Our World of Warcraft timeline dates back to 1994, before Warcraft even had a world.
A Complete Warcraft Timeline - Featuring Every WoW Expansion & More
We've gone above and beyond and created not only a World of Warcraft timeline, but a Warcraft release timeline covering all of the Warcraft games in order since the 1994 real-time strategy (RTS) game Warcraft: Orcs and Humans.
We've covered the gameplay, the new features added, the reception at the time, and how the Warcraft games' releases affected WoW's player count. Enjoy!
1994 - Warcraft: Orcs & Humans
Ah, back in the early years when Stormwind fell, and the humans fled north. Warcraft: Orcs & Humans was a real-time strategy game first released for MS-DOS. The game was an award-winning success thanks to the ability to play either faction in a cohesive fantasy world. Though little could Blizzard know that they were setting the foundations for the greatest PC gaming franchise of all time.
1995 - Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness
Back in the day, we could expect a sequel to come out after only a year. Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness progressed graphically and narratively over its predecessor -- setting itself up as the main rival for the burgeoning Command & Conquer franchise which dominated the 90's and 00's RTS charts. The year after its release, Tides of Darkness cleaned up most PC gaming awards and receive a MACOS release. By 2001 it had sold over 3 million copies and had several expansions released. It was a great inspiration for Blizzard's next big hit, StarCraft.
1996 - Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans (Cancelled)
Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans was a cancelled graphical point-and-click game following the glorious orc, Thrall, as he attempts to liberate and reunite his race following their defeat by the humans. A much more personal tale than the RTS games that preceded it, it followed Thrall's puzzle-laden quest for unification and liberty. While cancelled, it showed Blizzard's willingness to diversify. Fun fact, a player recently finished the job for them.
More than just a rerelease, WoW Classic allowed players to step back through time into the most iconic years of MMO gaming.
2002 - Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos
After a release lull lasting 7 years, when Warcraft finally returned to our PC screens it came back with whole new dimensions. The first 3D Warcraft game, the aptly named Warcraft III, introduced the two new factions of Night Elves and Undead to its RTS gameplay. Set several years after Warcraft 2, it followed the story of the Burning Legion's attempt to conquer Azeroth with their hordes of undead. Remember them, they'll be back. Also, without Warcraft III, we'd never have had DOTA II!
2003 - Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne
An absolutely brilliant expansion that sends waves of nostalgia to this author, The Frozen Throne contained new races, heroes, units, an independent horde campaign, and a whole bunch of new missions that weren't afraid to step out of the RTS quest mould. Perhaps most noticeable when looking back over all the Warcraft games in order was Warcraft III's vibrant animated lands. Even with invading frozen undead raising hell, the verdant lands of Azeroth are very much recognisable from the MMORPG that we would all go on to love. It was a franchise that found its aesthetic.
2004 - World of Warcraft
Here it is, the big one you've been waiting for. Almost 20 years ago, there came the MMORPG that would dominate MMOs for two decades. Set approximately four years after the events of The Frozen Throne, World of Warcraft was a commercial success from its very release. In 10 years' time, the game would have over one-hundred million registered accounts.
2007 -- World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade
Led by the Doom Lord Kazzak, the Burning Legion made their return from Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. The Burning Crusade was WoW's first expansion and a hugely successful one -- at the time it was the fastest-selling PC game ever, selling 2.4 million copies on release day alone. World of Warcraft had made all of Warcraft a phenomenon. The Burning Crusade famously introduced the first of the new races, one for the Alliance (the Draenei) and one for the Horde (the Blood Elves). These also allowed for faction-specific classes (Paladin & Shaman) to be used by either faction.
2008 - World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
There are few expansions that bring back such golden-era MMORPG nostalgia as Wrath of the Lich King -- considered by many WoW lovers to be Blizzard's finest work. Selling 2.8 million copies on Day 1, it securely took The Burning Crusade's crown. The expansion massively expanded the game world, introducing the crescent-shaped continent of Northrend as well as undead hordes of Lich King Arthas.
Part of its appeal to players was the difficulty; players were required to be level 68 just to advance into Northrend. It's also famous for the introduction of the first "hero class", i.e. Death Knights, fallen heroes of the Horde and Alliance resurrected by the Lich King to serve as champions of the Scourge.
2010 - World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
What better foe to improve upon an evil Lich King? How about an evil dragon aspect, Deathwing the Destroyer. WoW: Cataclysm raised the level cap to 85, introduced 10 new dungeons, two new playable races (Worgen for the Alliance and Goblins for the Horde), overhauls to glyphs, talent systems, and cities alike. Cataclysm received critical acclaim, and surpassed previous records with 3.3 million downloads on release day.
2012 - World of Warcraft: Mists of Panderia
In the years after Cataclysm, World of Warcraft's active player count dropped from a high of 12 million down to 9 million. Four years after the release of the movie Kung Fu Panda, Blizzard attempted to reverse its fortune with the introduction of well...kung fu pandas.
