Early in the raid tier, my thoughts on Sanctum of Domination were a little scatter-shot. I’d been pugging it and doing things very inconsistently – a boss here, a boss there, out of order clears, and the like. With my guild rejoining and some rapid progress as a result, I’m now up to 9/10 Heroic and about 90 minutes of pulls deep on Heroic Sylvanas. With that, I thought now was a great time to share some early thoughts. In most raid tiers, I won’t “review” it until a full AOTC clear, so this is going to be sort of a precursor to that – some early fights, I’ll have a lot more to say on today, however.
So first, the quick hits. The environment of Sanctum of Domination felt better than I expected at first when it was announced as “Torghast, the raid.” However, that quickly gave way – there’s a lot of same-y-ness about it, with just little color palette swaps to keep things refreshed, and it just isn’t enough. I’ll make room for a couple of exceptions – Painsmith’s room captures a molten torture chamber/forge look very well, the Guardian of the First Ones room is exceptional in concept and art, and Kel’Thuzad’s room looks like an HD remaster of Naxxramas in a good way – just different enough with visual style to set it apart from the rest of the tower.
On the loot side, going back to fixed drop weapons is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because there are more weapons with more interesting effects, including a sprinkling of interesting proc or use effect weapons like the Cruciform Veinripper, Jaithys, and of course, the legendary bow Rae’shalare. On the other hand, it means there are fewer unique weapon appearance in this tier and if you don’t like the Jailer/undead/skulls and iron theme, you’re shit out of luck. Having said that, the weapons do match better to the armor drops in the raid compared to Nathria, where unless you were Venthyr, the weapons just didn’t match the armor at all and were meant to be paired with the Covenant armor instead. I’ve said my piece about Shards of Domination, and I think it holds true – there’s something in that system, but it is too many layers of abstraction to avoid the simple version (tier sets) or just making raid loot itself flat out more rewarding. For me as a DH, the itemization of leather gear this tier is on point, with a lot of Haste and Versatility, although your mileage may vary! The last thing I will say is trinkets. Trinkets are…pretty decent, all told. There’s an interesting mix of effects in the raid and while a lot of preferred trinkets are still Mythic Plus drops, a double raid trinket loadout remains valuable and potent, which was the case for most specs in Nathria as well. It’ll be interesting to see how that works once Legion Timewalking M+ is added in 9.1.5, since you can upgrade trinkets from that to 246 item level (but no Vault drops for 252 versions), since Legion dungeon trinkets could be pretty strong and only often got displaced by even more insane raid trinkets like Draught of Souls and Convergence of Fates.
Now, for the boss and trash designs.
I want to start with the trash and the overall layout and pacing of the raid. It isn’t particularly great on that front, all told! There’s not what I would deem an overabundance of trash, but it comes down to placement, mechanics, and time spent walking between pulls, and for my taste, a lot of these factors are just plain off. My pain points in particular – the time you have to spend before Tarragrue is absurd and annoying, especially if you knock off all 4 golems for Anima Powers and then invite someone in and have to wait for them to run the whole circle for powers. The Maw Assassins before Eye of the Jailer are garbage, both because their gimmick is bad and because they have a lot of outright killing mechanics that can make them wily foes. Eye again wins on bad trash for the chain pulls, which teaches you the Heroic mechanic but also has that trash on Normal for some reason. The amount of distance you have to run with no actual gameplay between the post-Eye trash and the 3-way boss intersection just feels dull because there’s never any real way to have gameplay or fun there besides trying to race your fellow raiders (and as a Night Fae Demon Hunter with a fair bit of Mastery, I’m always going to win that race). My biggest thing is just that even post hotfixes, Sanctum is too large without much happening. There are huge run back penalties for wipes on bosses like Dormazain and Remnant, which get even worse for Painsmith. There are a lot of things that could be done better with checkpointing and movement through the raid as you clear – I’d kill for some more of those Ebon Blade deathgates to actually do something and work.
The bosses themselves though remain, as they usually are, a high point in the design of World of Warcraft. There’s no real stinker boss as I would put it in the encounters – a couple lower spots, but even those are fine.
The Tarragrue, right off the top, is an interesting and fun fight with great lore hooks – Anima Powers, the old Torghast torments being burned on Heroic and up, and the mechanics forcing some interaction with defensive powers in order to avoid catastrophe – all of that is great. I do think that the fight tuning is a little light, though – the first 90% has to be tuned around random Anima Powers, so while the fight looks like a Patchwerk with light execution, the DPS check isn’t really that bad and almost any organized group will topple it. The last 10% relies on the tanks doing a proper cross-room taunt strategy and people paying attention to targeting – melee-heavy comps can struggle if the tanks go down quickly, but proper cooldown usage will win the day. The Eye of the Jailer fight is similarly a little on the easier side – most of the fight comes down to proper execution of the transition phases, proper burn in phase 3, and on Heroic, managing the chain debuff and adds well.
