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10 of the Greatest MMO Raid Bosses of All Time
Nothing defines "massively multiplayer" quite like raids. Other genres may tell better stories or make it more fun to smash things with big hammers, but when it comes to bringing together dozens of players and letting them invent and coordinate complex strategies to defeat huge bosses, the MMORPG remains the top of the pile. Not all raids are created equal, however, so we decided to make a list of some of the greatest raid bosses of all time.
One drawback of the MMORPG genre is that it's impossible to experience the vast majority of the bosses listed here in their original states. Expansions bring new level caps, and the godly challenges of yesteryear become soloable by the sorriest player. Games shut down, key abilities for strategies get removed or rebalanced, and interest in old content wanes. But in their heyday, each of the 10 bosses chronicled below was something to behold (and fear).
One last thing--the criteria here is a bit loose. Both world and instanced bosses make the cut, and some made the list based on their significance in MMO lore and history instead of their mechanical polish.
Ragnaros, The Firelord (World of Warcraft)
World of Warcraft continues to have some (most?) of the most creative boss fights in the genre, and in 2011 Blizzard revived Ragnaros, arguably the most iconic raid boss of all time, and updated him to show off just how much the team had learned about fun boss design since 2004. On heroic mode, he was a challenge for the ages. His hammer Sulfuras slammed down repeatedly, players got knocked in the air, and raid members had to adjust to random minion spawns that could wipe the raid if left unchecked. Survive long enough, and heroes from Warcraft's lore yank him from his molten pool, revealing his legs and feet the first time. It would be funny, but at that point, players were usually too busy dying to laugh.
Every time I think of Rift's Volan fight from the Storm Legion expansion, I can't help but think it looks like the Fellowship of the Ring is brawling with one of the "jaegers" from Pacific Rim. But that's partly what makes the fight great. The fight kicks off with Volan stepping away from the friggin' mountain he was using for a chair, and then the cabal of sorcerers, warriors, and rangers use cannons to blast him while he stomps around like Godzilla. There's also a lot of welcome verticality to the fight--if you play melee classes, for instances, you can use levitation platforms to hop up to his level and bang your swords on his metallic head.
Thaurlach (Lord of the Rings Online)
Even today, few MMORPGs so fully capture the experience of living in a fantasy world quite like The Lord of the Rings Online, but Turbine's sprawling take on Middle-earth rarely pops up in discussions of great raid battles. It wasn't always thus.
Once, players threw themselves against the balrog Thaurlach as he broke from his chains in the Rift of NŻrz Gh‚shu. Spewing disease and conjuring swords as long as Hobbiton is wide, he did his best stomp the light from GlathlŪrel the elf as she attempted to purify the waters nearby, while players pulled levers and smote Thaurlach's ruin upon the cavernside. Even the best prepared groups would end up battling him for the better part of an hour, but it was worth it for the gigantic sword you got to stick on the lawn of your personal home as a trophy.
Mimiron (World of Warcraft)
Who knows what was in the water when Blizzard created its Ulduar raid instance, but it remains a masterpiece of raiding design that the company arguably hasn't matched since. The greatest of its fights was likely Mimiron, which boasted a hard mode that kicked off after you pressed a gigantic red button (that naturally says DO NOT PUSH THIS BUTTON). With fire constantly blasting in the chamber, Mimiron taunts players while he jumps from gadgets like an assault cannon and a flying bomber before joining it all together in a Voltron-like construct. It's a testament to the strength of the design that the encounter remains fun even when played on a character that's overleveled for the content.
Shandra Manaya (TERA)
TERA still gets a lot of praise for its movement-heavy "action" combat, but it's got some good boss encounters that complement that action as well. The greatest of these is the Argon Queen Shandra Manaya, who starts out the fight in a metal cocoon while players kite TERA's signature "big-ass monsters" around the room while slugs drop poison and tentacles whip down on the floor. And that's just the first phase. Sandra then hatches, whereupon she shoots lasers, curls into a ball and unleashes explosions, and many other dreadful things. Adding to the pain is the need to juggle four debuffs that each cancel out the other, but somehow, the fight's never anything less than fun.
Yakhmar (Age of Conan)
Part of the appeal of hunting down Yakhmar the Ice Worm in Cimmeria's Eiglophian Mountains was that his abilities closely mirrored L. Sprague de Camp & Lin Carter's description of him in a Conan story. His green eyes stunned those who dared to look, and hitting him with fire caused him to unleash a hypnotizing wail that froze players in place. The little worms he spawned were almost as tough as Yakhmar himself, thus usually requiring two desperately positioned groups. It didn't hurt that he looked cool for a worm. Never mind the mouth that made him look like a sarlacc that had popped out of his hole; he also sported a coat of fur (yes, fur) you could turn in for a quest if your group was coordinated enough to beat him.
Soa, the Infernal One (Star Wars: The Old Republic)
It's a shame the fight against Soa, The Infernal One was such a buggy mess after SWTOR's launch, as it hinted that MMORPG rookie BioWare had the chops to develop and sustain a memorable raiding scene. And indeed, the fight was a thing of beauty... when it worked. The floor collapsed at intervals while you slashed and shot at the shielded rekata, thus forcing you to leap down on rubble to keep piling on the pain. Soa used the Force to smash players into walls and other obstacles, while other players dodged ball lightning and smashed obelisks that trapped players within. Once that was done, the raid played whack-a-mole with Soa using the pillars the boss threw around the room.
Kerafyrm the Sleeper (EverQuest)
Twelve years on, being one of the roughly 200 players who banded together to bring down Kerafyrm the Sleeper in 2003 still tops the charts for MMO boss bragging rights. Seemingly created from pure energy, the dragon was designed to be impossible to defeat. His hit points alone were numerous enough to intimidate the weak-willed, and he boasted abilities that could kill players with a single touch. Three top-tier guilds set aside their differences and joined forces in an effort to defeat the beast. They almost succeeded, too.
The warriors whittled Kerafyrm down to 22 percent health after three hours of battle with chain redirections (and this in a game that heavily penalized you for dying), Sony Online Entertainment feared an exploit and pulled the plug mid-fight. There wasn't, and after the uproar SOE respawned him and he died the next day.
Pandemonium Warden (Final Fantasy XI)
Many MMORPG bosses are tough, but the Pandemonium Warden is probably the only one whose powers seemingly included the ability to make players physically sick. Around 40 players attempted to kill him back in 2007, and they were still at the same fight 18 hours later, battling as he shifted forms from everything from seated demons to tanks and creatures from Greek mythology. Some of the players fainted from exhaustion. Some players vomited. Square Enix severely weakened him after the incident and saddled him with a two-hour spawn timer. There are many, many better designed bosses, but only the Pandemonium Warden revealed the grip MMORPGs can have on our souls.
Yogg-Saron (World of Warcraft)
Shades of what would become the Yogg-Saron boss fight were already visible back in 2006 when Blizzard introduced C'thun (a fantastic boss in his own right), but Yogg was a masterful combination of lore and mechanics. There was a cinematic quality about the whole affair, whether it was in the way a mysterious Vrykul woman named Sara (hint, hint) bid you fight off minions or the way venturing into Yogg's mind forced you to fight through scenes from Azeroth's past. Titans modeled after Norse gods assisted you (or didn't, if you wanted a real challenge), and Yogg ate away at your mind until insanity forced you to see your companions as Cthulhu-type beings that must be slain. As befits an Old God, it's a godly fight.
Sig Credit: Toxic