The Black Temple – A Journey Through Time(walking)
Patch 2.1 – The Black Temple released on May 16, 2007. Among many other features (such as finally being able to fish in Underbog!) the patch included the long-awaited Black Temple raid, location of the final showdown between Azeroth’s greatest heroes and Illidan Stormrage.
Ten years later, World of Warcraft: Legion players were invited to journey back into the Black Temple through Timewalking—offering longtime WoW raiders a chance to revisit an old favorite, and newer players an opportunity to experience this defining chapter in Azeroth’s history for the first time.
Forcing the Hand of Fate
Putting together a raid zone the size and scope of Black Temple was no small feat. Lead Encounter Designer (now Overwatch Principal Designer) Scott Mercer and the team were challenged to provide a memorable final confrontation with one of Warcraft’s most iconic characters.
Scott: “Illidan was the central focus throughout the entire expansion, even if he wasn't present during the questing experience as much as we would've liked. There were a lot of things happening, like Lady Vashj in Zangarmarsh, or Kael'thas in Netherstorm, but it was an ‘all roads lead to Illidan’ kind of situation.”
The team wanted to make sure the Black Temple included as many themes from the expansion as they could, along with nods to the Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne campaigns where it made sense. Mercer was tasked with leading the veteran team of encounter designers and guiding the vision for the raid.
Scott: “You enter the zone through the sewers, and that's a callback to the Warcraft III missions where Illidan takes the Black Temple from Magtheridon. We approached these sewers on a very basic level—we thought, ‘it’s a wet and moist location, so let's put the naga in there.’ For raid design, having all these different environments and enemies is great. This used to be an ancient draenei temple, but blood elves made their own changes to it, there’s naga, there’s fel orcs, a lot of variety.“
The team also had the chance to experiment with different encounter types, going a bit out of the box for some of them. Visuals and areas within the temple helped shape how some of the bosses came to be.
Scott: “Out of the sewers, you arrive at this courtyard where armies are being put together, almost like war camps. The space there is huge, so we thought of many ways to fill it up. And of course, it's the entrance to the temple itself, and so we decided to put something enormous blocking it, which was Supremus. We made his flames blue to stand out more from regular infernals, and he was so large he caused some animation issues [laughs], but we built a pretty good fight with him anyway.”
As players made their way deeper into the temple, the eerie Reliquary of Souls, often touted as one of the raid’s most unique fights, awaited.
Scott: “Reliquary of Souls was inspired by the room it lives in. We had this crazy looking room and we thought, 'what if the boss didn't move?'. Probably 98% of our bosses move. We went very high concept with it and started asking other questions, like, 'What if healers couldn't heal and had to deal damage?' You know, things like that.”
The upper part of Black Temple housed the Den of Mortal Delights, at the end of which sat the Illidari Council, the last line of resistance standing between the heroes and Illidan.
Scott: “We'd done encounters like the Illidari council in the very beginning of the expansion in Gruul's Lair with High King Maulgar, but this type of 'council' encounter was relatively new for its time. Since we had the 'blood elf area' just before Illidan, we had a chance to experiment and do something cool there, like the dynamics of having to split them apart and fight them on their own separate corners of the room.”
You Are Not Prepared
At the time of its release, Black Temple wasn’t immediately accessible to everyone. Players had to complete a complex series of quests spanning several dungeons and raids to obtain the Medallion of Karabor. For many guilds, merely gaining entry to Black Temple was a challenging feat.
As with many others who would go on to work on World of Warcraft itself or on fan sites dedicated to supporting the community, World of Warcraft Game Director Ion Hazzikostas experienced he Black Temple firsthand as a player long before joining Blizzard Entertainment.
Ion: “It was a different era in the game in a lot of ways. Streaming wasn't a thing. YouTube was still in its early stages, but no one used it. Warcraftmovies.com was the place to go for all videos, and most guilds kept secrets closely guarded.
When we first entered Black Temple, we didn't know what to expect. We'd seen a few datamined screenshots of the place, but there was something exciting about being one of the first few in the world to actually be in it. We killed Kael'thas for the first time; then we dropped Rage Winterchill, and no one wanted to stop that night so we kept going until we reached Black Temple. That excitement and exploration and discovery was a product of the times, not so much the game being different, but the world surrounding the game being different. The unknown is always exciting.”
Jesse O’Connor (from The Lost Codex): “One of my most vivid memories from Black Temple was stepping out into the courtyard after killing Naj'entus and seeing the sheer size of the temple all around. Sneaking through the sewers and a side entrance felt very 'special ops,' but surfacing after that boss into the big open courtyard really delivered the 'impact' of how big and dangerous this place was.”
