Last week I was wandering the internet when I came across Blog Herding, another entry in the ‘here’s a post about a bunch of posts’ race that has erupted seemingly out of nowhere, just weeks after I started the whole thing over on TMC (I kid – but seriously, timing is a little suspect with some of these acts, I’m tellin’ ya). Anyways, I already had it in my mind to take on the Blog Banter that Kirith Kodachi sent out, but this prompt from Game Informer tugged at my heart strings:

Let’s talk bosses. The end-level giant, the final, multiple-form badass, or the tear-jerkers like The Boss. These all-powerful characters have been a staple of gaming for years, and over that time we’ve had some fantastic encounters with them. I want you to share your favorites with the community. Immortalize Bowser in a poem; serenade me with a melodic ode to Sephiroth; or just write us all a blog about how good it felt to take down Handsome Jack. That guy was a jerk.

Now, I’m not a completionist my any definition. My video game history is strewn with the corpses of half-finished games. When I beat The Last of Us last year, it was the first game I completed in years. Often, I find myself getting about halfway through a game (sometimes not even that long) and feeling like I understand the game enough to move on. Rarely does something compel me to finish.

One of those things, though, was a raid in World of Warcraft. Yes, I’m a WoW player, as I’ve admitted before, but the WoW of today pales next to what I feel is the golden era of that particular MMO. The pinnacle of my experience in World of Warcraft, at least in terms of motivation to play it and the quality of the game, was Burning Crusade’s Karazhan raid instance.

Karazhan was a 10 man raid instance – there were no ‘flexible’ raids back then, so it was a solid 10 each and every time I ran it. And boy, did I run that thing a lot. Dozens upon dozens of times, I showed up with a group of friends and destroyed every boss in that place. Somehow, I never grew bored with it, and to this day I think it is the best raid ever designed by Blizzard.

This is in large part due to the boss design found therein. Of the many bosses in Karazhan, the real standouts are the Opera House, Netherspite, and Shade of Aran for me. The Opera House was such a novel thing at the time – each raid instance had a chance to spawn one of three events, inspired by The Wizard of Oz, Romeo and Juliet, and Little Red Riding Hood. That meant that, to ensure you could clear the fight, you had to understand multiple fights. The fights themselves were pretty cool too – I still remember the horror of being chased by the Big Bad Wolf and the organized chaos of the Oz event.

Netherspite was super cool in that it required you to enter beams, juggling debuffs (for you) and buffs (for the boss) while also trying to keep everyone alive, the right tank tanking, so on and so forth. Finally, Shade of Aran may not have been the first fight to rely upon the ‘get out of the fire’ aspect of boss fights, but it certainly popularized that design and did so in a wonderful way: rather than making you move, it made you stop moving. Movement, when the wreathes of flames were deployed, would set off an explosion that all but guaranteed a raid wipe.

Karazhan, and Zul’Gurub back in Vanilla WoW, represent for me two raids that really nailed boss encounters. They were plentiful, varied, and challenging (at least until they got overleveled by the populace). They are also some of the only bosses I ever beat, in any video game, ever – because most, if I’m honest, just aren’t that compelling.