With the latest World of Warcraft expansion Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard's stated aim has been to get more people involved in the game's top-tier "raid" dungeons. It's made all of them accessible to 10-player groups, and attempted to smooth their notoriously steep difficulty curves. In the first of an occasional series aimed at the novice raider, we present a tour of Lich King's "starter" raid, Naxxramas, in its 10-man version.
The little-seen pinnacle of Blizzard's 40-player raid design, the Naxxramas Necropolis makes a welcome return in new expansion Wrath of the Lich King, now serving as an entry-level raid dungeon for 10- and 25-player groups. Hovering ominously over the south-eastern area of Dragonblight, it is home to Kel'Thuzad, right-hand man of the Lich King, and his legion of unpleasant minions. While some of the encounters have been tweaked and simplified from their original versions to reflect the smaller group sizes and a less strict class representation, the principles remain largely the same and can provide a considerable challenge for those unfamiliar to them and/or new to raiding.
With the expansion directly addressing many of the issues of group composition and "class stacking" that affected raiding in the past, raiding is no longer so strictly balanced around assuming specific classes, talent specs, and the abilities available only to them. Blizzard has said that its intention now is for groups to "bring the player, not the class" - and as a result, this new incarnation of Naxxramas demands very little in terms of arranging groups, and class stacking is unnecessary for quick progression.
The only real requirement now is that you have two tanks and two healers - the rest is up to you. Naturally, things may be easier with certain abilities available to call upon, but as long as the raid is skilled and geared to an appropriate degree - say, at least all blue-quality gear from level 80 dungeons - and is able to grasp the mechanics of the encounters, any reasonable combination of classes and talent specs should be able to succeed.
The Arachnid Quarter
Generally considered the easiest of Naxxramas' four wings, the Arachnid Quarter contains 3 bosses lurking amongst enough spiders to make an arachnophobe out of anyone. The first of these is Anub'Rekhan, a giant scarab-like creature. He begins the fight alone but regularly calls for guards to assist him which must be quickly picked up and killed before returning attention to Anub'Rekhan. Other than his guards, he has three abilities of note: firstly, he sends a trail of spikes along the ground to impale anything in their path, so everyone should avoid bunching up; secondly, anything that dies during the fight, be it guards or players, will spawn dozens of vicious scarabs soon after which will swarm your healers if not dealt with; and lastly, roughly every minute or so, he will begin to cast Insect Swarm, a deadly aura that destroys anything close by, so the tank must run to the other side of the chamber in a manner than prevents the Insect Swarm coming close to the rest of the group, as the slow-moving scarab lord chases after.
Defeat Anub'Rekhan and you should soon find your way to Grand Widow Faerlina and her entourage. Unlike most fights where the boss has guards nearby, these should not be killed immediately, as they play an important role in the battle. While having a rain of fire and volleys of poisonous bolts at her disposal, Faerlina's deadliest ability is her Frenzy, whereupon she will increase both the damage and frequency of her attacks to the point where your tank will soon crumble. However, killing one of her worshippers after it occurs will nullify the effect and return her to normal for a while, so they should all be held by a second tank, and one killed by the raid whenever necessary. Due to the limited number of worshippers, Faerlina's frenzy cannot be dispelled indefinitely, so the group cannot take too long to kill her.
The final boss of the Arachnid Quarter is Maexxna, an ever-so-slightly large spider. The most testing encounter of the area, she unleashes dozens of spider hatchlings, will randomly place a player in a poisonous cocoon that must be broken quickly if they are to survive and, worst of all, uses a web spray to completely immobilise everyone for 8 seconds at a time, putting the tank in dire peril as she continues to attack. To make matters worse, the closer she gets to death, the more powerful she becomes, so those 8 second periods become unbearably long as she rains blows on the tank while everyone watches helplessly. Survive this torturous final 30 per cent, and with her death a portal on the wall becomes active and the raid can return to the centre of the necropolis to decide the next place to go.
