WoW Expansions in Order and how each fared

WoW Expansions in Order
This logo is probably more recognized than Blizzard's own.

1) World of Warcraft (Vanilla)

Cinematic Trailer

Year released: 2004

Peak player base: 8 Million

Copies sold: 8 million by August 2006

User rating: 7.3 via Metacritic

No one can argue that World of Warcraft changed the landscape when it came to MMOs. It will always be the defining example of what these games began as and how it continually reimagines itself even after going for 13 years. Vanilla World of Warcraft (what players refer to as the base game) started with a number of zones in different level brackets, where players would level from 1-60. The hype and craze for the game was incredible, not a shock, considering how successful Warcraft III and its expansion The Frozen Throne was. This was the game that started it all and with Blizzard’s tease of classic servers at Blizzcon in 2017, old and new players will be able to live the legacy all over again.  

2) World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade

Cinematic Trailer

Year released: January 2007

Peak player base: Over 10 million

Copies sold:  2.4 million within the first 24 hours - 3.5 million within the first month

User rating: 8.0 via Metacritic

This was the first expansion that came after the initial hype of World of Warcraft was just starting to fade. Here, players were given a new world to navigate, Outland, which has some of the most beautiful vistas in the game brought players into a world that suffered a cataclysm in the past and needed our help. The continent had been first introduced in The Frozen Throne’s campaign and players could not level from 60-70. One new race was added to each faction in the form of Dranei to the alliance and the blood elves to the horde. The new races also gave each faction access to a class that had not available before in the form of shamen for the alliance and paladin for horde. This expansion overall was just continuing the hype for a bit longer.

3) World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King

Cinematic Trailer

Year released: November 2008

Peak player base: 12 Million (Estimated and highest ever for WOW)

Copies sold: 2.8 million on the first day

User rating: 7.6 via Metacritic

Most players will agree that Wrath of the Lich King is the peak of World of Warcraft. Boasting some of the highest numbers of subscribers during this time, most cna say this expansion was a universal success if not the greatest success for WOW. Bringing the first of the hero classes with it, the death knight, and introducing players to a much more narratively driven expansion, because the Lich King is continually dogging your steps in each zone as players progress through Northrend, the new continent.

4) World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

Cinematic Trailer

Year released: December 2010

Peak playerbase: 11 Million

Copies sold: 3.3 million in the first day – 4.7 million in the first month

User rating: 5.6 via Metacritic

Coming off the peak of WOTLK, Blizzard decided to turn back to its two original continents from Vanilla, the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor, which included revamping them. The expansion produced a small bump in subscribers, but Blizzard’s competitors as this time were finally catching up and players were not as taken with Deathwing as a villain as they were with the Lich King. Players could level from 80 to 85 through the new zones, but even with the inclusion of two new races for the alliance(Worgen) and horde(Goblins), there was just not as much excitement for the expansion as a whole. The revamping of zones from over 6 years ago was a much needed change and the new zones like Deepholm and Twilight Highlands brought diversity to the face of Azeroth.

5) World of Warcraft: Pandaria

Cinematic Trailer

Year released: September 2012

Peak playerbase: 8 Million

Copies sold: 2.7 copies in the first week

User rating: 4.9 via Metacritic

This was an expansion that was almost entirely out of left field and won some early ridicule with the inclusion of a neutral race of pandarians (who hadn’t been mentioned before aside from the random hero in WCIII). There was a new continent, Pandaria, a new class, monk, and a new level cap to 90. Subscriptions were still bleeding off and a lot of players seemed put off by the Kung-fu Panda-like pace and humor, but in hindsight most players will now remember the expansion fondly for providing a much more relaxed experience and one where the conflict wasn’t “world ending”.

6) World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

Cinematic Trailer

Year released: November 2014

Peak playerbase: (Blizzard stopped releasing subscription numbers in Nov. 2015) But estimated 5.5 Million

Copies sold: 3.3 million in the first 24 hours

User rating: 6.0 via Metacritic

After Pandaria, Blizzard had promised for shorter content droughts between expansions and with this they brought on Warlords of Draenor, which for most players were going to be a nostalgia trip, since we were going to back to Outland, prior to its cataclysm. There were going to be orcs everywhere, but before they were corrupted (we will ignore the timey-wimey nonsense). The shine was bright for players at first, level cap was raised to 90, but as the expansion dragged on, the game suffered from being “a mile wide, but only an inch deep,” there just wasn’t enough content to keep players who started as soon as WoD dropped. The inclusion of garrisons, which were essentially individual home bases for players, further divided them, since you could only see your garrison. The universal opinion today is this expansion was virtually the worst of them all.

7) World of Warcraft: Legion

Cinematic Trailer

Year released: August 2016

Peak playerbase: Best estimate 5-7 million

Copies sold: 3.3 million on the first day

User rating: 7.3 via Metacritic

Coming off a low with Warlords of Draenor, Blizzard needed a shot to the arm with WOW and they clearly had Legion in its back pocket and were working on this even before WoD dropped. Players were able to go to a new land, the Broken Isles and level cap was raised to 110. A new hero class was introduced, the demon hunter, the first since WOTLK, which had been a fan requested class for years. With the quality of live improvements like level scaling, directed questing narrative through the zones, and class order halls, this expansion was truly a triumph, showing Blizzard can still produce great content for game more than 13 years old.

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Always fascinated by the night sky, Alex has spent plenty of time developing and writing stories about rocketing to space. When he'd rather stay planet-side, he enjoys an ice cold PBR.
Gamer Since: 1998
Favorite Genre: RTS
Currently Playing: World of Warcraft: Legion
Top 3 Favorite Games:Stellaris, Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void, Mass Effect 2
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