Legion is here and patch 7.1 is on the horizon. But with everything charging forward, let’s take a look in the rear view mirror, past the smoke of players burning down their garrisons with abandon. Let’s look at the expansions that came before Legion, and, as we are known to do on the internet, rank them.
This list was comprised not only of this writer’s opinion but was based from lists provided by staff and other members of the MMOGames community on Twitter. Taking the bulk of everyone’s answers and tallying them up, before adding some of my own expert opinions as a 12 year veteran of the game in question, we have created a list of the some of the things we loved and hated about every expansion to date.
5: Warlords of Draenor
We will start with the latest of the live expansions and almost universally the most despised. Warlords of Draenor was supposed to be the big return for a lot of people. Bored by Cataclysm and put off by the more cartoony appearance of Mists, Warlords was Blizzard returning to its Orcs vs Humans base. By exploring the rich history of Draenor, it let players venture into what they knew as Outland before it was sundered by the dark portal. It was to pit players against long dead lore figures like Gul’dan, as well as showing the Draenei civilizations long before the Fel massacres broke them. And the cherry on top? Player housing was finally making it’s way to WoW. What could go wrong?
Everything. Everything went wrong.
The first real hurdle the game stumbled on, the terrible launch aside, was the lingering effects of Orc fatigue that the previous year of being stuck raiding siege of Orgrimmar left the player population with. While most jokes state that troll instances are the de facto overabundant areas, players soon realized that with the exception of a few skirmishes with traitorous Draenei, the vast majority of the game’s enemies came in the form of Orcs. Thousands upon thousands of Orcs with little to no real variation bar some minor skin tone changes. Of the 8 new dungeons only 2 of them contained a net total of zero orcs with 2 merely containing SOME orcs and the rest featuring them as the sole opponents. Every raid contained them, every zone. It is, to be fair, set on their home world, but from the enemy design to the architecture the game became a shameful gray-brown mess of spikes and hunched beefcakes.
But in perhaps its biggest failing was something players had been crying out for for what seemed like an age. The Garrisons. The cry for player housing was finally answered and while exciting at first, it soon became apparent that the game itself was set almost entirely around these confined walls. Inside the garrison and it’s Facebook-esque mission system, the game rewarded players with almost everything they really needed. Players could gather as much materials and even loot as they needed with only the bland boring grind fests that made up the closest thing to a daily questing system with the Apexis dailies. And with 6.1, the first major content patch, the dagger was twisted further.
Warlords had 2 content patches. But only 1 that mattered, and 6.1 was a hodge-podge of garrison updates and minor tweaks; the kind of thing that smaller sub patches have in the past dwarfed in scope and content. Only the next patch, 6.2, dared to add anything new, but players soon learned that not only was this the first real content added to Warlords, it was to be the last. For more than a year, players were expected to deal with the same content with no hope of anything fresh.
Warlords won the worst on my poll by a landslide, with only a single person giving it a place higher than last (4th). It was a disappointment and at its core a bad game. The players who were looking for something more relatable to the Warcraft of old after the more cartoony and light hearted Mists were left with a broken mess of Orcs and spiked buildings and one of the most anti-climatic stories in a long while. There was only the Trials of Yrel and learning of Durotan being brief reprises.
World of Warcraft may not be dying, but Warlords knocked it down pretty hard.
Cataclysm was a mixed bag. At first a much needed redesign of the game world that was quickly showing it’s age, the game soon revealed what damage redirecting so much of the game’s resources to old content really managed when it came to end game.
Cataclysm is a hard one to write about. The other expansions have good and bad points jump out at you from a mile away, but Cataclysm’s greatest weakness is that not much really jumps out. The game design, the raids and most of all the story lacked any punch or real sense of grandeur. Deathwing was, for all his posturing, a paper tiger. When playing though the game’s campaign nothing really stood out as a moment of dread or joy. His supporting cast was weak and not impactful, while his death and final moments inconsequential.
