How World of Warcraft’s Expansions Changed the Game

By Matthew Byrd

World of Warcraft has remained the dominant MMORPG for almost 17 years. During that time, fans have enjoyed a number of expansions that drastically changed the game and the gaming industry as well.

The original World of Warcraft was released in 2004; the same year as Everquest 2. Some doubted whether Blizzard's game would be able to topple the then king of the genre.

However, World of Warcraft's unprecedented accessibility soon made it more popular than anyone thought it would be. There are many who still consider "vanilla" WoW to be the best version of the game.

In 2007, Blizzard finally released the first WoW expansion: The Burning Crusade. It's historic opening night sales made it the fastest-selling PC game ever made until that point.

Burning Crusade addressed many of WoW's biggest flaws while adding an extra layer of depth. Some of TBC's dungeons, bosses, and items are still considered to be the best in WoW history.

2008's Wrath of the Lich King took WoW to a new level (level 80, to be specific). Its new Death Knight hero class, dark setting, and incredible story generated unprecedented hype.

It was as good as advertised. Widely praised for its narrative, worlds, and features that made it friendlier to new players without sacrificing depth. WotLK is widely considered WoW's finest hour.

2010's Cataclysm promised to literally change the WoW universe. By using the arrival of a giant dragon as an excuse to redesign WoW's most important areas, some called this expansion WoW 2.

The reception was mixed. WoW's subscriber count peaked with Cataclysm, but some felt the game strayed too far from what made the MMO so popular. For the first time, the future was uncertain.

2012's Mists of Pandaria expansion proved to be just as divisive out of the gate. Some even considered its new world and characters to be a strange homage to the movie Kung-Fu Panda.

While MoP's world proved to be one of its best assets, longtime WoW fans complained that the expansion changed too many core aspects of the game. Fans argued about what should come next.

WoW's problems finally caught up to it in 2014's Warlords of Draenor expansion. The expansion's disastrous technical launch was complemented by extreme gameplay balance issues.

Things only got worse for WoD. Due to a lack of notable content updates, WoD players soon found themselves with nothing to do. Frustration had reached a boiling point and some thought WoW was done.

However, 2016's Legion expansion satisfied even the most vocal doubters. By focusing on plot, character classes, and mechanics, Blizzard addressed many of WoW's biggest problems.

More importantly, Legion won over WoW's biggest fans with its robust endgame content that offered new challenges. Legion was a triumph in nearly every respect.

2018's Battle for Azeroth expansion struggled to retain that momentum. While it started strong, some felt the expansion emphasized busy work and crumbled under the weight of years of updates.

That's why 2020's Shadowlands streamlined the WoW experience, but that expansion's story isn't done yet. What comes next remains to be seen, but millions of gamers can't wait to explore it.