Reflections on Every World of Warcraft Expansion
Posted on February 17, 2017

At the time of this post, I will have played World of Warcraft for well over a decade. It’s where I obtained my Chops moniker and where I happily devote large chunks of leisure time. Blizzard’s juggernaut MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) has enticed gamers since its 2004 release. And as I continue my jaunt through Azeroth, I thought it would be fun to look back on all the expansions and muse on the highs and lows. I will also update this post as new versions are released (assuming I’m still playing).

World of Warcraft  (2004)

Also known as “Vanilla,” the release of World of Warcraft took the gaming world by storm. I wouldn’t know because I never played it. I came in during The Burning Crusade, but damn are there a lot of players who continue to trumpet their Vanilla experience. It’s a strange thing to gloat about, like bragging about watching the first season of Breaking Bad when it originally aired. Good for you, I guess?

The Burning Crusade  (2007)

Ah, the expansion that started it all (for me at least). BC introduced us to Outlands, a floating isle of fantastical fun. I didn’t see it for the first several months because I was too busy leveling my Arms Warrior through Vanilla content, which basically meant that I played alone because nobody wanted an Arms Warrior for their BC raids. They were the joke of the expansion, but I wasn’t privy to that as a newbie. I was still enthralled by a shiny new world called Azeroth, oblivious to the fact that I was leveling a useless turd from 1-70. I had to beg my guild to let me enter Karazhan. I think they finally got sick of my whinging and threw me a pity invite. But let me tell you, my jaw dropped to the floor the first time I saw the Nightbane encounter. From that moment on, improving my WoW cred became an all-consuming obsession, er … hobby.

Wrath of the Lich King  (2008)

In this humble player’s opinion, WotLK was the peak of the WoW experience. Everything about the expansion was superb, from the intriguing lore to the intricate gameplay. Even the trailer gave me chills. I traded in my Arms Warrior for the new Death Knight class and it remained my toon of choice for years. I got really good at it too, even becoming the top-ranked DK on a high-population server for a time. WotLK did one thing better than every other xpac: it separated good players from bad players with a gulf of complexity. Anyone could play any class, but it took serious skill and dedication to unlock their true potential. I loved that DK rotations were situational and difficult to master. It made the raid encounters much more meaningful and rewarding. And even though it’s solo content now, stepping into the Icecrown Citadel still makes me smile.

My main toon for a time, a Draenei Frost Death Knight

Cataclysm  (2010)

Cataclysm left me cold and pushed me into a long WoW sabbatical. This was the expansion that introduced the “WoW for all” mentality. Blizzard was losing millions of subscribers and in an effort to slow the hemorrhage, they simplified the gameplay and granted easy access to end-game content (cough cough LFR). This pissed off the veterans and the game shifted in a strange new direction. Raids became littered with sub-par performers, guilds started to lose their relevance, and mindless AOE became the play style of choice. (Anyone remember crowd control?) The satisfaction of end-game mastery was gone, and I left with it.

Mists of Pandaria  (2012)

I came back to WoW when MoP dropped. I missed the game for nostalgic reasons and decided to play again, even though the new class was pandas. I repeat, pandas. And to make matters worse, their lore was focused around the martial arts. Nothing against the monk class, I just couldn’t believe that WoW went full-on Kung Fu Panda (facepalm). But, I came back anyway and actually enjoyed the new content for a time. But unfortunately, the dungeons and raids were quite thin and the play became tedious in a hurry. I went on another WoW sabbatical based entirely on boredom. MoP was so unmemorable that I can’t even recall the zones or raid names. Although, I did switch my play to an Elemental Shaman, which has been my main toon ever since.

Warlords of Draenor  (2014)

Oh how the mighty have fallen. WoD was a study in how good ideas don’t necessarily translate into good gameplay. The introduction of garrisons was a tantalizing concept, but they utterly destroyed some of the most engaging aspects of the game (gathering, professions, economy, cities, etc.). As a result, players stayed locked inside their “homes” while minions retrieved gear and cycled through work orders. It was a brainless series of chores masked as gaming. No more gathering, the game literally gave you everything you needed. No more venturing to cities to make crafted goods, you had everything you needed inside your garrison. In fact, all those thriving city centers became ghost towns. The whole “MM” of MMORPG ceased to exist. WoW turned into a glorified FarmVille where nobody interacted with each other. WoD was a dreadful disappointment to say the least. And so, I left again.

Legion  (2016)

I came back for Legion based solely on the beta hype. Blizzard had learned a very hard lesson and went to great pains to fix what WoD had broken. In the process, they implemented some seriously stellar updates (world quests, class halls, artifact weapons, deep lore, etc.). Legion was a joy to play and even though the grind got a bit stale, I still enjoyed the Broken Isles and all they had to offer. What I found particularly rewarding were the different class halls. Legion offered different experiences based on the class you played, which made the content seem endless. Leveling an alt was no longer a tedious grind through familiar content. It was a brand new game every time you switched, which kept things fresh and engaging. I left due to other commitments, but could have easily stuck around for the duration.

Battle For Azeroth  (2018)

I came back once again for BfA because I was at the tail end of a hectic year and just needed a mental reset. And let me tell you, this expansion was fantastic … for about eight seconds. The most positive aspect by far was the visual and audible richness of the new zones. The graphics and music were stunning, so much so that they were the only things that kept me around until the first major patch. It was then that I came to an inescapable conclusion: BfA was boring. Like, really boring. The azerite grind was dreadful, world questing was mindless, expeditions were pointless, warfronts were restrictive, and the faction grind didn’t bring anything to the table. I had hoped that 8.1 would reignite some interest, but Blizzard whiffed the opportunity to make some meaningful improvements (heavy sigh). Before long, I found more fun soloing old content than participating in the expansion.

Shadowlands  (2020)

10/30/2020 update:
The pre-patch event for Shadowlands is scheduled to drop in a few weeks, which is after the original scheduled launch date of the entire expansion. It was so broken that they ended up delaying the launch, something Blizzard hasn’t done in over a decade. I get the feeling that cracks are starting to form in the foundation. To say that my interest in Shadowlands has waned would be a gross understatement. My enthusiasm is nonexistent. It’s a sad state of affairs when even the free play time (WoW tokens and 13 years of gold accumulation) is not enough to keep me around. At this point, it’s hard to say whether I will play the expansion at all. What was once a vacation-worthy event is now a shrug and sigh.

2/28/2021 update:
So I played Shadowlands, emphasis on the past tense. I leveled two characters to get a feel for the different covenants. I completed all the new dungeons and killed the first ten raid bosses. Verdict? Despite the artistic merits, I just can’t find any rooted interest. The entire expansion is plagued by joy-killing issues (zone travel, Torghast, and The Maw being the worst offenders). Much of the gameplay feels recycled, so there is a whiff of staleness that follows you around like a bad stench. I have never hit the apathy wall faster in this game. It pains me to admit, but I think my WoW journey has come to an end.

Read more:
Chops, Azeroth, and the Housing Bust
No Man’s Sky Has Become My 2020 Life Raft

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