Last night was my guild’s first raid night in Battle of Dazar’Alor.
The raid is an interesting setup and the first of its kind for WoW – a raid that uses faction flavor to present an interesting take on the bosses. The first wing, however, is the generic boss wing – while both factions get unique scenery, with the Horde fighting through the Zocalo in northern Dazar’Alor while the Alliance fight up from the southern docks, the bosses are in fact identical, save for a tweak to order that was unexpected and the aesthetic of each fight.
Firstly, let’s talk about the visual kit of the raid. Dazar’Alor is one of my favorite places visually in the new expansion – while Boralus is far better designed as a capital city in terms of layout and NPC placement, it is also a bit dreary. Dazar’Alor, however, while being nothing short of highly annoying as a capital city (moving from the inn location to the ethereal vendor row, warfront queue, and mission table requires a FLIGHT POINT) is at least a gorgeous place to hang out, with bright colors, scenic vistas at every point, and an overall higher sense of prestige. Of the two late addition Allied Races, the Zandalari feel established, ostentatious, and extravagant compared to the utilitarian structures of the Kul Tirans.
The color palette shifts drastically as you progress through the (Alliance) raid as well, as the pink and gold tones give way to Bwonsamdi’s death-tinged blues and greens. The gear, perhaps save for the mail sets (they’re ugly), uses the death theme incredibly well, with enough bone motifs used that you could build a full wardrobe of Death Knight armor. I particularly like the Demon Hunter glaive model and am eagerly waiting to get my hands on one (or two).
In terms of trash, the first wing for the Alliance is fairly thin on trash, with nothing that really stands out as bad. The trash in the harbor is easily dealt with and it does not take long to get to the first boss, almost working like Nythendra from Emerald Nightmare in that way. The trash on the way to Jadefire Masters is harder, but not poorly designed, and does a good job of keeping you engaged, with a lot of optional packs that are far enough out of the way to avoid accidental pulls from all but the worst raid groups, and a mix of cannon fodder adds coupled with larger threats. The undead and ghost troll gauntlet leading to Grong is fun, although it took a few minutes to realize that it was gauntlet, which changes the pull strategy a lot. The path to Opulence is pretty clear, and the trash that is there is barely a threat, but it at least gives the impression that the Zandalari intend to keep their city.
Now, let’s talk the real meat and potatoes of the raid – the bosses.
My raid got pulls in on the first 4 bosses – Champion of Light, Jadefire Masters, Grong, and Opulence – and killed all but Opulence. This was all on Normal difficulty, with a group whose average item level was mid-370s.
Champion of Light was a tricky first boss fight, although most of our trouble came from the server problems, with several players getting stuck with high latency and as a result, we wiped about 4-5 times before a kill. Once the latency cleared up, the fight was really quite easy. From my direct PoV, as a tank who was tasked with adds, the job was fairly easy. The two tanks split into a boss tank and an add tank, and while the boss has a stacking debuff mechanic, the damage it deals is minor and it is possible to have a melee DPS with a taunt take the boss for a split-second to allow the boss tank to drop stacks without having to force a tank swap, which would be highly annoying due to the add behavior. Speaking of the adds, they’re very easy to deal with, although the initial pull will suck for most tanks. This was my role on the fight, and it required use of Sigil of Silence to round up the priests. While the core mechanic here is to avoid Blinding Faith from the paladin add while keeping the priest heals locked down and moving the add pack out of the bosses light wave ability, in truth, the priests didn’t need much interrupting, I let them get hit by lightwaves a lot because the priests are damn near impossible to move quickly without a grip or AoE interrupts, and yet still, they fell over reliably quickly. The rhythm of the fight breaks down as a boss phase during Seal of Retribution, during which adds must not die in order to prevent boss buffs, and an add phase during Seal of Reckoning, during which the boss must not be touched by DPS to avoid a Reckoning bomb causing a lot of raid damage. This makes the healing mechanics of the adds rather trivial, as they are perfectly okay to heal each other during Retribution, and once the full force of raid DPS comes down on them, they melt quickly with no real issues, even if they get the HoT from light wave. You get new adds with each two-seal cycle, so once the adds die, you just pick up the new ones and repeat the cycle. The boss pops Avenging Wrath at 30%, so you just make sure she is in Retribution for that, pop Heroism/Bloodlust, and go to town to kill her before the switch to Reckoning. Easy enough, but a good test of basic mechanical aptitude. Looking at the fight with an eye towards my past life as a raid healer, and I could see being a bit bored on this fight. Tanks take steady damage with spikes, but the raid damage is pretty low when mechanics are correctly managed and the end result is that it doesn’t seem too engaging for healers. DPS get a lot of target switching and a good mix of cleave AoE and high single-target burst phases, so they’re well engaged by this design. Overall, a good first fight!
Jadefire Masters is a fun take on a council-styled fight. You have two bosses here, but they do not share health, and if the Mage boss is lower health than the Monk boss, the monk will gain a damage-dealt buff, making her hit harder and harder. Rather than the tanks each taking one add and swapping on a single, predictable mechanic, both bosses use different tank debuffs, and the swaps are paced differently, meaning that there will be many moments of overlap, where one tank will have both bosses. The mage stacks a constant fire damage taken debuff, which is the swap mechanic here and requires more active maintenance, while the monk only seldom does her debuff, which she initiates by sending her current tank to the top of a pillar, making them do a simon says game of facing the right direction for a mechanic mirroring the monk player ability Earth, Wind, and Fire, and the end result is that successful management of this gives the tank a damage dealt buff, but also requires the other tank taking the monk, as the game also places a 100% physical damage taken debuff on them. While these swaps are happening, the mage can sometimes fire shield, and will hard cast Pyroblast (which I think means he’s bad at playing mage, but I haven’t checked Icy Veins for the spec since the mage tower in Legion) and needs to be interrupted. At points during the fight, a maze of rings of peace will pop up to be run through, while the mage shoots fire AoE at spots to hinder player movement. On normal, this is just a nuisance, but on higher difficulties, other mechanics emerge that pose more of a threat. When you get to the end of the maze, there’s a barrier to DPS down, and then the fight resumes. Every now and then, the monk will do a flurry of fists style attack by jumping away from her tank, which just requires that someone engage her again in melee combat to stop it. Overall, this was a fun fight and has something for everyone – DoT damage and AoEs needing healing, multi-layered tank swaps, DPS target switching and cleave, and the maze intermission offering some movement the fight would otherwise be lacking. I really enjoyed this fight!
