of raiding. And it was well known at the time that the raid was effectively a remix of the original version of the instance, which was the final tier of raiding in the original run of World of Warcraft. The developers gave a variety of answers as to why Naxxramas was making a comeback, but they all centered on the same key ideas:

  • Naxxramas was thematically consistent with the Scourge narrative in Wrath
  • Very few people saw Naxxramas when it was current content due to the grueling attunement requirements and the absence of catch-up mechanisms in early WoW
  • The team REALLY loved the place and wanted more people to experience it
  • Everything in there was undead to start with, so bringing it all “back to life” was true to form for the Scourge

But that’s the short version. If you want a history of Naxxramas lore, read on!

Why did the devs move Naxxramas?

In the original Eastern Plaguelands experience, Naxxramas was the Scourge headquarters in the area of Lordaeron, continually fighting on multiple fronts to keep control of the territory for the Lich King. The latest effort to push the Scourge out came from the Argent Dawn organization, which worked hard to test the mettle of heroes from both the Horde and the Alliance before aiding them in breaching the floating necropolis. After the first and second tiers of raiding focused on clearing out Blackrock Mountain (from Molten Core at the bottom to Blackwing Lair at the top), and the additional side-raid options of Zul’Gurub (in its original 20-player incarnation) and the Ruins/Temple of Ahn’Qiraj (the 20- and 40-player editions that still weren’t quite upgrades past Nefarian’s loot table), Naxxramas was truly intended to finish the overall raid campaign of original WoW and set the stage for Burning Crusade. 

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Fun bit of trivia: You wouldn’t think a Scourge necropolis would have anything to do with the war in Outland, but Naxxramas was where people needed to farm for the first caster-oriented legendary weapon, Atiesh, Greatstaff of the Guardian. As a wink at what was to come, the staff could be used to open a portal to Karazhan, which was to be the introductory raid in Burning Crusade.

How is Wrath Naxxramas different from vanilla Naxxramas?

Here’s a short list (Editor’s note: not that short) of what’s different between the original version of the raid and the Wrath edition:

  • Original Naxx was a 40-player raid, while Wrath‘s version was the first to offer 10-player and 25-player versions that were identical (except for some scaling differences).
  • Proportionally, everything in vanilla Naxx hit much harder. This ranged from how much damage was dealt relative to player health pools, how frequently raid-wide damage went out, etc.
  • Various trash mobs were cosmetically different. 3.0 uses Wrath-era models like geists and flesh giants instead of the vanilla-era skeletons and abominations. Where in the vanilla version most Death Knights were Human or Forsaken (or just Baron Rivendare), the Wrath version introduced various other races like Tauren and Night Elf Death Knights, suggesting that the Scourge had been diversifying its recruitment efforts (as seen in the Death Knight class starting experience).
  • In line with bosses being proportionally less dangerous in 3.0, many trash packs were also tweaked to be less deadly overall.
  • The makeup of the Four Horsemen shifted in Wrath, replacing Highlord Mograine with Baron Rivendare himself. This lined up with the entire Ashbringer narrative laid out in the graphic novel and referenced in the Battle of Light’s Hope Chapel.
  • The Corrupted Ashbringer (a rare drop from Mograine in the Four Horsemen fight) was no longer available, as that event had already canonically taken place. Additionally, the various pieces of Atiesh farmed here in the vanilla game were removed as well.
  • Almost all of the quests that led into Naxxramas were outmoded by the move to Northrend.
  • Farming for Frozen Runes (a component of crafted frost resistance gear, which was needed for the Sapphiron fight) and War-torn Scraps (needed for Tier 3 armor) was no longer a thing, so in 3.0 the drops weren’t around for players to farm between boss fights.

Original Naxxramas was already evolving past vanilla’s raid design

Another fun bit of trivia: Recall that the original entrance for Molten Core was 80% of the way through Blackrock Depths, while the original entrance for Blackwing Lair was halfway through Upper Blackrock Spire. It didn’t take long for the devs to shift the raid attunement processes to allow for a completely external egress into the raids (on opposite sides of the same pit in the middle of Blackrock Mountain) but that’s the way it was.

The reason I bring this up is this: Remember at the end of Stratholme, the big city square where you fight Ramstein the Gorger before heading indoors for your bout with Baron Rivendare? The gate on the south end of the square that opens up for Ramstein’s adds to come in actually leads somewhere — another (unfinished) plaza intended to be the entrance point to Naxxramas. You can see an untextured citadel floating over the area, slime waterfalls, and all.

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What’s the lore behind Naxxramas moving to Northrend?

At the end of Burning Crusade, in the pre-expansion event for Wrath, Naxxramas was at the head of the Scourge invasions throughout the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor, often seen floating in the skies over Orgrimmar and Stormwind. At that point we learned that someone in the Argent Dawn had betrayed the organization and claimed the phylactery of Kel’Thuzad, allowing the lich to be reconstituted entirely. At that point, old KT reassembled most of his underlings within the citadel in order to serve the Lich King once again. Players who went into the Death Knight starting experience got a number of cameos from notable Naxxramas veterans like Instructor Razuvious, Noth the Plaguebringer, Gothik the Harvester, and (Dancemaster) Heigan the Unclean, cementing the relationship between the two areas.

After the pre-expansion event, we were led to believe that the Lich King had pulled Naxxramas and the rest of the Scourge back to Northrend, inviting the mortal races to come challenge him and his servants at last. And that is where we find the citadel: floating over Dragonblight, the last major obstacle standing in the way of a unified assault on Angrathar, the Wrath Gate. Overall, Dragonblight’s quest experience centered on establishing reasons for going back into Naxxramas, even though it wasn’t the final zone of the expansion and folks wouldn’t actually be going into the raid until level 80. But narratively it all works out in the end.

No one leaves until the job is done

The real benefit of the existence of WoW Classic is really in how people will be able to share the experience. In 2005, it wasn’t really feasible to load up someone’s Twitch stream to watch over a player’s shoulder as they did progression raiding. In 2020 though, that’s a much more likely possibility. Now this is less about the “World First Classic” race and more about experiencing original Naxxramas in as close a manner as possible (without, y’know, actually playing it). And when Classic Phase 6 opens up, that’s what we’ll be waiting to see.

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