The Construct Quarter
Housing more bosses than any other, the Construct Quarter contains all kinds of bizarre experiments dreamt up by the Lich King's mad scientists. While Naxxramas was originally famed for the varied mechanics of its battles, the first construct boss, Patchwerk, was the exception to the rule and is the concept of a 'tank & spank' fight taken to the brutal extreme. Hitting both the tank and offtank devastatingly and relentlessly, healers are tasked with keeping both up in the face of Patchwerk's fearsome barrage of blows. Meanwhile, the raid's damage dealers must go all out with everything they have if they are to kill him within 6 minutes, at which point he enrages and becomes unstoppable. Relying less on execution or strategy than the other encounters, Patchwerk serves as the first real "gear check" of Naxxramas.
With him gone, there's a fun Frogger homage before you encounter Grobbulus, a strange, lumbering giant in the next room. Creating ever-increasing ripples of poison at his feet, Grobbulus must be moved all around the room if they are to be avoided. He also randomly injects players with venom, both poisoning them and causing them to spawn ripples of their own after a few seconds, thus reducing further the already limited amount of space available. Finally, he will create blobs of slime which must be tanked and killed. Not a particularly demanding fight, the main problem is the lack of space that ensues as it goes on, and the raid will likely find itself hemmed in with nowhere to run as the fight nears its end.
A quick jaunt up a ramp and through a sewer pipe and you'll arrive at Gluth, essentially a giant zombie dog, and one with quite the appetite. Possessing a vicious anti-healing debuff, you'll need two tanks to take turns on him while it wears off. Gluth also regularly frenzies, increasing both the speed and damage of his attacks, though this can be dispelled by certain classes. While all this goes on, numerous zombies are dumped into the room to feed him. Untankable and with too much health to be immediately killed, some lucky soul must kite them around for 90 seconds or so until Gluth uses his Decimate attack. This reduces the health of everything in the room to a quarter of its normal amount and sends the zombies running towards him. Any that reach Gluth are immediately eaten, with each one restoring 5 per cent of his health, so they must quickly be blasted down with all the area-of-effect (AoE) attacks the group has at its disposal.
With Gluth dead, the gate to his room is unlocked and the path is clear to the final encounter of the Construct Quarter - Thaddius. Blizzard's homage to the story of Frankenstein, Thaddius plays no part in the fight at first; instead he lies inert at the back of a huge chamber. Two guards, Feugen and Stalagg, stand watch on raised platforms on opposite sides of the room and it is them the raid must first deal with. Apart from regularly pulling the other's tank to them, they pose little real threat. However, they must die within seconds of each other before the next stage of the fight can start else the first to die will resurrect itself, putting things back to square one. Should you time it right, both of them die and the raid has a few seconds to leap across to Thaddius' platform for the second stage of the fight.
Tesla coils overload and Thaddius springs into life! After a few seconds of combat, he begins building up a large burst of electrical energy which polarizes everyone with either a positive or negative electrical charge. There are a few scant seconds for the players to sort themselves into + or - groups, apart from each other - if stood near players with the same polarity as you, your damage capabilities are multiplied, and this buff is essential as Thaddius has a huge amount of hit points to whittle down before he enrages. However, if players with opposite polarities stand too close to each other instead, sparks really will fly. To complicate matters further, he will continue to hit the group with the charges, sometimes changing their polarity and sometimes not, so players must be aware and ready to move again if necessary.
The Plague Quarter
The smallest wing of the four, the Plague Quarter has three bosses in fairly quick succession. The first of these, Noth the Plaguebringer, lies not far from the entrance and paces restlessly in his lair until the raid attack him. As the fight goes on, he calls upon the dead to rise up and assist him, so attention must be spread equally between attacking him and killing the spawns so the raid isn't overwhelmed. To make matters worse, Noth will randomly apply a curse to three members of the group which, if not removed within 10 seconds, will cause substantial damage to the entire group. He will also Blink away on occasion, resetting all threat and so putting any inattentive damage dealers at risk if they don't give the tank time on him again. Lastly, after 90 seconds of combat, Noth will teleport completely out of range and send more risen dead against the raid for a couple of minutes. Each time he does this, more and more skeletons will spawn so if he doesn't die before the third teleport, the raid runs the risk of being overrun completely.
