10. Dragon Soul (Cataclysm)
The Cataclysm expansion in World of Warcraft had the longest and, arguably, the most intense build up to its final raid. Dragon Soul saw players return to Wyrmrest Temple in an effort to take down the great leader of the black dragonflight and one of the best Warcraft villains of all time, Deathwing. The eight boss deep raid not only took place throughout various important areas of the world such as the Eye of Eternity and the Maelstrom, but it also culminated in a grandiose final boss wherein players battled the titanic dragon upon its back as they flew through the sky.
The difficulty of the raid paired with the sheer epicness of it easily makes for one of the most memorable WoW raids of all time. Plus there’s a whole lot of Thrall. And you know any time Thrall appears in all of his badassery, you’re in for a good time.
9. Blackrock Foundry (Warlords of Draenor)
While Warlords of Draenor wasn’t exactly known for its raids, Blackrock Foundry does stand as one of the best raids World of Warcraft has seen. The Foundry was a massive 10-boss raid set in a parallel universe version of Outlands from Burning Crusade. Acting as a large base of operations for the Iron Horde, much of the raid was themed around metal forging and engineering. The environments for the Blackrock Foundry were as wonderfully crafted as the very unique equipment dropped from the bosses. The Foundry still stands as one of the most run instances for players seeking transmog gear which is a clear testament to just how cool the armor and weaponry is.
The raid also saw the return of an old favorite raid boss from Burning Crusade, Gruul, as well as some very interesting boss mechanics like the Hans’gar and Franzok fight. It also gave players a chance to confront the chieftain of the Blackrock clan and longtime lore character, Blackhand, who acted as the raid’s final boss. The fight was intense and interesting which was the perfect way to cap off an already well-made raid.
8. Onyxia’s Lair (Vanilla)
Few raids are as memorable from the original version of World of Warcraft as Onyxia’s Lair. Back in those days, raids were 40-man lagfests of pure chaos ultimately leading to a mass celebration of screaming through static-filled mics on poorly designed chat channels and Onyxia’s Lair was no different. Although the raid only held one boss, she was an absolute monster. Being the daughter of Deathwing, Onyxia was not only hard, but her command of the black dragonflight had many players raging for weeks at a time. But the fight was also well tuned and extremely fun. Upon taking the dragon down, players were rewarded with her head which could be turned into either the Horde or Alliance’s main cities to instill a buff for all to enjoy. As an added bonus, turning in the head also had the NPC shout your name throughout the city, so everyone knew who had slain the powerful beast.
This raid was so beloved in fact, that in Wrath of the Lich King the raid was completely revamped and re-tuned for level 80 players to enjoy. And while many were sad to see the original form of the raid go, since it became inaccessible, they were also excited to delve back into the fearsome dragon’s lair.
7. Serpentshrine Cavern (Burning Crusade)
The Burning Crusade expansion for World of Warcraft was one of the most influential when it came to the future of raids. It saw the shift from 40-man raids to 10 and 25-man as well was far more tuned and interesting mechanics. Among them, Serpentshrine Cavern stood not only as home to one of the expansion’s main villains, Lady Vashj, but also as a design building block for future successful raids. This was a 6-boss raid where the bosses could be done in almost any order. The bosses were fierce, but fair having multiple phases and revolutionary mechanics for the time. The Lady Vashj fight in particular was a premiere example of how a fight could be a complex amalgamation of order and chaos through scripted design resulting in a fully rewarding fight.
Serpentshrine Cavern also ditched the massive amount of trash monsters to fight in favor of a more streamlined raid and the trash it did have dropped very useful and powerful pieces of equipment. It also saw one of the most interesting boss fights of all time, The Lurker Below, which could only be spawned by having a character with 300 or more Fishing skill cast a line into a conspicuous looking water pool.
6. Firelands (Cataclysm)
Firelands was an 8-boss raid released around midway through the life of World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm expansion and it was a doozy. Thematically, Firelands’ design was one of the most beautifully crafted environments ever seen before in a raid. Ironically, this raid acted as a bit of fresh air for raids as much of the mechanics for it weren’t re-hashes of formerly used ones, but felt new and different. Using a combination of linear and free progression, Firelands gave players a chance to explore the first half Elemental Plane at their leisure, while sending them down the proverbial rabbithole for the latter half which directly led up to the return of another fan favorite boss, Ragnaros.
Firelands acted as a not-so-subtle way for players to re-experience a better made version of Molten Core. With many bosses making their return and a more fleshed out storyline, the Firelands was everything we expected from an Elemental-based raid set in a place of oozing magma and scalding flames.