This is also the expansion that the end of expansion content drought really bit hard. The final Raid, Dragon Soul, was a boring, recycled mess of teleporters and old assets that had the feeling of a starter raid instead of the grand finale. None of the fights felt important or epic in their own way and worst of all it is home to perhaps the worst final boss in the game’s history. The madness of Deathwing was a 20 min+ glorified set of monster waves that repeated 4 times until a final slightly different add wave could be beaten. With the likes of Nefarian, Illidan, Kael’thas and The Lich King in the rear view mirror, this mess couldn’t compare. Adding a notable lack of other content, and the year-ish of time players were left to not really have anything to do bit hard. The game dragged.
The only real standout of this expansion lay in its 5-man instances. The initial high difficulty and the addition of not only revamped versions of treasured raids Zul’aman and Zul’gurub but also the finest set of instances ever added to the game in The Hunt for the Dragon Soul added a great amount to the game’s slightly lacking framework.
Cataclysm wasn’t bad in the real sense of the word, but it never really took off either.
3: The Mists of Pandaria
Mists of Pandaria was supposed to fail. Pandarens, an anthropomorphic panda race that originated from an April Fool’s joke older than the game itself was never something to be taken seriously. So when Blizzard announced the fourth expansion would not only feature the chubby bear people but would be almost entirely focused around them and their homeland, players for the most part reacted with cheers of derision and shock. World of Warcraft had become Kung Fu Panda. It would fail.
Then it launched, and for the majority of the player base forgot their jokes and poor Jack Black impressions and realized what was in front of them. One of the best looking, sounding and most engaging bits of software so far put out by Blizzard.
Seemingly an answer to the much darker path the game had been taking, MoP offered a dip back into the lighter tones and humor that once proliferated the game. Pandaria was funny, really honestly funny, but never at the cost of the game’s central theme of, well, War. The lighter moments only really served to put an exclamation point on the moments the game suddenly decided to kick you square in the gut; I am just going to say the name Evie Stormstout and give players who know what I am talking about the time needed to cry.
The design also took a turn. While zones like Nagrand had always captivated the player base, nothing could quite prepare players for how good the zones in Mists looked. Lush greens and vivid Chinese inspired designs stood next to the militaristic fortresses of the Mogu.
The game wasn’t without it’s faults. While not quite to the level of the Cataclysm content drought the year spent sieging Orgrimmar still bit deep, with only the fact that SoO was a much larger and more interesting raid (as well as the addition of the timeless isle) really saving it from the same despised space that Warlords and Cata take up. But perhaps worst of all, the daily grind that opened the game was toxic, seemingly forcing players who wanted to achieve any kind of gear readiness to layers of daily quests and repetitive grinds. The Scenario system, touted as a way to improve upon the 5 man system and a key storytelling backbone of the game, also fell hard and proved to just be more boring versions of the beloved 5 mans.
But when all is said and done, MoP was a welcome return to form after the dip that was Cataclysm. With it’s color, it’s charm and it’s character, Mists strode in and, for many, proved the haters (urg sorry) wrong. But still… she looked like Li Li.
2: Wrath of the Lich King
There was no enemy in World of Warcraft that players wanted to fight more than Arthas. The traitor prince had captivated players since his fall from the light in Warcraft 3. So when, hot off the heels of another expansion we will get to, Blizzard announced the next expansion would take place in Northrend and finally pit players against the might of the Lich king, players lost it.
Wrath had a lot to live up to but it handled it in stride. Building on the success of The Burning Crusade in changing and improving the game, Wrath improved on the formula by adding new technology like phasing and cutscenes to enhance the storytelling done by the quests 10 fold. The Daily quest system and reputations were expanded widely allowing players a way to earn gold and reputation with nearly every faction with ease. And the quests, long a core part of the game, took the next step becoming long, almost cinematic experiences the likes of which had never been seen before. The pinnacle being the Wrathgate and battle of the Undercity showing for the first time that things really had changed.
But in PvE, and mostly in it’s raids, the game took perhaps its biggest change. Not only for the first time were groups able to select the size of the raids they wanted to join, with every raid having a 10 or 25 man player options, but raids on the whole were more approachable to the average player… which I admit is a way of saying that they were much easier. At first this was simply done by making them incredibly easy to do with even the worst raid group.
