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WoW Wednesday: Warcraft’s Karazhan, Reinvented

Once upon a time, World of Warcraft’s Karazhan was the pinnacle of achievement for a certain type of raider. For those of us unable to pull together 24 other friends, it was the next best thing; getting together a group of 9 more people was eminently doable and you still felt as if you were trailblazing, making enormous steps into an instance that redefined huge and stressful. The trash to the first boss alone was a nightmare, that I still have from time to time, on a timer so punishing in the early days that we’d wipe to that alone. However, this was the instance that defined my existence in Burning Crusade and beyond. It was the pinnacle of my career as a Guild Master and has become the benchmark on which every other instance was ultimately measured.

When it became apparent it would become a 5-man in Legion, a part of me died.

I have never really forgiven Blizzard for gutting the joy and depth from the two Troll instances that made for bland and soulless five mans. Zul’Gurub and Zul’Aman meant so much as they were, and the sanitized versions were just that.

When it became apparent that the sole building of interest in Deadwind Pass was being repackaged, the same feeling of dread was there, right up to the point where it was made clear that the original version of the instance would be preserved intact. Somewhere between Cataclysm and now, some very important lessons have finally registered. Quite apart from the fact that the original holds a Legacy mount that has frustrated more people than I care to remember? There was no longer a need to remove the original iteration. Past and present were allowed for the first time ever to exist side by side.

world of warcraft Warcraft's Karazhan

Between Deathwing and here, Legacy content became big business. Timewalking is now the de-facto way for new players to be exposed to ancient history. Five manning Karazhan and then returning to it as a solo player gives a depth of dimension to probably the most important part of Warcraft lore next to Arthas. I’m not sure how many people are doing this but if the people trailing into the ‘old’ front door on any given evening I’m there to 5-man is any indicator? There’s more than simply a passing interest in the back story. That means that going forward, that ‘Legacy’ will remain a setting both distinct and separate from the others.

It’s now utterly legitimate for someone to farm this stuff too; last weekend, I could run AQ20 and AQ40 in current content for Micro Holiday rewards. It’s no longer a case of what happens in an Expansion stays there, everything has the potential to be reinvented as current.

However, I’m not just here to extol the virtues of a long and varied past. The new 5-man is here to perform various functions; it reminds players how hard the original was at the time, pushes everyone to the limit of a small group’s capacity, and annoys the living hell out of players like me. Let’s take those in order: yes, this was a nightmare, and fights like the Curator with 5 people only goes to prove that you sometimes need raid training to even set foot in an instance. All of the Opera fights are a terror of multiple floor avoiders and the need to be in particular places at specific times. You are forced to approach every fight as if it were a raid boss, and nowhere is that truer than with the later encounters. The Mana Devourer especially is an exercise in player positioning and personal debuff management. The final encounter I’ve heard described as the hardest 5 man boss ever: Viz’aduum the Watcher needs a lot of thought, that I’ll grant you, but once you grasp the mechanics, a lot will rely on having a healer with genitalia of steel. After that? It’s still just another fight to be learned and then exceeded.

The place is immensely annoying and frustrating to me, and it has nothing to do with the encounters. Part of me knows full well why Karazhan was recycled, and it wasn’t just to sell the other game that the company makes with cards at its base or to tie in with a section of the Warcraft movie. We’ve shown that nostalgia sells, and nowhere more so than with what has become the iconic instance associated with the Burning Crusade. You knew this was coming, the same way that using the Black Temple to help tell the Demon Hunter backstory was both necessary and actually quite brilliant. However, all these bosses could easily have been put in a location on the Broken Isles. In fact, had that happened, I’d have far fewer complaints about this entire excursion. This place bears little or no resemblance to the original, and in places, I found myself actually resenting the fact that these versions of the boss fights will now become the de facto ‘significant’ versions. The fact that Nightbane is now only of interest to those people trying for a mount is perhaps the most cynical move of all because once this legacy reboot becomes Legacy itself, that’s all you’ll ever care about. All the finesse and effort is lost when all that matters is the reward. No longer do you play to appreciate the time taken to produce the result.

So, why am I playing this part of the game if there’s nothing here of interest to me? Well, yet again I’m doing a job because other people feel differently. My husband believes that Karazhan’s reboot is a brilliantly balanced 5-man adventure and that if more dungeons were like this and Mythic Plus he really won’t care that there are not enough people in Guild to raid with. That’s probably the most seductive argument of all, and once this instance is split into two in 7.2 and redesigned as separate Mythic Plus wings, I suspect it will still be a place he’ll continue to want to visit. It asks a lot from the undergeared player and whether I like it or not, there are rewards inside that are currently better than anything I can pull from a World Quest. I’m wearing two Karazhan trinkets and I realize full well that without them I would be considerably less robust in the DPS department elsewhere, specifically in the open world.

Again, there is a balancing act in play here; you can’t go to certain places without the appropriate item level and to get that requires work in other areas. Having the Karazhan gear gives me a benefit in Mythic Plus that means the difference between a two and a three chest finish. You can’t scoff at that level of difference, however hard you want to, especially after years of playing this game and knowing that these are the advantages that are required. Yes, you can be pedantic about what you get from where, or that you can do LFR for certain pieces and then maybe manage. If you’re really lucky, you might have a Guild or friends that are prepared to hold your hand if your gear level won’t cut it, but ultimately, if you want to master this place, you need to be the one in charge. To do that isn’t just about gear of course, and that can be why lesser parties win regardless. If you can think as a team, anything is possible.

Ultimately, Karazhan is a brilliant reboot of an old idea. It’s a new and ingenious spin on the classic tale that began in the Shattered Halls, that continued in the Halls of Reflection, and ended up making Grim Batol the one Cataclysm 5-man that you hoped would never come up on the random generator but always did. Some dungeons just push you to the limit of both expectation and ability, and if the 7.1 reboot is to be remembered as anything, it can be the place where you could never turn up without paying attention. In the end, I realized whilst writing this, it wouldn’t matter that much how much of a clone the new version was to the old. They could have simply done the same thing all over again and some would have lapped it up, whilst others would have condemned it as simply another watered down copy of the original.

That’s the bigger problem now that didn’t exist before, because of the significance social media now plays in proceedings, you know instantly what everybody thinks of the place. There’s no longer this sense of significance or importance that is attached to completion because somebody already did a YouTube walkthrough with a bazillion views. The fact that a week after the place opened I could pay to ‘farm’ Nightbane’s mount on my server shows a deeper, more disturbing trend. There is no longer a respect for new content when it’s attached to lucrative rewards, simply a desire from some players to ‘milk’ that newness for their own financial gain. One could argue that if Guild perks were better, or even if players were encouraged to find other ways to make money, there would still be something special to commend the new Karazhan to players like me.

The days of content having more than simply superfluous meaning might not be quite over yet; with the Nighthold opening imminently to LFR scrubs like me, we’ll have plot and boss fights colliding head-on for the first time since the Siege of Orgrimmar. Until then, however, I’ll just look the other way when people enthuse how cool and clever Karazhan is, and just get on with killing everything with a pulse. That’s something I can do well, and practice at doing so is never a bad thing.

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