Sometimes it’s good to look back at where you’ve been before moving forward. This week marks the launch of World of Warcraft’s 15th Anniversary event, celebrating fifteen years of leveling, dungeons, and raiding. Until January 7, 2020 players can revel in the WoW that’s passed.
The centerpiece of the event is the new raid, Memories of Azeroth. Thanks to the time-traveling dragon Chromie, players can now relive raid encounters from previous expansions. Memories of Azeroth is split between three different wings, representing The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, and Cataclysm.
The choice of expansions for the raid is interesting. Vanilla, the launch state of World of Warcraft, isn’t represented, probably because WoW Classic is there to cover that space. Still, it’s ventures fairly far back into WoW’s past, actually coinciding with my personal period of peak performance. In essence, it’s some of my biggest memories of World of Warcraft, wrapped into one tidy package.
I started getting into hardcore raiding when The Burning Crusade launched in 2007, and tailed off when Cataclysm released three years later. I remember the long nights: doing the PvP server sprint into Karazhan, trying to run Zul’Aman to get the bear mount, main tanking in Gruul’s Lair, running Naxxramas for the first time, or the annoying gunship battle bugs in Icecrown Citadel. That period marks probably my biggest highs and lows in World of Warcraft. So many hours wasted, but so many triumphant moments at the same time.
You access Memories of Azeroth within the Caverns of Time. Like the Caverns themselves, the raid is a piecemeal collection of the various raid encounters. After you queue up in Raid Finder, you’re teleported into one of the fights—Kael’thas Sunstrider, Lady Vashj, or Archimonde for The Burning Crusade wing—and are expected to face off against them as we have before. The fights themselves aren’t any different, they’re just tuned for current players.
So color me surprised when I actually wiped with my first Raid Finder group. Again, these are the same fights that have been in World of Warcraft since their respective expansions launched. Not only have players cleared these fights ad nauseum back in the day, but the fight tactics are mostly standard at this point. There are the occasional instant death or massive damage mechanics, like Heigan’s Safety Dance or Nefarian raising the lava in the arena, but otherwise, these are basic fights.
At least they are to me. It’s worth noting that the latest of these encounters are Nefarian and Ragnaros, who were added to the game in November of 2010. Yeah, almost nine years ago—November 16 was the actual release date—the last of these fights went live. They’re old hat to me, but there are players who simply never raided back then, or weren’t even playing the game. Raid Finder itself wasn’t added until November 2011, so tackling all of these fights had to be done the old fashioned way back in the day: find a group of 24 likeminded players and hammer all the raid until it was done. Even some raiders who were active at the time never finished Archimonde or The Lich King.
It’s a testament to how long World of Warcraft has been running. There’s a huge history to World of Warcraft, with 44 different raids and 100 dungeons currently available within the game. Not all of them are memorable, but there are many that strike a chord for players depending on when they started playing. For me, I remember most fondly The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, but Mists of Pandaria and Legion also have zones, dungeons, and raids I enjoy. There are players that know everything to a granular degree, but I find that’s pretty rare.
Finishing all three wings rewards you with the Obsidian Worldbreaker mount. It’s essentially a mini-version of Deathwing, the former leader of the Black Dragonflight and final boss of Cataclysm. It’s also probably the best reward players have received from one of these events, ever.
Part of this event is looking back on these fights and feeling that nostalgia if you were there, or seeing the building blocks of WoW if you weren’t. It’s a chance for an old vet like me to pull up a chair on my porch, sit down next to a youngblood, and regale them with tales of honor and horror. “I remember when Lady Vashj’s Tainted Elemental phase wiped my entire raid over and over for hours. The flasks and food wasted are the stuff of legends.” Memories of Azeroth feels like it was targeted at me. It’s my World of Warcraft, circa 2007-2010.
There’s more to the 15th Anniversary event, including a return to the original Alterac Valley of Olde for PvP players and a Lil’ Nefarian pet simply for logging in during the event. But the raid is where it’s at. It’s a wonderful celebration of what WoW was, even as Blizzard Entertainment tries to find the way forward in the future. The event won’t keep players happy and fulfilled until patch 8.3’s launch in early 2020, or the release of the Shadowlands expansion later in the year, but it’s a damned good time. Even as I’m wiping on basic stuff.