Illidan the Betrayer has fallen, and with the recent defeat of Kil'Jaeden, the Burning Legion stands leaderless. Who is left to challenge the heroes of Azeroth? Why, the Lich King himself, of course! Raiding has been a staple of end game mmo's for years now, and the second expansion of the mega popular World of Warcraft doesn't plan to change that - it plans to perfect it. Although Arthas won't be shipping initially with Wrath of the Lich King, there will be plenty of other PvE content to keep you busy until he is patched in.
With the popularity of Karazhan in the Burning Crusade, many players rejoiced after hearing that all raids in WotLK will have both 10 and 25 man versions. Sometimes, however, less isn't more. A major concern going into this expansion in regards to raiding is one of group flexibility, especially with the introduction of the first hero class, the Death Knight, who can both tank and dps. There are about 30 viable class specs, but only 25 raid slots - and thats in the biggest raid possible. Thankfully, Blizzard has acknowledged this problem, and is doing everything they can to ensure everyone gets a raid spot. Tom Chilton, the games lead game designer, said they went into WoW's second expansion with the philosophy of "bringing the player, not the class". Changing the classes enough so that everyone is viable in a raid can be tough, especially since you don't want to blur the lines too much, resulting in all classes playing the same way. However, with the changes that Blizzard has made going into WotLK, it looks like everyone will get their raid spot.
Firstly, Blizzard has made it so that buffs affect the entire raid, so that you don't absolutely have to bring certain classes to every raid, for example, the old shaman totem mechanics, which only affected the shaman's group. Also, Blizzard has made it so that there are multiple ways to get the same benefit of a certain buff, yet don't stack, so there's no need to take a whole bunch of one class. For example, in the Burning Crusade, the only class that could fit the roll of "mana battery" were shadow priests. In WotLK, however, both retribution paladins and survival hunters have similar abilities to shadow priests in that they can return mana to spell casters. By doing this, Blizzard has made it so certain classes aren't pigeonholed into being a spec they don't enjoy, as well as ensure that even pure dps classes bring some type of utility to the raid that will be of use.
The other major change Blizzard has employed going into Wrath is the new stat, spellpower. Spellpower combines the old stats of spell damage and healing into one single stat. This idea of shared gear is not only great news for healers, as they won't have to carry around 2 sets of gear, but it is also helpful for raids. Need a 10th person for Naxxramas? Why not grab a restoration shaman, who can heal just fine, as well as put out some pretty decent lightning bolts on fights that aren't healing intensive. This stat really shines for the hybrid classes, and will definitely make certain specs that weren't so popular in the Burning Crusade (such as the balance druid) much more viable, as they will be able to dps and heal, even if only specced for the one. Plus, Blizzard has announced that they plan to include some type of "dual-spec" feature, so people will be able to easily and quickly switch their specs without having to go to a capitol city and paying gold to a trainer.
Of course, before you can start raiding at level 80 in Northrend, you're going to need some entry level gear. The 5 man dungeons of WotLK are looking really great, and Blizzard ran us through two of the later level ones during their dungeons and raids panel - the Halls of Lightning and Ahn'Kahet. The Halls of Lightning is a level 80 dungeon located in the Stormpeaks. This dungeon is themed around the Titans, who were the beings that supposedly forged Azeroth. A few of the bosses include General Bjarngrim, a massive vrykul warrior, and Ionar, a wicked looking storm elemental. Ahn'Kahet: The Old Kingdom is an underground dungeon located in the Ancient Nerubian city of Azjol-Nerub. Featuring both indoor and outdoor terrain, and Nerubian architecture like that found in Naxxramas, Ahn'Kahet will face players off against a faceless one named Herald Volazj.
Once appropriately geared, players are thrust into the first raid encounter of Northrend - Naxxramas. Ripped straight from Azeroth and tuned for both 10 and 25 players, Naxxramas 2.0 challenges players to defeat Arthas' servant Kel'Thuzad. Originally the final 40 man raid instance before the release of the Burning Crusade, Naxxramas 2.0 will let players try out what Blizzard has called their best designed dungeon. Since only a small fraction of hardcore raiders ever got to Naxxramas in the original WoW, Blizzard decided to bring it back, and is comparable with Karazhan from the Burning Crusade.
The other two raid dungeons launching with Wrath are both single boss encounters, similar to that of Onxyia or Magtheridon. The first is the Eye of Eternity, where players face off against the blue dragon aspect, Malygos. The second lies within the secret convening area of the 5 great dragon aspects, known as the Chamber of the Aspects. Eventually, it will house 5 separate raid encounters (one for each dragon flight), but initially will launch with just one - the Obsidian Sanctum, featuring the black dragon flight. Here players will face off against Sartharion the Onyx and his three lieutenants, Shadron, Tenebron, and Vesperon. The cool thing about this fight is the raid can make it harder on themselves in order to win better rewards. For example, if the raid wants to kill each lieutenant by itself before engaging Sartharion, then the raid will receive the bare minimum of loot. If, however, they try and engage Sartharion whilst all three lieutenants are all still alive, then the raid will have to deal with all 4 dragons at once, making the fight significantly harder, but increasing the rewards drastically. This idea of risk vs. reward is definitely a welcome addition, and will ensure that guilds won't just be farming the same encounter over and over again, since they can always make it more challenging by including a lieutenant or two into the fight.
With the beta coming to a close soon, and the release of Wrath of the Lich King less than a month away, all of Northrend's dungeons will soon be explored by millions of giddy Warcraft fans. The introduction of both 10 and 25 man versions of all raids make it so both the casual and hardcore can experience the end game content that Wrath will offer, and certain encounters like the Obsidian Sanctum will offer even more challenges for players, if they so choose. If raiding wasn't your thing in the Burning Crusade, then there probably isn't that much to draw you into Wrath's raiding scene. However, if you enjoyed raiding in the least up until now, then WoW's newest expansion won't disappoint - the early raids are looking great, and will definitely keep you busy until Arthas himself becomes challengeable. Until then, just relax, get some gear, and start working on those achievements.