Moving up the tower, the Nine as a fight is an interesting concept and one that I like. It has a lot more mechanical tug-of-war with the way things are timed out, but a lot of the fight comes down to managing Fragments of Destiny and getting in Aradne’s Falling Strikes. The rest is fairly straightforward. Remnant of Ner’zhul is a fun fight but also a fairly easy one – the Orb of Torment mechanic is a fun twist on adds or target switching, as is the mechanism for removing the damage from the fight, but that and the dispel mechanic are the only things that the fight really offers that are new or innovative. I do enjoy how the quotes from the boss could be lined up into a Linkin Park song, though! Soulrender Dormazain feels like a fun twist on the Heigan safety dance, and the chain mechanic to avoid the big raid wipe AoE is a good, new twist, as is the debuff you can place on the adds. There’s actually a really potent mix of old-school raid mechanics and new designs here and I think it comes together pretty damn well.
Painsmith is the first major wall boss in the raid for most groups, and rightly so. The fight uses a lot of positional requirements and area denial as the means to add challenge, and the ways in which these mechanics overlap create a lot of challenge in execution, but is simple to understand. That’s one of the strengths of WoW raiding to me, so I really quite like this fight. It does still have some quirks (I went back to a Felblade build this week and Felblade’s charge component puts you in kill range on the Spiked Balls, so…uh…yeah!) but overall, this is pretty enjoyable (I did do pulls on Normal pre-nerf and enjoyed them too). Moving past him to some lighting round thoughts – Guardian of the First Ones is an excellent modern Patchwerk fight that has a lot of choice baked in (how to handle the Obliterate stacks, how many Purging Protocols to stay out for) and always feels frenetic towards the end. Fatescribe Roh’Kalo is a boss I’ve only done on Heroic, and I think it’s actually an interesting fight in a good way, although the Runic Affinity mechanic will wreck groups with lesser coordination (our raid was calling rings on Discord fairly well, although not always 100%, while the other raid team needed to set everyone up on a set of WeakAuras to auto-assign). Kel’Thuzad is a fun fight and the voiceover plays into it very well as you close in on the kill – the scaling of the fight works out in a fun way and the simple Heroic twist demands a degree of improved group cohesion in a way that fits what role Heroic serves in Blizzard’s eyes.
Then, there’s Sylvanas.
As a fight and end boss, she’s not really that bad, at least not on Normal. Actually, I think on Heroic so far, she’s not awful either. Sylvanas as a fight demands bursts of concentration and focus from the entire raid and individual players failing at that can cause wipes. That being said, the mechanics are more predictable and less prone to overplay compared to say, Heroic Sire Denathrius. On Sire, a raid with high DPS throughput could mistime the first phase or force the final phase transition at inopportune times, and the final phase mechanics particularly on Heroic were incredibly punishing and couldn’t just simply be preplanned with raid markers but had to be called on the fly dynamically in response. Sylvanas has a lot less of that. The biggest thing with Sylvanas is that throughput matters and so gearing up your DPS and letting them pump damage is always a net gain. You can’t push her out of Phase 1 in a way that screws over your raid, because her mechanical design is made to sequence through the transition in a way that sets you up for phase 2 success. There’s only a small bit of mechanical tug-of-war during phase 2, which is that you must be in range to avoid the big raid damage (on Heroic), and that you must interrupt Ruin to avoid a wipe, which requires DPS to be high but also requires at least one speed racer who navigates tight bridges with gaps incredibly well (or can skip over them altogether, hello Havoc DH jump/double Fel Rush), but the goal is to survive, and so for most players that means not rushing the bridges, doing strong and focused burns on the major add targets, and keeping tabs on Sylvanas’ location at all times. I haven’t seen phase 3 on Heroic yet myself, but it seems like the new twist is a healer check – which doesn’t seem that bad, but the damage and scaling could change my mind on that in a hurry once we start progressing against that.
Overall, Sanctum of Domination is…pretty good as a raid tier in whole. Visually, it leaves a fair amount to be desired (it is, as we always say about WoW art, competently executed and well made, but just visually too same-y with Torghast and a lot of the expansion), and I think the layout, checkpointing, and non-boss gameplay is just filler junk that doesn’t feel very much like fun, but the core raid gameplay of challenging those bosses is very much on-point and the boss designs really do an excellent job of merging older designs and mechanics (simple add fights, the Safety Dance, etc) with new twists and mechanics that bring a lot of life to the raid as a whole. I’m excited to continue Sylvanas progression on Heroic next week, and while phase 3 might be a hell of a check as a whole, it feels quite doable and there’s not as huge of a barrier to progress as Denathrius felt like, at least not yet. 83 pulls doesn’t feel like a requirement, and with a fresh week, more Domination bonuses, and higher overall gear level across the board, I imagine some phase 3 pulls are in the immediate future. But, that might also be overly optimistic given the number of kills on H Sylvanas so far (although whether that is a difficulty thing or a sharply reduced number of raiders this tier, who knows).
Either way, I think in closing, I like the core gameplay of Sanctum of Domination and it goes a long way to propping up underwhelming layout, design, and artistic direction. As someone who plays WoW for the core gameplay, overall, that means it is a win for me.