With Noth out of the way, a gate to a dank grotto filled with grubs, bats and shambling beasts is revealed. After clearing a path through it, the raid will confront one of the more notorious inhabitants of Naxxramas, Heigan the Unclean. A fight split between two alternating stages, the first sees Heigan dragged back and forth across the floor of his chamber by the tank and melee while the healers and ranged attackers stand on his platform. The second phase begins when Heigan teleports back to his platform and starts channelling a deadly aura around him, forcing everyone off. It's at this point the Heigan Dance begins. Acid erupts from the floor below and the raid must quickly run across the room, stopping briefly at certain safe spots before moving off to the next. Any delay or wrong positioning will see players almost instantly killed by the eruptions, so knowing when and where to move to is crucial. After avoiding 8 or so eruptions, Heigan will rejoin the fray, and so things repeat until he finally dies.
After Heigan is a corridor filled with rapidly respawning grubs and faintly sinister eye-stalks. Originally it was used as part of the Heigan encounter, with a few players randomly teleported to the far end of it and having to battle their way back to their teammates. Now, it simply serves as the last minor obstacle before the final boss of the Plague Quarter, Loatheb.
In his original form, Loatheb was arguably the epitome of all that was wrong with raiding prior to the 2.1 patch of The Burning Crusade. Requiring almost every buff possible for every serious attempt, it was not unheard of for guilds to pay other players hundreds of gold to turn in items that provided world buffs (Onyxia's Head, Hakkar's Heart and so on) for any advantage they could get to defeat him. Fortunately, while the basic principles of the fight remain, it's been changed to be far less demanding. Loatheb's main ability is a Necrotic Aura which is applied to the entire room. Lasting for 15 seconds at a time, it negates any and all healing effects completely, even potions and healthstones. Additionally, he places various curses on the raid which deal damage over time and gradually leave everyone's health perilously low. Once the Necrotic Aura runs out, there are a few seconds before it's reapplied so the healers must use that time to heal both the tank and the raid as much as possible.
The other component of the fight are spores which periodically appear. When destroyed, they shower a small area directly beneath them with a buff that grants whoever receives it increased damage and chance to hit, and they're essential for undergeared groups if they are to have a chance of victory (though naturally there is an achievement based around not using any at all).
The Military Quarter
Rounding off the four corners of Naxxramas, there is the Military Quarter, where the Lich King's Death Knights like to hang out and swap fishing stories. There are lots of patrols to be dealt with here, more than in the other wings, and it can take some time to clear through to the first challenge of the area, Instructor Razuvious.
A fearsome Death Knight, and Karate Kid fan to boot, Razuvious is accompanied by a pair of students who are key to defeating him. Unlike other bosses, Razuvious generally hits far too hard for any tank to realistically cope with so, thanks to the handily-placed mind-control devices, his students must be used to taunt and tank him instead, while the raid attack him. The students must take turns, as even with their greater health, they will quickly die unless their Bone Armour ability is available to use to reduce the damage taken. In addition to his great strength, Razuvious will also randomly throw knives at players and cause AoE damage to everyone with a Disrupting Shout. Though initially tricky, this is one of the easiest encounters in Naxxramas and it shouldn't take too long to beat.
Following Razuvious and the various trash packs lurking after lies Gothik the Harvester, observing all from the safety of a balcony high out of reach. A wall and gate divides his room in two and the raid must equally split into a side each. Once the encounter begins, the gate slams shut and Gothik sends his legions into battle on the left side of the room, slowly at first, but in eve- increasing and more powerful numbers. Each that dies on the 'live' side is then raised to attack the players on the 'dead' side of the room. The danger here lies in the live side team killing their enemies so quickly as to swamp the dead side, yet killing fast enough to make sure they themselves aren't overwhelmed instead. After a few minutes of this, the waves cease, and Gothik leaves his balcony to join the attack on the live side group, teleporting back and forth between both sides of the room. Eventually, the gate opens and the players are reunited as they try and finish him before his ever-increasing debuff reduces the raid's stats completely and kills it.
With Gothik's demise, just one obstacle remains between the raid and entry into the heart of Naxxramas - the Four Horsemen. Both acclaimed and reviled in their original incarnation for the degree of co-ordination, tactical expertise and class stacking required to defeat them, the Horsemen remain a tricky proposition even in this simplified form.
