Mini-reviews of each WoW expansion, from a WoW noob

As you may recall from last time, I have recently started playing retail World of Warcraft for the first time. Call me fashionably late. This means I have sixteen years worth of content to chew through. Chromie Time means that characters no longer need to progress through each expansion in order. In fact, all of my characters thus far have hit 50 before I was finished with an expansion story, which means that, in order to see it all, I have to create a bunch of alts. Oh darn, you know how much I hate making alts. (Please note the dripping sarcasm; I love making alts) I’ve made it a point to spread them all out across all of the expansions. Repeating content isn’t that fun, and one of the appeals of starting this game so late is that there is a ton to explore that I haven’t seen. 

Since I’m seeing all of this with fresh eyes, with little to no nostalgia goggles and out of its historical context, I thought it might interest some to read my thoughts on each expansion. Remember that these mini-reviews from a mostly solo, story/leveling point of view, so the fact that Expansion X was boring but had great raids means nothing to me, because I’m not even in a guild, and my experiences with the dungeon finder have been mixed at best, so while that may have been important at the time, it doesn’t really make any difference to me right now. 

Vanilla/Classic

Ok, so Vanilla doesn’t really exist anymore because of Cataclysm, but I’ve puttered around Classic a bit, and while I didn’t get super far, I got far enough to know it wasn’t for me. Leveling is at a snail’s pace, and many classes are designed such that they don’t get interesting skills until the mid-to-high levels, forcing you to slog through the boring parts to get there. This isn’t helped by the fact that quests are scattered randomly, and, sans addons, the map doesn’t give you any hints about where anything is, leaving you to wander around in frustration. In short, I would say it was poorly designed. Or, perhaps more accurately, well designed to waste players’ time. Like I said above, endgame might be great, but I’m just not that interested in WoW’s endgame. 

Burning Crusade

WoW’s first expansion introduced the concept quest hubs, which makes the leveling process bearable. However, it still feels very old. I don’t have a good explanation of why, it just does. Maybe it’s the graphics? I’m not usually a graphics snob, so maybe it has as much to do with the more recently updated character models in contrast to the older landscape? Maybe it’s the writing? Maybe it’s the more mundane and repetitive quest structure? Either way, I’ve never made it past the second zone. Maybe one day.

Wrath of the Lich King

Wrath is the oldest expansion I actually feel like I wouldn’t mind playing all the way through. For one thing, the Lich King/Scourge has always been a more interesting villain than the Burning Legion. It also gave us my favorite class, Death Knight, so it has that going for it. Plus, I always like icy zones. Better than BC’s desolate hellscape at least. It still feels a little old and creaky, but in a way that doesn’t make me want to quit. Again, I’m not sure why it feels better than BC, it just does.

Cataclysm

I didn’t really like leveling in the vanilla zones in Classic, and while Cata improved the quest flow, I’m still not that excited about the old world. That said, there’s a lot of it, so I’m sure there is interesting stuff I’ve just never seen. Also, I’m not super clear on which areas are new and which areas are overhauled vanilla zones. If you pick Cata from Chromie, she  just sends you to the mission board and has you pick a zone out of three random options, so it sort of feels like there’s no direction here, which is itself kind of a turnoff. 

Mists of Pandaria

Pandaria, in my mind, is where WoW starts feeling like a modern MMO. First off, it’s the first time that I’ve felt like WoW was genuinely pretty. There were many places in the old world that were pretty given the limitations of the era, but I would say that just about anywhere in Pandaria is objectively prettier than anything that came before it, and holds up even nine years later. Along with better graphics, it brought more voice acting to the game (including the inimitable Jim Cummings, voice of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Doctor Robotnik (the best one), Darkwing Duck, Hando Ohnaka, and some random character from half of every animated thing you’ve ever watched). While I don’t consider voice a requirement for a good game, it certainly makes characters more interesting and memorable, even if it’s not every line. 

The story is very different from others that came before it too, a little more chill, while still maintaining a sense of urgency. Pandarens have quickly become one of my favorite races. Any expansion that adds a new class automatically gains points in my book, and the Monk is a fun, dynamic class that brings some truly interesting and different mechanics to the game. 

Warlords of Draenor

I think Draenor is my favorite expansion. I love time travel and alternate universe stories to begin with, but I think this also clicked with me because it had a lot of callbacks to characters from the Warcraft RTS games, which was previously my main exposure to the Warcraft-verse. Additionally, garrisons are like having your own little RTS base, down to ordering peons around to gather resources for you. I feel like I need to expand soon, though; surely my mines are running low. I know the lore has always been integrated, but this expansion makes me feel like Warcraft 1-3 and WoW are part of the same universe in a way that previously content didn’t.

The only thing I don’t like about it is that the transmog skins in this expansion are all super ugly. Lots of horns and iron spikes and rough-hewn hides on everything. I’m sure there are some people who live for this look, but they’re basically everything I dislike in a skin.

Legion

I’ve already stated that I’m not a huge fan of the Burning Legion as an enemy faction, but, all things considered, this is a pretty solid expansion. I liked the idea of class-specific artifact weapons that you continuously upgrade. They’re like LotRO’s legendary items, except not as terrible. Given LotRO’s long-standing problems with them, I’m fine with them being a one-expansion feature, too. That said, some of the modifiers were really cool, and I wish Blizzard had found a way to continue with those rather than just throw artifacts out the window as soon as BfA came around, but since I knew this was coming, I wasn’t too broken up about it when I hit 50 on my Legion character. 

I have mixed emotions about the Demon Hunter class. On the one hand, it’s one of the most eye-rollingly edgelord classes ever to come out of the MMO genre (and there have been many). On the other hand, you get a Guild Wars 2-style glider. In some ways it doesn’t feel that different from a Rogue — a melee class with big, facerolly damage, good mobility, and what basically amounts to a combo point system — without stealth, and the added complication of those purple orb things that heal you and fill your fury bar. Plus the race choices are limited to elves, which generally aren’t my favorite. 

Battle for Azeroth

I actually liked Battle for Azeroth quite a bit. The Alliance side was boring (three different zones, three different variations on [New] England) but the Horde side had a nice variety of visual styles, and a more interesting storyline. Quality aside, I just generally like it when the two factions are given some different zones to play through, since it gives me more to do as someone who likes to flipflop between factions. Granted, I completely ignored island expeditions, which I think was most players’ main complaint with this expansion, so take that as you will. 

Shadowlands

Given that Shadowlands is the current expansion, and I’m still not all the way through it, I think it deserves a post all of its own. Maybe zone by zone. Suffice it to say for now that I’m not impressed with the new hotness. It’s fine, but I’m really not into the story, and collecting powers that only work in one zone doesn’t do much for me. 

So there you have it. Feel free to disagree with me, but those are my thoughts on each WoW expansion. I’m having a lot of fun just messing around in all of the various areas, good or bad, WoW has graced its players with over the years. The fact that I’m more interested in a lot of the previous expansions than the current one doesn’t say a lot for my longevity in this game, but for now, I’m having fun, and I’m managing to scrape together enough gold every month to buy a WoW Token, so I don’t feel too bad just playing what I feel like playing.