- Battle for Azeroth
The current iteration of WoW got off to a roaring start, with content packed at every turn and the game genuinely heading in the right direction. The initial phases of BfA actually seemed really promising. Back in August of last year when the expansion kicked off, it felt like the game was in a really good spot in terms of content. Even today, a year and a half into the expansion’s lifespan, the content that Blizzard has released for Battle for Azeroth remains quite stellar. The reason that the expansion is dead last on this list, however, is because of how the content was released.
With all of the other expansions that come in ahead of BfA on this list, it’s easy to think back to memories that last throughout the entire expansion. With BfA, it was hard to stay interested in a game that didn’t engage the playerbase consistently. There were flashes of greatness with this one, but it just didn’t stay great for long enough.
Cataclysm was the turning point of WoW. It’s incredibly appropriate that the expansion kicked off the 2010’s as it essentially ushered in the game’s “modern age”. And although the expansion featured really solid leveling content throughout all of Azeroth, the endgame left a lot to be desired. Sure, the expansion’s first raid tier was really nice, as Blackwing Descent, the Bastion of Twilight, and the Throne of the Four Winds were all well-designed and satisfactory enough to make up a full tier of content, but once the expansion got into its final two stages, the endgame experience declined significantly.
Just seven bosses were present in the Firelands, while Dragon Soul, the much-anticipated finale to the expansion’s story, only showcased eight bosses, pasting together what could have been an epic end to a grandiose expansion in rather lackluster fashion. All in all, the expansion slowly dwindled away until the parts that were becoming less and less fun eventually became flat-out boring. While plenty of great things came from Cataclysm (Worgen, Goblins, revamped leveling, transmogrification), the expansion itself still wasn’t great on its own to warrant a higher spot on this list.
- Warlords of Draenor
WoD is one of those games where you can obviously recognize its flaws, but there’s still plenty of greatness to come from it. Even during the expansion’s lifespan, the game had plenty of merit. In a similar vein to Battle for Azeroth, there was obviously a lot left on the table during WoD, as content releases were few and far between. However, the content that was available was actually really solid. Leveling from 90-100 was a genuinely joyful experience, as the zones and quests in every zone were really solid. Raids like Blackrock Foundry and Highmaul are still two of the best instances to be released this decade, while Hellfire Citadel and the Tanaan Jungle gave the expansion a proper sendoff.
Sure, WoD had plenty of faults, as the introduction of garrisons and the sparse releases of content promoted a stagnant game environment. Even still, the content that was present was just good enough to bring the expansion back from the brink of complete failure.
The difference between a decent WoW expansion and a great WoW expansion is consistent player engagement. Whenever you log onto the game, there should always be something to do. Every player should be able to tackle a set of given goals at any given point in the expansion’s lifespan. Whether it’s catching up on a surplus of old content or tackling whatever pieces of new content the game’s introduced, there should always be something on the horizon for your next session. And if there’s any expansion that captured the essence of what consistent player engagement is all about, it’s Legion.
At every point in the expansion’s lifespan, Legion was worth playing. Kicking off with a stellar launch, packed with intriguing leveling zones, the expansion got off a seriously impressive start. The game was more alive than ever before, making way for an engaging endgame that saw the introduction of World Quests, great initial raiding content, and the release of Mythic+ dungeons. Content like this just screamed replayability and it helped keep players active throughout the entirety of Legion, making the expansion one of the best that the decade has seen.
- Mists of Pandaria
Mists of Pandaria sticks out for so many reasons. Mainly though, it’s because it broke the traditional mold of what a WoW expansion “has to be”. The expansion’s unorthodox architecture, its fabled new race, and its theme of conquering our own inner demons rather than a big, bad boss were entirely new to the game. We had just come off saving Azeroth from quite possibly the biggest threat that the world had ever seen, and we were immediately thrust into a brand new setting where the conflict between the Alliance and Horde was once again the centerpiece.
This brilliant return to the game’s roots is something that’s incredibly commendable when it comes to MoP. While the expansion was introducing new elements of gameplay and worldbuilding, WoW as a whole was travelling back to a moment in time where the two factions of Azeroth were directly in the middle of the game’s biggest conflict. Whether it was fighting for footholds in the Jade Forest, making landfall on the shores of the Krasarang Wilds, or bringing that conflict into the later stages of the expansion through the Isle of Thunder and the Vale of Eternal Blossoms, it was obvious that the rivalry between the Alliance and Horde was the main focal point of Mists.
By honing in on a world where new content could intermingle with themes of old, Pandaria presented the perfect opportunity for the game to truly evolve into its aforementioned “modern era”. You can’t truly move forward into a new age without first knowing where you came from, and MoP returned to WoW’s foundations masterfully. It’s for those reasons and many more that the expansion is easily the best of the decade.
Photo Credit: Blizzard Entertainment, World of Warcraft