Uldir is…interesting, as a first tier raid.
Battle for Azeroth kicked off its raid content with this 8 boss raid that answers the question “what would happen if a Titan complex and Troll raid had a child?”
So far, with a guild at 7/8, Uldir is a bit odd, but also kind of fits the paradigm of the introductory raid of an expansion. This raid slot is meant to introduce the design philosophy that we will see throughout the remaining raids of the expansion. The themes, mechanics, all of these will establish a baseline against which we can compare the subsequent raids in the expansion.
So, what does Uldir do well, not so well, and awful? Let’s explore!
Atmosphere – Uldir, as so many aspects of the game, is a gorgeous zone filled with eye candy worth looking at. From the blood-weeping titan face on Vectis, to the troll-embellished Titan art style, everything is crafted well. There is a good mix of the unsettling pure white color void areas like Underrot mixed with bright golden structures, Titan technology on MOTHER, and the raw caverns of Mythrax and G’huun.
Later Encounter Design – While the early fights have some rough patches, overall, I enjoy the later fights more. Fetid Devourer feels like a great evolution of the Patchwerk DPS race fight, Vectis and Mythrax place a lot of emphasis on positioning, and there are fun mechanics like Deathwish on Zul. There is a good mix of things to do and interesting mechanics that force your raid at large to consider how to handle things.
Loot distribution – I like that there is a good mix of loot types throughout the dungeon. A long-time temptation that Blizzard has often given in to is to have weapons later in the instance as they are typically very powerful, and coming out of Artifacts, I was fearful that we would see that more. Thankfully, my glaives drop off MOTHER, and there are good weapons sprinkled throughout, a philosophy which I am glad also applies to trinkets. Also, thankfully, the trinkets in this first raid tier are not boring stat sticks or super simple proc effects. There are a good mix of effects, which is nice.
Story – For Alliance players, you are given next to nothing setting this raid up. There is no real story quest leading up to it, and only the vaguest mention that it will be interesting when you reach the end of Underrot and Brann gets really excited about finding the door there. Horde players have a slightly larger stake – vengeance for the Zandalari after the events of the Zandalar Forever scenario and a desire to see an end to Zul and Mythrax, along with the desire to end G’huun in hopes of stopping the Blood Troll incursions, but even then, the stakes aren’t particularly well communicated, which is a shame, since the Titan compounds generally have some of the best lore.
Mechanic Design on Early Fights – Taloc is a cool looking boss, but his mechanic simplicity is too great for even the first boss of the expansion. The fact that you can one-tank the fight very easily is bothersome as well – I usually end up playing slime bouncer on Heroic and on Normal the best thing I can do is spec Havoc so I don’t pull threat due to the anemic threat generation of my co-tank. MOTHER suffers a similar problem, in that for tanks, she can effectively be one-tanked, which is fine for her, but the adds do not add enough complexity to the encounter to make a second tank necessary. MOTHER is definitely more complex, however, and that makes up for the tanking monotony somewhat. Arguably, her abilities would not have been a good fit for a two-tank fight, given that you can’t really have tanks bouncing back and forth between rooms, so unless the trash was made more trivial, it wouldn’t really work. Fetid Devourer is fun, but for tanks again, he is a snoozefest of a fight that involves little movement or mechanical complexity. TL;DR – as a tank in Uldir, I’m a little too bored too much of the time, and it does stand out when looking back on runs in the instance so far.
Reorigination Array – To start with, I like this idea overall – building the old-school over-time nerf of the raid into Azerite is legit and a great idea. However, it essentially forces you into picking an Uldir-specific zone trait over a spec choice to get it. Even if you have your Uldir armor and pick a different trait, you do not get it. This is the problem. Currently, it helps that Laser Matrix is strong and the other option has been buffed, but it does eliminate some aspect of choice, which is not as cool. Further, the fact that the mechanism by which you increase your stacks being as obscured as it is bothers me a great deal. While I do like secrets in the game that are hard to datamine, as they serve as a last bastion of true exploration, in this case, it being so obscured wasn’t helpful and then once the raid launched it was figured out almost immediately anyways.
Set Art – The equipment art for this tier is…well, not pretty. The weapons are pretty cool, but the armor is just meh to me. This is 100% subjective, so I know some will disagree, and to be fair, some of the Mythic looks are nice, but this was an underwhelming start to an era without class-based tier art. Thankfully, Siege of Zuldazar is already shaping up much stronger on that front overall, so I am not terribly concerned.
The Devaluation of Normal –
Normal raiding in Legion served a purpose and fulfilled a good amount of gearing that could not be matched elsewhere. As the expansion went on, while catch-up mechanisms did diminish the large jumps in power from non-raid gear to raid gear, it was still clear that there was a purpose to raiding, even on normal. However, with the advent of Warfronts, normal raiding feels fairly awful in terms of reward given. Sure, yes, trinkets and rings aren’t given out in Warfronts, and the reward for a Warfront is limited to 340 gear dropping at the end and the once-per-cycle 370 piece from the quest, but it does raise the question – if I can get my relative power level so high, so quickly via a mix of Warfront runs, what is the value of Normal raiding? Once for story and that’s all? Don’t get me wrong – I know that Normal, these days, is mainly for casual organized groups and alt runs with pickup players, but it does tend to make it feel underwhelming. Even on my 120 alts, of which there are 4 at this point, I can’t imagine really seriously running normal PUG raids. Maybe heroic with guildies or bringing in my monk or priest to a guild run once we’re just farming, but it is somewhat disappointing to see this start to the expansion’s Normal raiding. It is hard to say this will be a trend, because if things shape up like Legion, item levels and power will shift around a lot, but we’ll have to wait and see if we get similar item level increases and how those may play with future raid tiers.
Overall – I do actually like Uldir, and in some cases, a lot! However, I do think it suffers from what I would call “first raid syndrome.” Ultimately, making the first raid interesting is somewhat difficult, since eventually people will forget it. I really like Emerald Nightmare, but I had to think really, really hard to remember a lot of it. Mogu’shan Vaults is cool, but suffers the same. By the end of BfA, the likelihood we will really be super nostalgic for Uldir is…pretty low. Making it more interesting and more lore-packed would be nice, but at the same time – it’s hard to imagine that it will matter much.
I think first raids have this problem for one simple reason – they are one of the few pieces of story-focused endgame content designed during the outset of the expansion, before launch happens and priorities change. Emerald Nightmare, while great, ultimately seems to have focused on telling Legion story and planting little bits of lore for the future, and by 7.3.5, it was pretty much irrelevant from a story perspective. Uldir is cool, and there is some interesting bits of lore contained within, but by 8.3, how much of that will matter?
Not much, but at least I got a Titan-influenced warglaive to transmog.