With Naxxramas being perhaps the easiest first tier raid in the game’s history (which is funny considering its 40-man classic version is still considered the hardest raid in the game), the game worked around this by offering a normal and a hard mode to almost all raid encounters. This was a system that would eventually become the modern normal/heroic/mythic system we see today, with a much more interesting system being implemented in Ulduar (The best. Raid. Ever.). It forced players to actively change the way an encounter worked by interacting or completing tasks within the encounter in a different way, from simply killing a boss fast enough to not being able to regenerate mana for the entire encounter. This simple changed revolutionized the way raids worked, giving both hardcore and casual raiders a much more noticeable progression path.
Wrath is controversial in one regard. With the addition of cross realm looking for group, an automated system of finding and launching grouped 5 man content, players had more ways than ever to group up and encounter content at their own pace. But to many, this was a double edged sword. Allowing players to transcend realms and not have to hunt their own servers for parties had the effect of losing a lot of what made a close knit realm community so special. Being able to simple play once with a group with no lasting effects on your own servers led to many ignoring trade and realm communities and also had the side effect of allowing players freedom from the usual downfalls of acting like a jackass. Wrath offered many the chance to play a greater amount of content at a much freer range. But at a cost.
However, in the end, Wrath of the Lich King was the very height of the game’s popularity, with the 12 million player peak being hit during its time. Wrath was the template for the game as we know it today; it brought a world of Raiding and PvE to many who had never experienced it before and allowed players to live the story of Warcraft in a cinematic way not seen in WoW before. Also, I mean, come on. Ulduar… What a raid.
1: The Burning Crusade
It kind of had to win didn’t it? The first and for many still the best. While many love classic, The Burning Crusade was the first time WoW really felt comfortable in its own skin. Classic is looked back on with perhaps the most nostalgia, but when looking deeper into the game and it’s play style no time is more important in shaping the game today than The Burning Crusade. Structured questing, zone wide-story lines, the birth of the real small team content boom, excellence in raid design, actual casual play styles, the Arena system, factions being a worthwhile avenue and advances in world PVP. The list of things that the burning crusade added and mastered is a very long one indeed. TBC felt like the release of the game after a 2+ year long pseudo-beta that was classic.
What TBC did was masterful. It looked back on the mistakes it had made with Classic with its limited and insanely repetitive content outside of the possibly 3-4 later raids that were so out of reach for the vast majority of the player base that they might as well have been myths, and it fixed them from the ground up.
TBC added easier raids at a starter level, starter bosses littered every raid allowing even the very weakest of guilds to progress at a rate that suited them but not at the risk of alienating its hardcore raiders. The great four, as I call them, are still beacons of design in a PvE MMO environment.
Karazhan, The Eye, Black Temple and Sunwell offered some of the most interesting, technical and fiendishly difficult raids the gaming world has seen. While Sunwell went back to the insane difficulty of the late raids that littered classic, the amount of content available to most players, even when pugging, is so that the game is still struggling to recapture that today. While the first 2-3 bosses might fall with ease, allowing weaker guilds a chance to improve and gear while still having to earn their items, delving deeper showed off the kind of difficulty the game was renowned for. You might very well clear to Akuma in black temple, but Teron Gorefiend was going to annihilate you. Gear up, get better and come back when you’re ready.
But to focus only on the raids is doing a disservice. The 5-man heroics, added in this expansion finally created a tenable challenge and way of gearing for tiny guilds or groups of players unthinkable in Classic. Mention the Shattered Halls to any player who played it before some hard passes of the nerfing hammer and they will tell tales of 2-hour sessions of wipes, on the fly tactic changes and crowd control. They were hard, they offered amazing loot, and they were fun as all hell.
I could go on, from the excellent zone design that produced Nagrand to the Arena system that changed the way PvP was thought of forever. The Burning Crusade won by a landslide on my poll, and it’s hard to see why not.
Now, this is the Internet, so chances are you think I’m wrong. But rather than send me mean words about myself and my loved ones, why don’t you add your own rankings or likes and dislikes about the expansions in the comments below. Also, and tell the truth now, did you cry at the Evie Stormstout quest?
Admit it, you did.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, Column, Legion, MMORPG, Top List, World of Warcraft