Theres been some talk recently about Ulduar and the nostalgia people feel for Ulduar. I wanted to delve into that a bit.
My Ulduar experience
During Ulduar I was in a guild called Forgotten Heroes that raided 25 mans. In the first tier we had cleared 3 drakes while the content was relevant. It took a long time, but since Naxxramas was so easy, we had a lot of time.
Ulduar was definitely harder. We cleared Ulduar while the content was relevant and did at least one hard mode (XT). We worked on others and got a couple in 10 man I think. We may have done slightly better in 25 man – I can’t recall.
The drakes weren’t removed from Ulduar, so when Trial of the Crusader came and died we started going back to Ulduar on 10 man to work on the Hard Modes. In those Hard Mode runs were the foundations of my current guild, Dreamstate. We had way more fun doing that than we did raiding 25 man Trial of the Crusader. Once we started Dreamstate at the beginning of Icecrown Citadel we made a point of going back and finishing off Ulduar.
Why Ulduar was good
Ulduar was the last raid of the old regime. It was good because people it allowed people the challenge of Hard Modes, with the satisfaction of a Normal Mode clear. Let me explain.
One of the reasons we raid is for that moment of victory. The psychologists call this moment fiero – the cheer when you down a new boss. It makes us feel good. In Ulduar, you could ‘complete’ the instance by killing Yogg-Saron. You could then do some Hard Modes. On the surface that doesn’t sound so different to today. However, the Hard Modes of Ulduar were very much ‘optional extras’. They didn’t exist on every boss, they were gradated so you could come at them gradually, and in some cases they were insanely hard so that the expectation of completion just wasn’t there. The fiero moment given by downing Yogg-Saron was therefore more significant than downing a final boss on normal these days. When you downed Yogg-Saron you had ‘completed’ the instance (Algalon never counted). Now, when you downed Ragnaros you face the option of starting all over again.
That wasn’t the only thing. Ulduar had a good difficulty curve with progression through being smooth. That contrasts to Firelands, for example, where the step up to Ragnaros was too steep, especially on heroic. The fact that Algalon was insanely hard didn’t matter as most people didn’t count him. Thats the same model that worked so well with Sinestra in Bastion of Twilight.
What the numbers say … and what they don’t
Theres likely a part of the nostalgia for Ulduar that is just ‘rose tinted glasses syndrome’. As I said, it was the last raid of its kind, before the Heroic Mode raiding we see today came in. But I suspect that a lot of the love for Ulduar comes from people who aren’t on the chart published by MMO Champion. I suspect that a lot of the love for Ulduar comes from people like me who went back later. Especially while Trial of the Crusader was out.
Trial of the Crusader was an odd raid. But I would suspect that Blizzard knew what it was doing more than we might think. Trial of the Crusader was essentially the equivalent of an Ulduar nerf. By giving us a little tier, we could gear up and go back to Ulduar! That would explain a lot.
Ulduar’s success, in my mind, comes from its ability to transcend raid tiers. Even two tiers later there was still motivation to go back. That is not something Blizzard have managed to repeat in this expansion. When players return to an older tier its often not through guild organised, formal raiding. It was for the fun of trying to get the Hard Modes they never managed before. By not nerfing tier 11 Heroic Modes, and by having Heroic Ragnaros be so very hard, players were less motivated to go back. In Ulduar, the increased gear of the next tiers made the Hard Modes about as difficult as normal mode content. So you could go and have fun in Ulduar with friends knowing the content would not be out of your reach. And theres nothing more appealing in the game than fiero with friends!
So if Ulduar’s success is because of its social connections, and its easy access to fiero moments, then thats something Blizzard should look to achieve in all its raids. Maybe then we’ll wax lyrically about up and coming raids too.