The Four are Sir Zeliek, Lady Blaumeux, Thane Korgazz and - substituting for absent former horseman Mograine - Stratholme's own Baron Rivendare. The former two can be tanked by anyone standing within 20 yards of them, while the latter two are tanked normally. Each horseman has a variety of unique attacks, but all have one thing in common: after a certain number of seconds, each will apply a damaging and stacking debuff named after themselves (for example, the Mark of Rivendare) on anyone within a large radius of them, and will continue to apply more until the damage it does becomes fatal. To cope with this, the simplest way is to just have your respective tanks trade places with each other so that the first set of marks fade while another set are applied from their new target. As each horseman reaches 50 per cent health, they will Shield Wall to reduce the amount of damage they take, and even if killed, their corpses will continue to apply marks to whoever is in range.
With all four quarters cleared, the platform above the entrance becomes active, and access to the heart of Naxxramas is available.
A large circular room with a mass of bones in its centre, the opposite side of Frostwyrm Lair features a doorway covered in ice. As the raid nears the centre, the bones begin to swirl and come together until the frostwyrm Sapphiron is formed. A blue dragon encountered by Arthas and Anub'arak as they journeyed through Northrend, the then-Death Knight was impressed with his foe and raised him from the dead to serve the Scourge.
A relatively straightforward battle, Sapphiron could nonetheless be the hardest encounter to be found in Naxxramas. Like many dragons, he has a highly damaging cleave that will easily kill any melee who stray too near his front, and a whip of his tail will send players flying across the room. Additionally, Sapphiron will cast a large blizzard to rain ice shards down on parts of the room, as well as a life-drain on a selected player which, if not dispelled, will quickly reduce their health while increasing his own. Despite these formidable abilities, it is his ever-present Frost Aura that presents the greatest danger to the raid, constantly dealing damage to everyone every few seconds throughout the fight and likely to tax your healers to the limit. Frost resistance gear, while not necessary, may be a great help to inexperienced or undergeared groups here.
After a minute or so of combat, Sapphiron will take flight and spit frost bolts at 2 to 3 players, each doing considerable damage to anyone nearby and encasing the target in a block of ice, immobilising them for as long as it lasts. He then takes a deep breath and unleashes a huge cloud of frost over the entire chamber that slowly falls to the ground, which will instantly kill anyone it touches. The only way for the players to save themselves is to rush to the ice blocks their team-mates are trapped in and hide behind them, out of line of sight from Sapphiron and the frost cloud. Once the cloud hits the ground, the ice blocks are destroyed, and Sapphiron flies back down to resume the fight. The pattern repeats until death, whereupon a member of the group can loot an item that will allow access to the Malygos encounter in Coldarra. Meanwhile, the barricade of ice over the door shatters and the path is cleared to...
Once a member of the Kirin Tor who became enamoured with the forbidden arts of Necromancy, Kel'Thuzad was lured to Northrend by the Lich King and went on to become perhaps the most notable and infamous of his subjects. He is untargetable at first, and calls upon the legions of the Scourge to aid him; a small army of walking dead, abominations and banshees appear to answer this call. After a few minutes with the raid under siege, their numbers begin to thin out and Kel'thuzad finally joins the fray.
His most common attack is a volley of frostbolts which will hit most - if not all - of the raid. Additionally, he casts a single, highly damaging frostbolt at the tank, and a frost blast at a player which encases them and anyone standing too close at the time in a block of ice for 4 seconds, and does a fatal amount of damage over that time if not healed through. Another spell at his disposal is Detonate Mana, which burns through a portion of a caster's mana and causes damage to anyone nearby at the end of it. Finally, he will target a player and create a shadowy fissure beneath them which quickly explodes and instantly kills anything within.
At around the 45 per cent mark, a desperate Kel'Thuzad implores the Lich King for assistance. Portals open around the chamber and two Guardians of Icecrown enter the battle. These must be picked up and offtanked as they have too much health to realistically kill, so the fight becomes a race to finish off Kel'Thuzad before his increasingly powerful Guardians become strong enough to kill your tanks. Once their master is defeated, the Guardians scramble for the nearby portals and leave. Naxxramas is yours!