Ulduar Style Hard Modes are Back!

I wasn’t sure if it was happening in the first tier of Mists or later on, but it was just confirmed in the Reddit AMA that some bosses have them in place.

I always felt the Ulduar raid was the best design for including hard modes that were mostly built-in to the encounter versus the normal mode-hard mode toggle that we have now. Do we have a chance to see a return of the event-based hard mode design instead of a toggle?

The Protectors of the Endless encounter in the Terrace of Endless Spring raid in 5.0 works exactly like the Iron Council hardmode from Ulduar; if you defeat Protector Kaolan last on that encounter, you get “Elite” loot that is even more powerful than the normal rewards from the encounter.

It’s the sort of thing we’d like to continue to experiment with and introduce where it makes sense. For some of the Ulduar encounters it was intuitive (kill Freya while her protectors are still alive), but in other cases it was obscure (how many people would have discovered the Vezax hardmode without an achievement describing what to do?) or an outright trap (“Why is XT hitting so hard?”). We literally spent as much time arguing over how to trigger the Mimiron hardmode as we did designing the fight itself, before someone half-jokingly suggested, “what if we just put a big red button on the wall?”

So the toggle is here to stay, but we’re definitely keeping our eyes open for places where it makes sense to apply the Ulduar model.

Another cool response was something called the Proving Grounds. Remember hunters going for Rhok’delar? Priests shooting for Benediction? Those class quests taught important lessons like kiting and triage healing with HoTs and dispels.

One feature we had mentioned previously, but which didn’t make it in for Mists launch, is the Proving Grounds feature. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the idea was to add what would be a type of single-player scenario that would allow players to both learn and demonstrate the core skills associated with a given role or class. You can think of them as something akin to Challenges in Starcraft II.

These might take the form of testing how long a tank can protect an NPC healer from a stream of oncoming enemies, or how much damage a rogue can deal to targets while avoiding awareness and movement checks of increasing difficulty. The hope is that the system will be a fun way for players to practice some of the skills that are essential for group gameplay, and for expert players to demonstrate mastery and compete for positions atop leaderboards, similar to our upcoming Challenge Mode feature.

With leading raid guild Paragon switching from 25 man raiding to 10 man, the conversation of 25 man raids dying has started up again. I’m still a 25s player through and through. Although ilevel loot appears to be off the table, the rate at which one could loot is an added incentive.

It`s undeniable that 25-man raiding is dying. How/will Blizzard save it?

We want to make sure the loot you get is commensurate with the logistical effort involved. That doesn’t meant the loot has to be higher item level, but it could mean you earn loot faster.

We’re not trying to kill 25 raiding. I totally agree we haven’t yet done a good job of saving it.

In short, we’re not satisfied with the current status of 25-player raids. There are clear logistical challenges to sustaining a 25-player raiding group. It’s inherently 2.5 times as much churn, and thus 2.5 times as much recruitment needed. In terms of actual encounter difficulty, while we haven’t always succeeded, we feel that we can deliver on a comparable experience between the two modes: 10-player raiding often involves greater personal responsibility, while 25-player raiding is more complex on a macro level (more moving pieces). Even perfect tuning doesn’t compensate for the logistical difficulties, though.

Our hope and intent when introducing the parallel 10/25 structure in Cataclysm was that people would be free to pick the raid size that they prefer, but I’ll admit that in light of the organizational challenges of maintaining a 25-player roster, we may need a slightly larger incentive to make that choice a truly free and fair one. When you’re the guild leader of a 25-player raid group, and you realize that you only have 21 people regularly showing up, it’s much easier to just forge ahead in 10-player mode than it is to go through a fresh recruitment cycle to bolster your ranks. And if Mechanar taught us anything, it’s that players will always take the path of least resistance when the rewards are equal. (Note that this doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the most fun path or what players would choose in the absence of any outside forces pulling them one way or another.)

A small step we’ve taken to that end has been to increase the amount of loot dropped in 25-player Normal mode in 5.0 to 6 pieces per boss, matching the Heroic loot rate as it has stood in Cataclysm. That’s something. But it’s not a true solution to the problem. It’s something we continue to discuss on a regular basis.

Think it’ll be enough?

About Matticus

Matticus is the founder of World of Matticus and Plus Heal. Read more of his columns at WoW Insider. League of Legends player. Caffeine enthusiast.


I love the idea of Proving Grounds. It's something I've wanted to see in game for a long time. Finally a place to learn to tank or heal without killing your party.

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mattuzzi moderator

@TedtheThird I hear ya, chief. Would be interesting to put a challenge style emphasis on it, too like t he way Starcraft 2 did. They had challenges for microing, macroing, etc. 


@morynne the good old ulduar :)


  1. [...] While this post responds to some particular events, I’d like to thank Matticus for his post which tied everything together. It was while reading his blog that I got inspired to add my own [...]