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Patch 10.2 was announced recently. It’ll most likely be the last big update of Dragonflight. Its approaching end is a perfect reason to talk about which WoW expansions should you play.
Naturally, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. This decision hinges on individual preferences, which can differ greatly. These preferences encompass a multitude of factors, including lore, the distinctive characteristics of PvE and PvP content in each WoW era, and the special features of each expansion. Consequently, this guide offers only general insights to assist you in making a more informed choice, ultimately saving you both time and money when selecting your preferred expansion.
Currently, Blizzard has already released three “Classic” reincarnations of past WoW periods. Besides, there are plenty of high-quality private servers. And so, you are in for an extensive array of options to choose from.
World of Warcraft Expansions Overview
“Can I still play all World of Warcraft expansions?”. To some extent, elements from each expansion are still accessible in the Retail version. However, every new one brought lots of adjustments to key game mechanics. A perfect recent example is the extent of changes received by the Professions system in Dragonflight.
Such updates make much content unavailable with the release of new Patches. Even the Chromie Time feature, designed to aid in catching up, falls short of providing the full Vanilla experience. It cannot restore the original ambiance of locations, quests, and dungeons. After all, most of them have been inevitably changed with the world revamp brought by Cataclysm.
You don’t need to buy all WoW expansions to access them in Retail. However, you can only experience the distinctive essence of each one on relevant Classic versions or private servers. So, let’s cover why each WoW epoch deserves your attention. And from there, you can make an informed choice between participating in WoW Retail or investing your time in the Classic experience.
What You May Like in Each Expansion
Vanilla, or Classic Era, stands out from its successors for a few reasons. To start with, it’s not exactly an expansion. That’s why it doesn’t have a major single lore focus. Therefore, it’s challenging to compile a definitive list of the era’s key features.
But for some players, such absence of a lore focus is already its great advantage. Your adventures in Azeroth may take unexpected routes. More attention can be paid to stories told by separate zones and questlines. It’s especially valuable since some of them became inaccessible later on. For instance, the opening of the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj or the Onyxia’s Lair attunement.
The Burning Crusade
The Burning Crusade is a rare example of an expansion that didn’t bring many changes to the key mechanics. It introduced Outland as a new continent. It added Draenei and Blood Elves as new races for Alliance and Horde, respectively. Thus, the Alliance was finally able to embrace the path of the Shaman, while Horde players were in for a chance to become the Paladins.
The introduction of Flying Mounts was the standout feature of the expansion. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that flying was initially restricted to the Outland region. The primary narrative arc of The Burning Crusade revolved around the liberation of Outland and the quest to overthrow its conqueror, Illidan Stormrage.
Wrath of the Lich King
It’s hard to find a WotLK hater. Players keen on PvP got a serious extension of World PVP activities. Wintergrasp became the first fully PvP zone. What’s more, it involved siege weapons. So did two new battlegrounds, the Isle of Conquest and the Strand of the Ancients.
The last one was especially controversial and was removed in the Battle for Azeroth. One more reason to test it when it was introduced. Other reasons to play WotLK are not less important. For instance, Death Knight, as the first Hero Class, was at the peak of its power. It played a great role in a key plotline: making Lich King Arthas face judgment for all his crimes.
The revamp of classic locations Cataclysm brought to WoW has already been mentioned. The former leader of the Black Dragonflight, Deathwing, was responsible for terrible wounds on the body of Azeroth. Its heroes’ main task was to put an end to him and cure their home.
Significant changes occurred in the game during this period. Class mechanics underwent extensive revisions that would eventually resemble their modern counterparts. The talent system underwent a substantial simplification. Character statistics and the Guild system received enhancements. It’s worth noting that Guild achievements were introduced only in Cataclysm. And for the first time, the adventurers were able to fly over Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms.
Mists of Pandaria
Since the announcement of MoP, it was announced as one without a central antagonist. In reality, the main plotlines gradually led players to the fight with an insane former Horde Warchief Garrosh Hellscream. The Pandaren made its debut in MoP, marking a groundbreaking moment as it was the first race accessible to both the Alliance and the Horde. At first, Pandaren is mainly associated with the Monk class. However, as time went on, this class became accessible to members of other races.