Perculia (from Wowhead): “I was struck by how the Black Temple entrance was an unassuming sewer instead of the main grand gates like past Burning Crusade raids—it heightened the feeling of danger, like we were sneaking into a dangerous place. The trash was quite tricky—I remember several accidental pulls that spiraled out of control, like the trash in the sewer pipe before Supremus.”
Atop the Black Temple, Illidan Stormrage was the final challenge, and many remember it as the hardest boss in the entire zone.
Ion: “The primary difficulty of the encounter came down to the second phase, when Illidan was in the air and threw down his warglaives, spawning two elementals that were tethered to them. It was a mix of healing through tremendous raid damage and a lot of careful play by the tanks. If they took one wrong step, they would be killed by Illidan's Eye Beams. If they moved their elementals two steps too far from the warglaive, the elemental would enrage and the attempt was over. Getting through that phase with the whole raid alive was the biggest hurdle.”
Anne Stickney (from Blizzard Watch): “The first time we managed to reach Illidan sticks out. Since he didn’t actually aggro until you started the event, the whole raid paused for a good 10 minutes or so while everyone took screenshots. Our raid leader didn’t even bother trying to get us back under control, we were way too hyped!”
Michael Chaudhary (from MMO Champion): “Waiting for Akama to open the door and then running up to the platform to see Illidan for the first time was a very powerful moment. He was the big villain of the expansion and finally seeing him after fighting your way through the temple was super exciting and rewarding”
Necroxis (from YouTube): “My guild knew very little going into the Illidan fight for the first time. I still remember our tanks freaking out and scrambling to understand why our raid was dropping like flies, while Illidan healed to full. We had stacked on the tank only to find out that Illidan was doing two AoE cone attacks, killing half the raid in a single hit and siphoning all of our health back into himself. It wasn't until we wiped upwards of 4-5 times that we realized we had to reposition ourselves.”
Ion: “We didn't know much about the mechanics going in, and even after we killed him there were mechanics we didn't fully understand. I remember one of the first things I did out of curiosity when I started at Blizzard was look at those encounters to see how they were scripted. When Illidan turned into a demon, he would be tanked by a caster, usually a Warlock. He would also spawn shadow demons that fixate on a player. If the demons reached that player, he or she would be instantly killed so the demons needed to be killed quickly. When the target was your Warlock tank standing far away, it was very hard to deal with, so it became one of those 'let’s hope this doesn't happen' situations for us.
As it turns out, the ability prefers to target people far away. If our Warlock would stand closer to the boss, he'd never be targeted by this ability. This was counter-intuitive to us, because if you think you can be targeted, you want to be far away to give your raid time to react. As a player, you just tend to assume the developers are jerks and that they're not going to build those protections in, so your strategies form around that assumption.”
Those experiences were exactly what Mercer’s team was hoping for when designing the zone over a decade ago.
Scott: “The secret was to find a key component for each boss—looks, mechanics, and so on—that would create memorable experiences, and I think we did a pretty good job of that. When I think of Mother Shahraz, I think of crazy beams—or Gurtogg getting angrier and angrier, that kind of thing. All those memories—and the victory after all—are very sweet. Years down the road we wanted you to go 'remember when...' and have incredible stories to share.”
Walking Through Time
Legion has many thematic parallels with The Burning Crusade, and the Timewalking feature (first introduced in Patch 6.2) allowed the development team to revisit several favorite dungeons from that era. Lead Encounter Designer Morgan Day says that the team always wanted to do a Timewalking raid, and the opportunity to tie in Illidan’s story from The Burning Crusade with the Legion narrative was simply too good to pass up.
Morgan: “Raid formats have changed pretty much every expansion. Those come with their own challenges, like bugs and old design architecture we need to support. It’s been great to revisit Black Temple and bring it into the modern raid format—a nice two-for-one package. Black Temple, regardless of which difficulty you play, is now flexible in size like any other Normal raid from Legion. That means you get all the conveniences of modern raiding.”
Bringing classic raids to modern audiences comes with its own set of challenges, but the team shares a common philosophy.
Ion: “In general, with Timewalking, we want be conservative and to change as little as possible. Of course, there's tuning to do. Players are much more powerful now than they were back then—, there are’s different talents, more passives, new abilities. But we want to faithfully preserve what was there, and only make mechanical changes when necessary.”
The team is also keenly aware that different audiences demand different approaches. The Timewalking version of Black Temple isn’t meant as the pinnacle of raiding in Legion. The design choices reflect this as well.