5. Black Temple (Burning Crusade)
Black Temple was the second to last raid in the World of Warcraft expansion, Burning Crusade, but it also acted very much as the pinnacle of it. The raid was the home-base of the expansion’s main villain, Illidan Stormrage, a demon-infused Night Elf who had betrayed his people and his twin brother for the sake of power. Each of the 9 bosses in the raid were fresh and different boasting some of the most difficult mechanics the game had ever seen. The sheer size of the raid was colossal which helped sell the “base of the largest demon army ever” theme.
The final fight with Illidan was an absolute joy to take part in. Bringing down the fallen hero felt great as it was about the furthest from easy as you could get. Illidan also had the chance to drop the legendary-tier Warglaives of Azzinoth which stood as not only one of the best weapons available, but also as a status symbol for any player lucky enough to acquire them.
4. Icecrown Citadel (Wrath of the Lich King)
Arthas was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the single best villains the Warcraft universe has ever seen. His cruelty and desire for world domination was unyielding and that bled into just about every aspect of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. However, the place that felt it the most was the raid that housed the scourge king, Icecrown Citadel. This raid stood as the final raid of the expansion and was essentially Arthas’ castle of ice and death. Not only were the 12 bosses incredibly well designed and difficult, but they were also an absolute blast to fight. Exploring the citadel felt expansive and fights like the Gunship Battle were unforgettably epic.
Fighting Arthas himself felt rewarding, not just from a gameplay standpoint, but also from a story one as well. He had followed you throughout you’re adventures in Northrend, attempting to stop you multiple times and each time you had defeated him. And now you stand at his throne with the Light behind you. The fight was a rage-inducing struggle. Yet through everything, the cinematic nature made it one of the undeniably best.
3. Naxxramas (Wrath of the Lich King)
Naxxramas was a large-scale entry-level raid in Wrath of the Lich King design for both 10 or 25-man parties. The original form of this raid was a 40-man set during the original World of Warcraft, however it was overhauled and then moved to Northrend and released at the beginning of Wrath of the Lich King. While the original was known for its difficulty, this version was the apex of what raiding had become for the game. Naxxramas was one of the single largest raids World of Warcraft had ever seen with 5 different map areas and a grand total of 15 bosses. To create a raid this large and still have the bosses feel different and rewarding in their own way is absolutely a testament to how well-crafted Naxxramas truly was.
Naxxramas set an incredibly high standard for not only Wrath of the Lich King raids, but all future raids World of Warcraft would ever see. Delving into the massive raid with a group of friends for hours upon hours was both fun and extremely exhausting. Talking about the raid still evokes powerful memories for most players who played during the fantastic era of raiding. Just don’t forget to kill Mr. Bigglesworth, if only just to piss off Kel’Thuzad.
2. Karazhan (Burning Crusade)
It is almost impossible to talk about memorable raids without bringing up Karazhan. While only a 10-man raid during Burning Crusade, Karazhan was crafted on a level that had never been seen before. Having some of the most finely-tuned MMO boss fights of all time, Karazhan’s encounters were absurdly enjoyable and even more rewarding. It also saw the introduction of less-traditional boss fights such as the Opera and Chess Events which put a much needed spin on raiding and invoked a stronger sense of role-playing and adventure. In many ways, Karazhan felt like something more out of a loose Dungeons and Dragons session than a scripted game raid.
The raid actually saw a redesign in the recent Legion expansion and while it may not carry the nostalgia of the original, it is definitely a fantastic love letter to a raid that meant so much to so many players. For many, Karazhan was everything Burning Crusade, or even World of Warcraft itself, was about. As pure and almost perfect fusion of lore and gameplay, Karazhan will stand the test of time as one of the best raids to ever be released.
1. Ulduar (Wrath of the Lich King)
Very few raids come as close to complete perfection as Ulduar. Releasing during the mid-life of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, Ulduar stood as one of, if not the, single best raid experiences of all time. In fact, for many, it still does. Ulduar was another massive raid zone with a whopping 14 bosses. The raid threw just about everything essential to making a good raid (boss mechanics, thematic design, music, challenges, hidden features) into a single pot and created something completely out of this world. Even the opening to the raid was special and different as it had players control vehicles in order to defeat the first boss and gain entrance into the rest of the raid. Each boss had it’s own “elite mode” that was completed by performing certain actions during a boss that made it more difficult or challenging.
The raid even had an optional hidden boss, Algalon the Observer, who could initially only be defeated within one hour of the raid group entering the dungeon. Although this was later patched out, this kind of detail at a raid’s release was something that created profound memories for players who had the opportunity to dive into it. On top of everything, Ulduar’s saturation of deep lore was perhaps the tipping point of what made it one of the greatest raids to be released across all MMOs.