The best and worst encounters in the original Wrath of the Lich King expansion
Wrath of the Lich King Classic is coming today, so as I did with Burning Crusade, I’m going to look at some of my favorite and least-favorite encounters of the expansion, and we can all go down memory lane together. These opinions come from the perspective of someone who played Wrath day in and day out when the content was live, primarily as a main tank. WotLK marked my time of greatest investment in World of Warcraft. I had a great guild with people who were more than just avatars to help slay internet dragons — they were my friends. It was a good time to be playing WoW.
As with Burning Crusade, there were lots of memorable encounters — many more than space would allow. But of all of Wrath of the Lich King, these encounters were the most memorable. So let’s revisit Wrath by looking at my favorite (and least favorite) encounters from the game’s dungeons and raids.
My favorite encounters in the Wrath of the Lich King
You could make a case for putting each encounter in Ulduar to make this list. The instance was huge and it was beautiful. The fights all had different tanking challenges. But my favorite encounter was Mimiron.
Mimiron was a four-phase fight, and the best part was your job as a tank changed from phase to phase. In Phase 1, you tanked a mini-Flame Levithan (an earlier boss). This phase tested your cooldown usage, and your coordination with your healers for external cooldowns. In Phase Two, there wasn’t anything to tank, so you whacked on the boss. Then in Phase 3, you did some add tanking as the raid fought a disembodied mechanical head. In Phase 4, all three bosses combined Voltron style, and each section had to die within seconds of the other. It was a fun dynamic and my favorite fight in not just in Ulduar but of the entire expansion.
We didn’t have Mythics in WotLK, but most fights had a “Hard Mode” which you activated by the way you did the encounter. For Mimiron, there was a literal giant red button you pushed. This activated Firefighter — the hardest Hard Mode I ever did. It was the normal fight, but there constant fire that would chase you around. It was intense, even when we outgeared it.
Yogg was the ultimate boss of Ulduar, and this Old God fight had multiple phases and mechanics. You had to manage a Sanity mechanic somewhat like in the modern N’Zoth fight in Ny’alotha. Yogg tested all of your tanking abilities, but also had cool lore moments as Yogg showed you past events.
In the last phase, the only way to avoid a constant DOT that would do damage and drain sanity was to turn your back to the boss. During this phase, Yogg would spawn adds at regular intervals and it was my job to pick them up — with my back turned to the encounter! There are nights I still wake up in a cold sweat hearing “Another one spawned, Honors!”
Yogg was a special moment for our guild as the kill put us at 30th in the US (for 10-man only guilds).
When mentioning this fight, I’d be remiss to not add a shout out to Precious, the miniboss who guarded the hallway to Festergut and Rotface. That little doggo would rip your face off if your healers weren’t prepared.
Festergut gave tanks the rare opportunity to contribute meaningful DPS. The first tank got a stacking buff that increased the your damage, and once the second tank taunted the boss, you’d drop your threat stance, pop your DPS cooldowns go to work making your regular DPS players sweat bullets as you assaulted the DPS meter. Tanks went to great lengths to make specific gear sets just for this fight, because it was one of the first times tanks fretted over getting a high DPS parse. We relished the opportunity to help our guilds beat Festergut’s tight enrage timer.
The Lich King
From the moment Arthas put Frostmourne through King Terenas’ heart in Warcraft 3, I wanted to cross swords with him and in WotLK, I finally got my wish. While Arthas wouldn’t be the last boss of WotLK — that distinction would go to Halion in the Ruby Sanctum — he was the ultimate raid encounter. My guild used a Tankadin (me!) and a Death Knight as our tanking team, and I’ve always thought that was a poetic tandem to take down a man who was both Paladin and Death Knight.
Arthas tested every facet of tanking. He tested cooldown usage, snap threat, proper positioning, kiting, and your ability to communicate with your co-tank. It was a tough fight to learn, but oh so gratifying to pull off. Defeating Arthas put a closure to the Warcraft 3 story in a satisfying way.
