On July 28th, WoW Classic added Ahn'Qiraj (also known as AQ40), one of the most legendary raids in vanilla World of Warcraft. Back in the day it was infamous: Just gaining access to it takes weeks of a whole server grinding out resources in preparation, then hours more grinding to complete the Scepter of Ahn'Qiraj questline. Then there's a 10-hour war in Silithus, and finally, after all that, guilds can breach the entrance of AQ. In 2006, it was months before players finally completed the raid. In WoW Classic, it went a whole lot faster.
The setup for Ahn'Qiraj is still thrilling. The sand-covered ruins you enter through quickly reveal themselves as a veil hiding the true horrors below. Fleshy corridors form a sprawling labyrinth, rooms brimming with ancient bugs and worms. After fighting your way to the end you face the prisoner at the heart of the raid, an old god sealed in the ground, on the brink of breaking free. It's a shame that, by today's standards, he's a joke.
The C'Thun players fight currently in WoW Classic isn't the tentacled monster of legend he once was. The C'Thun we fight has had his fangs filed down, a nerf that dates back to 2006 when guilds taking on the OG C'Thun believed him unkillable. But was he, really? Based on the skills WoW Classic players have accrued over the past 15 years, I think we can take this giant eyeball the way he was once intended to be fought. I think we can kill pre-nerf C'Thun, and Blizzard should patch him into WoW Classic to give us that chance.
The story of C'Thun is a story of frustration. Players threw themselves against the boss for months to no avail. He required a large amount of damage to take down before he enraged and promptly murdered everyone, and the fight demanded pinpoint positioning from all the raiders. The fight famously had a bug too, which caused ranged tentacles to spawn behind walls or directly under players, almost guaranteeing full party wipes. After 80 days without a single clear Blizzard finally nerfed C'Thun into the ground, and he was easily beaten the same day.
But today's raiders are not 2006's raiders. I talked to player Resilient, a co-founder and officer in the guild Progress, which claimed the crown of the first guild to beat WoW Classic's AQ40 in Europe.
"AQ40 was as difficult as we expected, which wasn't difficult at all," Resilient said. "The raid on its own was kind of a pushover, like the rest of Classic. If people are looking for hard mechanical raids, they tend to prefer Battle for Azeroth. Classic is simply for refining clears and nostalgia."
It's not just that the raid as a whole is easier for today's seasoned WoW players. Resilient is confident they could take on the "unbeatable" C'Thun, too.
"As for pre-nerf C'Thun, there is absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind that contrary to the meme that came from 2006 IRC logs, pre-nerf C'Thun is absolutely not mathematically impossible. Players are doing triple or even quadruple the numbers of people's DPS back then so even a pre-nerf C'Thun would easily fall. It is a matter of the playerbase being significantly more skilled, and knowledgeable."
"The raid was honestly kind of a joke compared to what we expected," I'm told by a player named Minmaxed. He is an officer in Venture, another one of the fastest guilds to clear AQ40 on EU servers.
If you look at the damage logs of any C'Thun kill right now you can see that's true. You've got players doing between 200 to 300 dps on bosses, and since this is Classic WoW you know they're watching a movie on their second monitor while they do it. It's hard to get accurate numbers, since most people weren't keeping track of dps 15 years ago, but according to Minmaxed, it was far less than what we're seeing now: "[There's] a general consensus among people who did play back then is that it was 'way less.' The idea that pre-nerf C'Thun is too high a damage check is laughable."
"We practised on our own client for several weeks before it went live, developing strategies and getting familiar with the trash and encounters," Minmaxed said. "I think most of the guild would have liked C'Thun to be harder, but when talking about the whole 'mathematically impossible' C'Thun I don't necessarily think it was as much about maths as it was about the encounter being bugged with tentacles spawning inside of walls and beaming your raid while being out of line of sight."
Those bugs seem like the main obstacle in the way of Blizzard putting C'Thun into WoW Classic in his original form. But here's my pitch: Leave 'em in.
Yeah, it'll be frustrating if your lead dps gets bodied unfairly, but this is Classic. The game's already an unbalanced relic, and the people knee deep in the beautiful mess are all thirsting for a drop of that old frustration. I refuse to believe a community who enjoys grinding honour and farming Scarlet Monastery would be put off by a couple of bug-induced raid wipes.
For one more perspective on C'Thun I wanted to talk to a regular raiding guild, one that came to AQ40 prepared but to a far lesser extent than those I previously talked to. Merrilia is an officer from Dopamin. Even this guild, the sort of guild you could find on any server filled with regular players, would be eager to attempt a pre-nerf C'Thun run, albeit with some of those pesky bugs removed. "Pre-nerf C'Thun would be fun to try out," Merrilia said. "That being said it depends how many 'bugs' are included in the pre nerf version and if those bugs were too game breaking to allow for a kill at all."
Ultimately, the pre-nerf C'Thun experience is as much a part of Classic WoW as farming devilsaur leather, or fending off rogues in world PvP. It's part of the legend of the game, something never bested by players at the time. Every person I've asked said they'd be interested in taking on the challenge, from the mega raiders, to your average joe.
Classic WoW is pure nostalgia packaged up for everyone who played years ago, and a curious anachronistic adventure for those who didn't. Robbing both of these groups of an opportunity to take on C'Thun as he once was—either as payback for sleepless nights ages ago or to prove you're better than the boomers were—is sad. So give us pre-nerf C'Thun, Blizzard! We can take him.