Ion: “We made some mechanical changes to reflect the Timewalking audience. Black Temple was originally designed to challenge the best raiders in the world, and it was very demanding. For Timewalking, it is set up as a Normal raid, probably on the easier side. We wanted it to be doable by Group Finder pick-up groups. Certain bosses like Teron Gorefiend had to become more forgiving—we don't want you to go play an old Flash game to master the mechanics of the fight before you attempt it.”
What’s under the hood anyway?
With Timewalking, players who never experienced Black Temple back in the day have a chance to explore this old-school favorite. The design team in charge of Timewalking also made changes to other bosses, for various reasons.
Ion: "Obviously bosses like Mother Shahraz were nerfed across the board, because they were tuned around players having Shadow Resistance gear and the entire elemental resistances system no longer exists. Gurtogg Bloodboil was originally untauntable, but with threat mechanics as they are today that's something that simply wouldn't work.”
Morgan: “Reliquary of Souls is another fun example. In the last phase the boss debuffs the raid when taunted. As it turns out, it was originally coded to work only for Warriors, because the assumption was that if you were raiding Black Temple, your tanks were all Warriors. Illidan's Shear was also an ability that only worked with or against Warriors, so we had to make it equally challenging for all tank specs. Finding and fixing all of these things has been pretty fun.”
Another change was to reduce the average length of the encounters. Back in the day, some encounters like Illidan could take upwards of 20 minutes. “Reliquary of Souls was an almost 10 minute fight” says Morgan, “we wanted to keep that closer to current expected fight lengths, with the longest encounters running about 5 to 6 minutes. Black Temple is a big zone, and you only have it available for a week, and we want you to be able to finish it.”
Not every adjustment was designed to make the bosses more accessible. Some encounters had to be adjusted to have a difficulty level more in-sync with the rest of the raid.
Morgan: “I'm still curious as to how this one's gonna play out, but the Illidari Council was a super hard, very long encounter back in the day. Hilariously, when we first did that fight, our internal group killed it in like 15 seconds. Turns out that players have much better AoE capabilities, and the mechanics that would prevent you from simply grouping the bosses up—the auras from Gathios the Shatterer—weren't strong enough to stop you from doing that.”
“We did a bunch of work to make Gathios’ aura function as intended. Back then, he had two auras meant to dampen either physical or magic damage, but most melee classes now don’t exclusively deal physical damage. We unified his auras into one, strong "don't group us" aura. We'll see if that’s enough or if we need to buff them further.”
Most of all, people are excited to see this old classic in a new light and share the memories with newcomers and old friends alike.
Joe Perez (from Blizzard Watch): “[I'm most excited about] getting to experience in a format that I can actually be with a group that takes it slowly. Right now running through for transmog feels almost like sacrilege. It was such an amazing place that should be enjoyed for the beauty that it was and is.”
Michael Chaudhary (from MMO Champion): “Watching players that didn't get to experience the original Black Temple during the time it was relevant will be fun. They will get to experience some of the frustration we did the first time around”
Rho (from Realm Maintenance Podcast): “Since the raid will only be open for a week, I would probably suggest checking Wowhead's guide if you're intent on clearing the whole raid. Most of the fights aren't difficult compared to modern encounters, but it never hurts to be…prepared”
Spoils of War
Along with the challenges Black Temple presented, the raid also offered amazing rewards. Nearly everyone has a story about their favorite piece of loot.
Ion: “My favorite is probably Crystal Spire of Karabor from Illidan. It had a very unique proc that helped you heal targets dipping low on health; it was obviously the best healing weapon in the game and the proc just put it over the top. I was playing a lot of Arenas, 2v2, 3v3, and that epic mace carried me—despite my clear lack of skill—through a couple seasons.”
Morgan: “I played a Warlock, so Zhar'doom, Greatstaff of the Devourer is my pick. I was so happy the day I got the ‘felhunter-on-a-stick’ staff. It looked incredible and it was themed so well for a Warlock.”
Anne Stickney (from Blizzard Watch): “Aside from the Warglaives? The Shard of Azzinoth – all the Rogues in the guild used to joke that that was our consolation prize for not getting a Warglaive to drop.”
In the Timewalking version of Black Temple, raid loot is equivalent to Normal difficulty Tomb of Sargeras. There’s a chance for everyone to earn some sweet gear when the time comes. Just make sure to gather a sizable party to tackle the challenges within. Remember the Temple as it used to be. And, if you are a Demon Hunter turning on your former master, be on the lookout for a surprise…
Black Temple Timewalking opens July 12. Will you be prepared?