With Blizzcon recently announced as coming November 8th and 9th, and the hope and expectation of an announcement of the next expansion to WoW, I was thinking back to the past, and present expansions to WoW, and what they might be remembered for now, or in the case of Mists of Pandaria, in a year or two. Hindsight is very different from foresight, and this is never clearer than with WoW expansions. Each expansion to WoW has come with very different expectations looking forward than we have now in hindsight, and I wanted to look into that a bit.
World of Warcraft – Nov. 23, 2004 to January 15, 2007
Known more commonly as vanilla WoW, the original launch of the game had some hype, but the subscriber numbers at launch, and in the months after launch proved that not only did the game have hype, but it also had a huge fanbase. Within a few days the game became the most successful MMO in history. As someone who was in the beta for original WoW, the future perspective before launch was definitely one of excitement to see the world of Azeroth realized in a less controlled way. Yup, we were excited to be able to roam the world ‘at will’. If only we knew how little will we had back then to control our travels.
Vanilla in hindsight is definitely seen by many as an era of new things, new changes, and exploration. We explored the world, we explored the depths, and we ventured forth across the wide world of Azeroth. We explored raids, saw PvP grow to be a truly intriguing beast with the original honor system, we opened the gates of AQ and ventured into the dread citadel Naxxramas for the first time. In one word, the vanilla WoW experience was all about exploration.
Burning Crusade – January 16th, 2007 – November 13, 2008
Ahh, Burning Crusade (TBC). The first expansion was an exciting milestone, and even though it launched in the middle of winter, locations around North America saw a massive number of people come out to launch the expansion. I recall staying at home, standing by the Dark Portal, as guildies logged in, installed the expansion, and passed by with Netherwhelp in tow as they ventured into the broken world of Outlands.
From the launch day perspective, there was a lot of really interesting changes coming for players in TBC. The biggest, no doubt, was the ability to fly in Outlands. For players who had spent over two years in land based exploration, or flying on carefully controlled flight paths, this was a huge change. Shortly before the launch of Burning Crusade, Blizzard released a hilarious video of a dwarf learning how to fly, and to this day it highlights the truly awesome side of Blizzard. Add to this that Burning Crusade brought in the Heroic mode dungeons, changed to raid sizes including 25 man and 10 man raids, and more, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the launch of the new expansion.
In hindsight, Burning Crusade is still fairly well known for bringing flying into the game. The expansion also brought something else into game which is a very notable thing in the current era, the advent of the daily quest. It all began with cooking and fishing quests, and as we have seen in Mists of Pandaria, has only grown in the scope and breadth of quests and rewards. Love them or hate them, daily quests originated in Burning Crusade, and they are one of the things the expansion is best remembered for.
Wrath of the Lich King – November 14, 2008 to December 9, 2010
The second expansion for the game saw us venture to Northrend, and facing Arthas, the Lich King. The excitement for this expansion was palpable, as Arthas was the one who beat the guy we faced in Outlands, Illidan. After the events of Warcraft 3 and it’s expansion, players of WoW who had dabbled in the Real Time Strategy games in the series were very excited to face and take down the Lich King. The final fight against the Lich King did not disappoint, and well into the next expansion, and in fact to this day it is still a very challenging fight for players who are 10 levels higher.
Along with the epic Lich King fight, Wrath brought in the first, and likely only Hero class, the Death Knight. By naming the Death Knight a Hero class, Blizzard may have inadvertently built up a hope or expectation in the player base that somehow this class would be stronger or better than other classes in the game. The last major feature was the inclusion of a fully World PvP zone in the Wintergrasp area, which promised a great deal of PvP for those so inclined.
In hindsight, I think Wrath is best known for the stuff it didn’t do. It added Inscription, a new paradigm of raid design, and more, but it failed to deliver Spectator modes, Path of the Titans, or the much touted Dance Studio feature, which is still high on the list of biggest pieces of vapor ware in the WoW history books. Blizzard has learned much from this, trying to reign in the promises at the expansion announcements to avoid more issues of broken or unrealized promises. The next two expansions have seen a lot more carefully controlled announcements, and more content that was delivered on.
Cataclysm – December 10, 2010 to September 24, 2012
Cataclysm, where the world was broken and the Aspect of Death reemerged into the world. The world was remade, and much of the world would never be the same again. Cataclysm was arguably the expansion of alts. With a revamped 1-60 leveling process and quests in most zones, and vastly different story across all of Azeroth, the expansion was definitely very ambitious in it’s goals. Azeroth, after six years and two previous expansions, was desperately in need of a zone update, and this allowed the developers to actually bring flying to Azeroth.
When we were on the cusp of Cataclysm, there was a lot of excitement in the community for the revamp of the old world, and the ability to fly it. The quests and zones were engaging and had some spectacular vistas to be experienced by players. Mount Hyjal had a lot of expansion of the Night Elf lore, and saw the return of lore characters that were both beloved and long missed. I for one was super excited to see Cenarius, Jarrod Shadowsong, and more.
In hindsight, I think Cataclysm is pretty clearly seen as the player breaker. Through the Cataclysm expansion, the subscriber numbers for the game steadily fell, from a high of 12.6 million to a low of 9.1 million. Hardly a player in the game is not able to tell you tales of friends and long time players who just grew bored during Cataclysm and left the game. There was no one single competitor that took players, but without a doubt there was a huge chunk of players who left the game in frustration. Whether this was due to long swaths of time between patches, or the lack of major end game content at 85 is debatable. The numbers of subscribers speak for themselves.
Mists of Pandaria – September 25, 2012 – ?
Kung Fu Panda WoW. WowKemon. Pokewow. WoWVille. These and more have described the latest expansion of World of Warcraft. Going into the launch of the expansion, a large number of players were incredibly pessimistic about the expansion, and derisive of those who had left or otherwise become bitter towards WoW in the Cataclysm expansion. I have to say that leading up to the launch, I felt more negativity toward Blizzard and the game than I have since I began playing the game, and I have been playing through some major incidents like the Draenei retcon of Burning Crusade, and the Real ID announcement.
In actual play, I think that Mists of Pandaria has been very successful, with a lot of players coming back. There has been some backlash about dailies and reps, but overall the player base who have played Mists have enjoyed it. The confusing and unconnected questing experience of Cataclysm is gone. The patches are coming more frequently, and the story is advancing at a steady but enjoyable pace. Kung Fu Panda this is not. Farmville, it is not even close. Pokewow, well, ok, it is a bit like Pokemon, but it’s still fun!
If I were to predict how this expansion will be viewed in hindsight by players, it will be the peak of the use of daily quests. I do not think Blizzard will make use of daily quests nearly as much as they have in Mists ever again. I think this will be seen as a fun and engaging expansion, that revitalized the player base and made them excited to play the game. We got back to killing internet dragons, and traveling the world in a fun way that folks enjoyed.
What are your expansion thoughts, past and present? Will you look fondly on Mists, or will you look back with anger at the injustice of it all? Let us know in the comments.