And Mists of Pandaria did bring many welcome changes, from an increased level cap to the Monk class to the playable Panderan race. For any other title, 2.7 million copies sold in the first week would have been considered a success. Yet when compared to 3.3 million in the first day of Cataclysm, it seems not every WoW player was initially enthused by cuddly kung fu. Still, with time, most players' tend to look back at Mists of Panderia very favourably.
2014 - Hearthstone
Breaking away from WoW expansions, Blizzard stepped outside of the box and created the fast-paced digital collectible card game Hearthstone which is based in the Warcraft world. Hearthstone is a joyously simple card game to play, but mastering it is another thing entirely. There have been plenty of crossovers and Easter Eggs between WoW and Hearthstone, but it seems the games are joining closer than ever with plenty of Hearthstone reported in Dragonflight.
2014 - World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor
The fifth WoW expansion, Warlords of Draenor, gave the game a new look, increasing system requirements with updated models and textures. It also increased the level cap by an additional 10 levels, bringing it to 100. It introduced more raids and dungeons, and let players construct their own customisable garrisons.
Players at first snapped up the chance for a modernised World of Warcraft experience, and the expansion once again sold over 3.3 million copies on release day, revitalising the player count to well above 10 million. Though by Q3 of 2015, the player count had dropped significantly, all the way down to 5.5 million -- by which point Blizzard announced that they would stop revealing the player count. Funny, eh? Many blame the change on Warlords of Draenor's garrisons which removed the need for players to go out exploring and socialising.
2016 - World of Warcraft: Legion
As well as 10 dungeons, two raids, and the customary increased level cap, Legion added the Demon Hunter hero class and the new explorable realm of The Broken Isles. In addition, the game introduced powerful Artifact Weapons which were not only a boon in battle but tied into longstanding Warcraft lore. Indeed, the very Broken Isles themselves were raised from their submerged state earlier in the Warcraft timeline - in 1995's Tides of Darkness. Critics praised the expansion, and the game sold well.
2018 - World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth
In spite of four new races, the two new continents of Kul Tiras and Zandalar, warfronts, uncharted islands, raids, dungeons, and the framing of factional warfare, Battle for Azeroth is far from the best WoW expansion.
There are several reasons given for complaint. Firstly, that the expansion attempted too much and major changes felt rushed. Secondly, that some of the dungeons were tedious. And thirdly, the factor that frustrated most players, was the borrowed power of the Azerite armour -- i.e., after one heck of a lot of grind, players are rewarded with an item with power restricted to the expansion itself.
2019 - World of Warcraft Classic
By now, as you can see, World of Warcraft had gone through some serious changes. Blizzard, in a move since copied by other MMOs, announced a brave new plan. They were releasing World of Warcraft again in its original form. Transporting players back to 2004's release (excluding some minor amendments and quality-of-life changes).
Welcome, World of Warcraft Classic -- which maintains a subscriber count separate to the main World of Warcraft at a solid 6 million players. More than just a rerelease, WoW Classic allowed players to step back through time into the most iconic years of MMO gaming.
2020 - Warcraft III Reforged
In early 2020, Blizzard remastered both 2002's and 2003's Warcraft III games with new campaign settings, modernised Battle.net features, and new graphics designed to better reflect modern World of Warcraft. To put things mildly, the changes were not well received. Even the most die-hard Warcraft fan could not have argued that the launch of the remastered game was anything but a complete disaster.
2020 - World of Warcraft: Shadowlands
Shadowlands, at first, seemed to be a return to top-class World of Warcraft. On Day One, it sold 3.7 million copies -- even more than Cataclysm and Legion. Though the longer it went on, the worse the reception got. While it wasn't the only complaint (time-gating, anyone?) most fans were dismayed by the storytelling, including with the Jailer villain and the Sylvanas redemption arc.
Though perhaps most of all, players were frustrated with the dearth of cool ideas and legitimate exploration of the games setting -- it was, after all, set in the Afterlife and therefore contained countless heroes and villains from WoW's past. Check out our Shadowlands review.
2021 - World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade Classic
In 2021, Blizzard released the first of their expansions for World of Warcraft Classic. Once more, The Burning Crusade reinvigorated the player base as new and old fans flocked back to the title -- either to relive their youths or to experience what they once missed out on.
2022 - World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King Classic
Mere days before we published this article, Wrath of the Lich King Classic received its release. Early reports are positive, and players have been in races to get their "World Firsts" with many using tricks from the original releases to claim their titles, such as the Echo Guild member who managed to reach the level cap in a matter of hours. It should be noted, however, that for the first time in WoW Classic's history, the game is opting for a different path than the original.
2022 - World of Warcraft: Dragonflight
Scheduled for December 2022, Dragonflight will be the 9th expansion to World of Warcraft. With players currently playing through the Alpha and, just like the good old days, datamining for scraps of lore, hype is building and building. From new pets to treants, players are getting excited about just about everything Dragonflight right now, and that includes us. Indeed, there is plenty of talk suggesting that Dragonflight's professional changes, exciting new Dracthyr race, evoker class, and well, awesome dragons could be everything WoW needs to bring it back to its heyday. Just don't mention the price tag.