In vanilla WoW, the Naxxramas raid was the stuff of legend. There were no catchup mechanisms, so few players ever got to see the inside of the instance. WotLK introduced a new version of Naxxramas with the same bosses, which gave many players — myself included — a chance to experience these encounters for the first time.
One of my favorites was Thaddius. You had the two minibosses — Feugen and Stalagg — who would toss you from one side of the room to the other. Then you got to Thaddius himself, who had a fun mechanic around a polarity buff which changed throughout the encounter, so players were constantly moving to switch sides.
Halls of Stone
Halls of Stone was an incredibly fun dungeon with beautiful artwork and an interesting layout. The bosses call back to some of my favorites from Burning Crusade, but what sets Halls of Stone apart is the lore in the dungeon.
You adventured alongside Brann Bronzebeard, and took a dive deep into Titan lore. We learned so many incredible secrets about the history of our world, the Titans, the Dragon Aspects, and the Old Gods — in fact, this was the first time we heard “Curse of Flesh.” The threads that started here wouldn’t fully resolve until Legion.
Most of the excitement about Azjol-Nerub centered on an opportunity to come face-to-face with another antagonist from Warcraft 3: Anub’arak. But the dungeon makes the list for its length. The first time we finished it, we looked around, stunned. We had only been in there for about thirty minutes. Never before had we experienced a dungeon as short as this one.
My least favorite encounters and instances in Wrath of the Lich King
Blizzard loves new tech, and WotLK saw the introduction of vehicles which were used in both the Eye of Eternity raid and the Oculus 5-man dungeon. Neither were popular with the players.
You fought Malygos in the Eye of Eternity. When you zoned in, it felt like you were in outer space, with mobs flying in that you had to pick up and burn down. In Phase 3, the platform broke apart, but instead of falling to your doom, a group of friendly red dragons showed up — and this was where the vehicle part started. The dragon’s abilities replaced your buttons and any dragon could tank, heal, or DPS depending on how you spent its combat points and energy. In Oculus, each dragon had a specific role and each player had to know how to pilot their dragon.
Part of the problem with vehicles is you need to learn a new set of abilities separate from your class. On top of that, in these two encounters you were flying on a dragon which meant navigating full three-dimensional space. The developers used vehicles again in Ulduar for Flame Leviathan, but that one was more enjoyable, perhaps because we were piloting actual vehicles and it took away the Z-axis as a concern.
I hated one-tank fights, which always meant one of your dedicated tank players had to play their off-spec. I also hated when the developers designed an encounter so that mana-based tanks — like my Paladin — were at a significant disadvantage. General Vezax ticked all those boxes.
One of Vezax’s main abilities was a mana drain. Even with all available mana replenishment talents, this fight could run a Paladin tank dry. No mana meant no threat, and this fight already had tight threat mechanics, thanks to an ability that doubled casters’ damage and reduced the cost of their spells.
Trial of the Crusader
Trial of the Crusader simply released too soon. The massive Ulduar raid didn’t get much time to shine as players rushed to the higher ilevel gear in TotC. It also replaced Hard Modes with a Normal / Heroic toggle which created four separate difficulty levels (10-man Normal, 25-man Normal, 10-man Heroic, and 25-man Heroic). Each dropped the same gear with different ilevels. Chasing set bonuses and trinkets, progression raiders were running the instance four times a week.
It got old really fast.
Wrath of the Lich King had so many more memorable encounters
That’s my list of the best and worst encounters in WotLK. There were so many more I wanted to talk about, but was already a pretty long article. Who could forget “I remember you…in the mountains” from Thorim? Or XT-002, Archavon, The Culling of Stratholme, Four Horsemen, Algalon, Twin Val’kyr, the Icecrown Gunship Battle, Blood-Queen Lana’thel… the list goes on and on. As I’ve said, Wrath had lots of memorable moments.
What were your favorites? Was it someone from my list, or another one completely?
Originally posted April 8, 2022. Updated September 26, 2022.
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