MoP focused on improving changes brought by Cataclysm. For instance, updating its revamped talent system. It also hauled along new features: Challenge Modes, short instances called Scenarios, Looking-for-Raid system, and Pet Battles.
Warlords of Draenor
Garrosh Hellscream was the first World of Warcraft villain not to face death in the final encounter. That’s why he managed to trigger events leading to the emergence of an alternative timeline. WoD mostly takes place on the alternative Draenor.
Warlords of Draenor introduced an alternative concept where players were granted the ability to construct their personalized war camps, known as Garrisons. These Garrisons emerged as the central feature of the expansion, serving as a hub for assembling your army, dispatching them on missions, and honing your Professions, among other activities. Additionally, WoD brought forth the Flexible and Mythic Raid system, providing greater flexibility in raiding experiences. Notably, this expansion also gave rise to the Trial of the Gladiator arena competition.
Legion brought a long-awaited Demon Hunter Hero class to the game. The expansion plot was concentrated on fighting the Burning Legion threat once and for all. From both lore and game mechanics perspectives, it was focused on the Artifacts feature.
Each class got a legendary weapon to bear and develop throughout the expansion. They became the epicenter of each class’s storyline and seamlessly extended their talent trees. Certain features from the Garrison system transitioned to Class Halls, preserving the sense of personalized progression. The PvP system underwent substantial enhancements, including the introduction of unique PvP talents for all classes. Finally, the addition of the World Quest system was a significant feature in Legion, enriching the overall gameplay experience.
Battle for Azeroth
BfA tried to concentrate on the war between Horde and Alliance. Many interesting examples of such concentration were, surprisingly, in PvE. Warfronts are a sort of PvP-themed raid reminiscent of Wintergrasp siege battles.
Island Expeditions beautifully developed the idea of MoP scenarios both in PvE and PvP directions. The Allied Races feature was a huge step towards bringing significant updates to character customizations.
The last expansion before Retail tried to collect remarkable features from other recent WoW epochs. The Covenant feature is reminiscent of the Class Halls and Garrisons. However, it made an accent on a reputation-like farm of Renown. The Tower of Torghast became a successor to scenarios in a roguelike style.
The Runecarving feature in Shadowlands was responsible for a new way of acquiring Legendary items. Players could farm special reagents and craft a Legendary with the required effect. The character customization variety experimented on Allied Races was shared with the common ones. Finally, Shadowlands came up with a radical level squish. In BfA the cap level was 120, and in Shadowlands it became 60.
Which WoW should you play in 2023? The choice may have become even more difficult.
Many players find the Vanilla experience to be the hardcore of WoW history and tend to enjoy it.
Burning Crusade partly managed to preserve its atmosphere and bring important improvements to the game. It’s often placed at least in the top 3.
Both WotLK lore and game mechanics are often referred to as the best in WoW’s history. Interestingly, its high ratings have kept this bar since the very end of the expansion. It’s already quite a reason why this WoW expansion should be played first. It also explains why so many private servers are dedicated exactly to WotLK.
Legion, Mists of Pandaria, and Cataclysm are usually in the top 4 or 5. They had nearly excellent starts. However, their last patches’ disadvantages left a controversial aftertaste.
There are almost no popular and stable private servers contributed to WoD and BfA. Judging by this only fact, no wonder these two WoW eras are usually at the bottom of expansion tier lists. They became extremely unpopular among the community. It’s a pity, especially considering how successful the BfA was in involving players in World PvP.
Shadowlands was a lot of fun at the beginning. Unfortunately, its later patches were criticized a lot. Especially in terms of lore.
The place of Dragonflight, among other expansions, is yet to be decided. But there is a high chance that once it reaches its conclusion, it will be evaluated higher than BfA, WoD, Shadowlands, and, maybe, Cataclysm.
Depending on your personal playstyle, each World of Warcraft expansion offers its unique attractions. Preferences can even differ among PvP enthusiasts. For example, players who relish modern World PvP might find BfA to their liking. Those who prefer battlegrounds and arenas may gravitate towards WotLK and WoD. The key is to explore and experience as much as possible, forming your own evaluations based on your individual preferences and gaming experiences.
We hope that this guide has provided you with valuable insights to aid in your decision-making process. Most importantly, we wish you an abundance of joy and fulfillment as you embark on your adventures!