Blizzard has been tinkering with Azeroth and its surrounding regions for well over a decade now — and they still haven’t called time at the board. In fact, even after almost twenty years, the World of Warcraft creatives are still drawing up new ways to keep the player base second-guessing. From stripping the setting of all its history and character to squishing the level cap — Blizzard has worked tirelessly in order to keep the game fresh-faced and focused. And, you know, it’s worked. Most of the time, anyway.
A total of eight expansions have been absorbed into the base game since 2004, though only five really stood out enough to leave a lasting impression. Of course, any expansion is a good expansion, as it ultimately goes on to flesh out our experience with double-barreled content and additional gear to acquire. That being said, we do have to give credit where it’s due. And in this case, we can’t help but pin these five expansions at the top of our board for creativity alone.
When Blizzard set out to revamp the whole of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms, players were struck with ambivalence over the drastic change. After several years campaigning through Azeroth and enjoying the rewards of the many questlines that fanned life into the world — everything was set to change, and it had people sceptical for all the right reasons. Of course, by introducing the Worgen and Goblins into the game, fans were essentially won over in the long run, though it did take a while to secure roots in the new layout Blizzard forged.
Of all the expansions Blizzard has put out, Cataclysm definitely doesn’t stand at the pinnacle of the lot. Yes, it introduced a couple of new races and ultimately made a leap of faith by destroying the world in a desperate attempt to rebuild it again — but was it enough? Well, it’s debatable. But personally, it didn’t shine bright enough to leave a lasting mark. A glow, perhaps — though nothing particularly enchanting.
4. Mists of Pandaria
It’s fair to say that World of Warcraft players weren’t overly keen on sinking into a portly panda’s sandals when Mists of Pandaria dropped. I mean, sure, from a birds-eye view, the fourth expansion gleamed opportunity on a decaying formula — but it took a lot more for Blizzard to keep the audience captivated back in 2012. Having said that, was enrolling Pandaren monks into the roster a smart move for the franchise? Well, it’s definitely open for discussion.
On top of the Pandaren being thrown into the mixture, Blizzard also topped up the level cap, as well as introduced new dungeons, raids and rich lands to explore. So, the usual speel that bolts on with most expansion packs — only with Pandaren monks dressed in fabric robes running amock as well as the usual population that Azeroth houses. A tidy expansion, of course — but not the best line of work Blizzard has flushed out.
Following on from the global success of Warlords of Draenor, Blizzard looked to one-up their previous target by introducing another spool of content that would ultimately bulk up the experience. However, rather than bundling in another wave of races and calling it a day, Legion looked to advance the story that Warlords of Draenor conjured and, in turn, carve a new path to an even wider branch of stories for future chapters.
As well as bulking out World of Warcraft with a pipeline of story arcs, Legion also introduced other things, such as the Demon Hunter class, a new honor system and a slew of artefact weapons to obtain. Oh, and the level cap also climbed to a whopping 110, which was eventually squashed for Shadowlands. But that’s a story for another time. All in all, Legion crammed in quite an ambitious amount into the already bustling domain, with enough originality to keep players stacking hours and hoarding gear.
2. The Burning Crusade
It didn’t take Blizzard a great amount of time to introduce new areas and races into the pit after unleashing the base game in 2004. However, rather than opt for a couple of tweaks and minor improvements to Azeroth, The Burning Crusade introduced an entire ocean of content to shovel through. From Blood Elves and Draenei joining the roster to the iconic violet-coated Outland — this first expansion simply took one incredible concept and unravelled it into an anthology of fascinating tales.
Of course, there will always be an ongoing debate over which expansion takes the top spot of the eight that Blizzard dished out. And, while The Burning Crusade was a major turning point for the franchise, it wasn’t quite the polished masterpiece we were still clutching hopes and wracking our brains over. Luckily for us, Blizzard began brewing the second expansion shortly after releasing the first. And boy — they nailed it.
1. Wrath of the Lich King
Yes — it’s Wrath of the Lick King, the expansion that introduced the dreaded Death Knight class and gloomy metropolis, Icecrown Citadel, as well as the whole of Northrend. Now, when we glance back at the slew of expansions Blizzard funnelled into the base game, Wrath of the Lich King definitely stands out to us the most — and it isn’t down to the fact that a new continent was introduced, either.
Wrath of the Lich King not only established a new world for players to explore — but also bridged the gap from one of the many story arcs that Warcraft 3 brewed back in 2003. Of course, old school fans fondly remembered the Reign of Chaos and Frozen Throne days, meaning Wrath of the Lich King was a true marvel to behold on release, and the closure many fans of the series truly needed. Bundle that in with a unique opening sequence, a slew of fantastic raids and attainable gear — and you’ve got yourself a near-perfect expansion to an already phenomenal game.