As of this year, I have played World of Warcraft for over a decade. Sometimes seriously, sometimes casually, always eagerly. It’s where I obtained my Chops nickname, which I explained in a previous post. As hobbies go, a decade is a very long time for me. Blizzard’s juggernaut MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) has enticed gamers since its 2004 release. Legion, the latest in a long history of content expansions, has begun its inevitable decline in interest. As I gear down for another sabbatical, I thought it would be fun to look back on all the expansions and reflect upon the highs and lows.

World of Warcraft (2004, cinematic)

Also known as “Vanilla,” the release of World of Warcraft took the gaming world by storm. I wouldn’t know because I never played it. I came in during The Burning Crusade, but damn are there a lot of players who continue to trumpet their Vanilla experience. It’s a strange thing to gloat about, like bragging about watching the first season of Breaking Bad when it originally aired. Good for you, I guess?

The Burning Crusade (2007, cinematic)

Ah, the expansion that started it all (for me at least). BC introduced us to Outlands, a floating island of fantastical fun. I didn’t see it for the first several months because I was too busy leveling my Arms Warrior through Vanilla content, which basically meant that I played alone because nobody wanted an Arms Warrior for their BC raids. They were the joke of the expansion, but I wasn’t privy to that as a newbie. I was still enthralled by a shiny new world called Azeroth, oblivious to the fact that I was leveling a useless turd from 1-70. I had to beg my guild to let me enter Karazhan. I think they finally got sick of my bitching and threw me a pity invite. But let me tell you, my jaw dropped to the floor the first time I saw the Nightbane encounter. From that moment on, improving my WoW cred became an all-consuming obsession, er … hobby.

Wrath of the Lich King (2008, cinematic)

In this humble player’s opinion, WotLK was the peak of the WoW experience. Everything about the expansion was superb, from the engaging lore to the intricate game play. Even the cinematic gave me chills. I traded in my Arms Warrior for the new Death Knight class and it remained my toon of choice for years. I got really good at it too, even becoming the top-ranked DK on a high-population server for a time. WotLK did one thing better than every other xpac: it separated good players from bad players with a gulf of complexity. Anyone could play any class, but it took serious skill and dedication to unlock their true potential. I loved that the DK rotations were so situational and difficult to master. It made the raid encounters much more meaningful and rewarding. And even though it’s solo content now, stepping into the Icecrown Citadel still makes me smile.

Cataclysm (2010, cinematic)

Cataclysm left me cold and pushed me into an extended WoW sabbatical. This was the expansion that introduced the “WoW for all” mentality. Blizzard was losing millions of subscribers and in an effort to slow the hemorrhage, they simplified play styles and granted easy access to end-game content (cough cough LFR). This pissed off the dedicated veterans and the game shifted in a strange new direction. Raids became littered with sub-par performers, guilds started to lose their relevance, and mindless AOE became the play style of choice. (Anyone remember crowd control?) The pride and satisfaction of end-game mastery was gone, and I left with it.

Mists of Pandaria (2012, cinematic)

I came back to WoW when MoP dropped. I missed the game for nostalgic reasons and decided to play again, even though the new class was pandas. I repeat, pandas. And to make matters worse, their lore was focused around the martial arts. Nothing against the monks, I just couldn’t believe that WoW went full-on Kung Fu Panda (facepalm). But, I came back anyway and actually enjoyed the new content for a time. But unfortunately, the dungeons and raids were quite thin and the play became tedious in a hurry. I went on another WoW sabbatical based entirely on boredom. MoP was so unmemorable that I can’t even remember the zones or raid names. Although, I did switch my play to an Elemental Shaman, which has been my main toon ever since.

Warlords of Draenor (2014, cinematic)

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. WoD was a study in how good ideas don’t necessarily translate into good play. The introduction of garrisons was a tantalizing concept, but they utterly destroyed some of the most engaging aspects of the game (gathering, professions, economy, cities, etc.). As a result, players stayed locked inside their “homes” while minions retrieved gear and cycled through work orders. It was a brainless series of chores masked as gaming. No more gathering, the game literally gave you everything you needed. No more venturing to cities to make crafted goods, you had everything you needed inside your garrison. In fact, all those thriving city centers became ghost towns. The whole “MM” of MMORPG ceased to exist. WoW turned into a glorified FarmVille where nobody interacted with each other. WoD was a dreadful disappointment to say the least. And so, I left again.

Legion (2016, cinematic)

I came back for Legion based solely on the beta hype. Blizzard had learned a very hard lesson and they went to great pains to fix what WoD had broken. In the process, they developed and implemented some seriously stellar updates (world quests, class halls, artifact weapons, deep lore, etc.). Legion has been a joy to play and even though the grind has gotten a bit stale, I still enjoy the Broken Isles and all they have to offer. What I have found particularly rewarding are the different class halls. Legion offers a brand new experience based on the class you play, which makes the content seem endless. Leveling an alt is no longer a tedious grind through familiar content. It’s a brand new game every time you switch, which keeps things fresh and engaging. I have to hand it to Blizzard, bravo on the revamp.

And so, those are my casual observations from a decade inside Azeroth. I bid farewell to WoW for the time being and look forward to the next expansion. Who knows, maybe I’ll come back when I can use my damn flying mounts over Suramar. Goddamn that city is frustrating.