No matter how good the raid tier, you're usually sick of the sight of it by the time the next raid rolls around. So when Blizzard announced that there wouldn't be a new raid in Season 4, and would instead reintroduce previous Shadowlands raids, I was understandably dubious.
When plans for the final stretch of Shadowlands were initially revealed, Blizzard was quick to point out that it would be an "experimental season". As it turns out though, fated raids fit in with exactly how the end of an expansion should feel.
There are usually at least three raids over the course of an expansion, and each has a limited shelf-life. Castle Nathria, for example, was the first raid to arrive in Shadowlands and when the second raid arrived seven months later, there was little reason to venture back in there. The gear from the new raid was far superior, and if you've spent the past half a year killing those same bosses week after week, then there's really no desire to return.
The same has been true for pretty much every raid in World of Warcraft's recent history, stretching back to at least Warlords of Draenor—and probably before that, too. Of course, I'm not saying that people never return to raids to farm transmog, mounts, achievements or whatever, but older raids from current expansions never usually get a look in once the next raid tier has arrived.
Season 4 has changed that.
Each week, we get one of the three Shadowlands raids on a rotation. To mix things up a bit, "affixes" are applied to each boss, giving us an extra mechanic to deal with so that boss encounters don't feel exactly the same each time.
Even with those changes in place, I wasn't sure how ready I was to step back into Castle Nathria, or the more recent Sanctum of Domination. The last thing I was expecting was the huge wave of nostalgia that hit me—something I never thought I'd feel for anything related to Shadowlands (opens in new tab). Suddenly, I was remembering that one guild mate that never managed to time the portals right on Xy'Mox (and still can't), and another that somehow always died on the same trash pack. I'd also somehow forgotten the existence of several bosses until we reached them, though I did remember the pain of trying not to use Fel Rush when chained to another player on Sludgefist—albeit right after killing both of us.
While the encounters themselves have been scaled to our current power level, they haven't felt particularly challenging, and honestly, that's absolutely fine. We all know the bosses inside-out by now and I don't think this would've worked quite so well if the affixes had added too much difficulty to the fights. Instead, it feels like it fits perfectly with the end of an expansion and the power level of our characters.
The final stretch has always traditionally been a difficult time to find players to fill your raid team due to people taking breaks before the next expansion hits. This new approach not only makes it easier for anyone returning—they won't be thrown in in the middle of raid progress—but also for those still playing. You're not racing to grab an Ahead of the Curve or Cutting Edge achievement so the pressure just isn't there. There's almost a "social raid" feel when you can blast bosses and have a laugh but still get decent gear upgrades while doing it.
All the catch-up mechanics are in place, too, and they make levelling and gearing alts that much easier. And as much as I love raiding, Dragonflight (opens in new tab) is close enough now that these last few months of Shadowlands should be a time to chill and prepare for the upcoming expansion, not progress through new raid content.
That said, we're only on week three of Season 4 and Dragonflight is still several months away. This isn't something I'd like to see replacing entire raid tiers in the future, but for those final few months before a new expansion launches—a pre-pre-patch, if you will—I think Blizzard could be on to something.