Next up for the Alliance was Grong, resurrected from the Horde killing him earlier in their portion of the raid. I have to assume that is why the boss order is slightly different here for both factions, but I could see this being a problem for Mythic, as the Horde order puts a harder boss in Grong first, ahead of the Jadefire Masters, where Alliance gets Grong after Jadefire. Grong is a fun fight with a sort of modern Patchwerk style – he’s mostly a DPS check that requires some small breaks for mechanical complexity. During the fight, adds spawn along the side of the room that must be killed before they can buff the boss, and orbs drop that can be thrown at Grong to do 5% of his health in damage to him while also serving as an interrupt for mechanics. I admit to not understanding much of the fight other than the tank mechanics, but the way the adds work require that you keep Grong semi-mobile so the adds cannot buff him, while also moving him slightly for ground AoEs he will occasionally do. The tank swap mechanic is iffy, as he does a combo of bite and smash attacks, with the bite doing a moderate amount of damage as a DoT, while the smash does huge damage (186k on normal with a 15-player group) and debuffs you such that the next smash does 500% damage, which will kill you. However, his combo of these two abilities is randomly selected and he’ll perform 3 attacks. It is possible for all 3 to be bites, which can stack the DoT but the damage didn’t feel awful and it is physical damage, so mitigation helps a lot, but it is also possible to get 3 smashes, and while, in theory, the buff should barely wear off in time to allow smash target 1 to take smash number 3, if your taunts are on cooldown, this might be a rough spot. However, the cadence of things is such that, managed properly, even the tank debuffs don’t pose a huge threat. Overall, I liked Grong, not as much as Jadefire Masters, but it is an enjoyable fight with a suitable mechanical complexity. One funny note, this fight, due to it being a living/dead mirror for the factions, has a dozen flavor changes between versions. The Horde fights a living Grong, with gnome machine adds and a mechanical orb, with the majority of mechanics just being mad monkey physical attacks without as much flair, while the Alliance fights an undead Grong, with troll ghost adds, necromantic orbs, and death-themed and named attacks that just so happen to have identical effects to the Horde version, which is…interesting!
Opulence was our first stopping point, with a handful of wipes before raid end. After Grong, there’s not a lot of trash and you run right into the vault. The fight has basically two very different phases, with the raid splitting in half to run up the side hallways, killing the constructs that are there, as they move through different chambers in 10% health increments. For Alliance players who did the 8.1 war campaign quests, there’s not much in the way of surprises – there are flame jets, crushes, a gas chamber, and a few lasers, but the first phase is largely an execution check. When you get to the end of the hall, you have to pick up a gem, with 1 tank type, two healer types, and a sprinkling of DPS gems. Each offers unique buffs, but are only available to players of the correct role – preventing a tank from taking a DPS gem, for example. The gems are pretty critical to survival, as the healer gems offer damage reduction buffs that help the group survive certain mechanics, while the tank gem offers a huge damage reduction via absorb shield that also serves as the taunt swap mechanic. While I imagine it is possible to do the fight without the gems, given enough gear, for this tier, it seems like it will be largely impossible, as the damage dealt by the elemental mechanics that healers use the gems for is massive, and the tanks, even with the diamonds in their possession, will get smacked for a lot of damage. The golem phase is largely just awareness checks, which will either be easy or hard for your raid depending on how good your players are at noticing really easily telegraphed attacks, so you can probably predict how it will go for you based on that(my raid has a few awareness-challenged players, so our early golem phase wipes were due to a lack of attentiveness and nothing else). I’m excited to try it some more tonight!
With individual boss breakdowns done, let’s talk tuning. My first inclination is to call Normal under-tuned, as even the supposed DPS check of Grong was not particularly hard, however, I would maintain that early-tier Normal is designed for people who did only Normal in the prior tier, with maybe some 370 gear from Azerite emissaries or Dungeon week reward caches, so it’s likely targeting an average item level around 360. Since my raid is high 370s to low 380s, the early fights would naturally seem much easier, as we’re nearly 20% more powerful than the tuning would be built for, and I suspect that from Opulence on, we’ll be facing more daunting challenges in terms of tuning.
On the note of tuning, note that gear dropping in Battle of Dazar’Alor has had tweaked itemization and has more Stamina on even an equivalent item level piece. I got an Azerite helm as my first drop last night, and at 385, matching my current helm, it had over 200 more stamina, so while it felt like a downgrade in Azerite traits due to the higher Heart of Azeroth requirements, it was overall better. Also, with a new belt, ring, and helm, I already have almost 300k health with the Priest buff and no other stamina boosts, so standard WoW inflation is in full swing!
Overall, I really enjoyed raid night, and I was glad to be having a lot of fun playing WoW again. The raid is well designed to this point and has a lot of interesting fights, gorgeous visuals, and is a fantastic addition to the game.