The “opening raid” is a pivotal part of any WoW expansion, as the launch of the game is in full swing and the playerbase looks forward to the pinnacle of the launch experience. It always takes a few weeks for raiding to kick off, and usually, about a month or so after the launch of a particular expansion, players will have the opportunity to dive into the first raid instance of a given expansion. Weeks of early-expansion grinding finally come to a head when the doors of that first raid swing open, and when Shadowlands launches, I firmly believe that Castle Nathira has the potential to be one of, if not, the best opening raid that any expansion has seen in recent memory. 

Two years ago, around this time, the Battle for Azeroth launch was in full swing. The grind towards item level 350 and above was all that was on my mind, and the final destination of Uldir was a huge goal that had been on my radar. I knew that once I had completed the grind and gained entry to Uldir – the first major raid of the expansion – that I would enter a whole new portion of the expansion’s grind.

And quite honestly, those initial stages of each expansion are what I live for. Whether it was Uldir, Highmaul, or the Emerald Nightmare, I found a ton of enjoyment in all of the inaugural raids to feature in recent WoW expansions. But, even with all of that in mind, I still believe that Castle Nathria could blow all of those recent opening raids out of the water. From what we’ve seen – and what a few lucky ones have actually been able to play – the first raid that’s set to debut a few weeks after the launch of Shadowlands has the potential to set an impeccable tone thus far. 

According to Ion Hazzikostas himself, Castle Nathria was intended to replicate the traditional fantasy tropes usually found in a “Dracula’s Castle” sort of encounter. Gargoyles, vampires, gothic elegance, and so many more classic elements that you’d find in similar universes like Ravenloft or Yharnam are all on display in Castle Nathria – and the Blizzard dungeon design team pulls off those tropes in a raid setting so incredibly well. 

Additionally, with Castle Nathria’s 10 bosses in mind, the raid would go down as the biggest opening raid in recent memory, as an expansion hasn’t been kicked off with a raid instance that’s featured double-digit bosses since the Naxxramas redux in Wrath of the Lich King. The biggest raid in terms of bosses between then and now was Uldir, which featured 8 bosses. 

Image via Blizzard Entertainment

But even aside from its size, Castle Nathria does a good job – or, at least, a good job so far into the Shadowlands testing cycle – of keeping the encounters intriguing and fresh. A ten-boss raid is definitely tough to pull off considering that when you add more encounters to a raid, you run the risk of making things seem less fresh – regardless of when the raid is released in relation to the launch of the expansion. But Castle Nathria, even with its insanely tropey, classic gothic feel, doesn’t run out of fresh ideas – especially for a game that’s going to be entering its 17th year when that raid hits live servers. 

As for the way the encounters actually work, Castle Nathria is a breath of fresh air when compared to Ny’alotha, or really any Battle for Azeroth raid, for that matter. If the raid were to release as-is when Shadowlands rolls around, we’d see a lot less emphasis on multi-target encounters, and more focus on traditional-style boss fights with a bunch of modern elements and mechanics mixed in.

Fights like the Council of Blood, Artificer Xy’Mox, and Sire Denathrius – the seriously well-done final boss of the raid – are all extremely fun encounters that place a keen focus on shifting from phase to phase while managing multiple elements at the same time.

Never before has Blizzard come out of the gate swinging quite like this when it comes to raiding. Usually, modern expansions will save their biggest, most impressive raids for the later stages of a given expansion. But, this time around, it looks as if the playerbase will be treated to a real spectacle to kick off the expansion.

Castle Nathria is set to release at the very beginning of Shadowlands’ lifespan, and if this is the way the expansion’s raiding content is set to begin, then I frankly can’t wait to see what Blizzard has in store down the line. 

Daily Quest is Michael Kelly’s daily World of Warcraft column on picksandbans.net. You can follow him on TwitterWordPress, and Youtube for more content, opinions, and musings.

Featured image via Blizzard Entertainment.