With WoW: Shadowlands out at some point in 2020, it’s fun to look back on what came before in World of Warcraft. It’s even more fun to rank those WoW expansions into a totally personal list that 90% of people won’t agree with. So, with that in mind, feast your eyeballs on my favorite WoW expansions ranked from best to worst.
As I said, this is my list and I have my reasons for liking Legion the most, and most of those aren’t about gameplay (not to say it was bad). Legion was fine, a good expansion not far from greatness. Crucially, however, it was exactly what WoW needed after Draenor (more on that later).
It had some issues, some of which got fixed, and others that that didn’t and were left in a broken state until the BFA pre-patch. Legendary items were a good idea, but the RNG was terrible. The class order hall and Artifact weapons were also great features that most people enjoyed. And like most good things in WoW, they got stale and grindy towards the end. The constant farming of the same dungeon to achieve the most Artifact Power also got to people by the end.
What made Legion the best expansion for me was my guild, my friends, and my now-fiancé. The guild still exists today, though on a new server, with new members and a faction change, but our friendships and connections stand strong and unchanged.
Wrath of the Lich King
Wrath is most people’s favorite expansion. It has the improvements to the game that Burning Crusades brought, but it also refined them and “leveled-up” WoW as a game.
Lich King pretty much had it all as an expansion. Solid leveling, great zone and thematic, and an end villain that everyone in the Warcraft community knew.
Wrath is probably the expansion Classic WoW players are secretly most hyped about – I know I am. Wrath feels like when WoW had a nice balance between feature-rich content, good time between content, and good rewards. A lot of what Wrath set out to achieve was changed in the expansions which followed, as Blizzard tried to reinvent the game.
It was exactly what WoW needed after Vanilla. It built on the core of the game, but expanded the world and added two new races to the game, Draenei for the Alliance and Blood Elfs for the Horde. The expansion, much like the one that proceeded it had a solid end game, good progression, and good raid encounters.
As with Lick King, it featured a major lore bad guy in Illidan as the end boss (let’s pretend Black Temple was the last raid) that players knew about from the day the expansion was revealed.
The expansion wasn’t perfect but it’s remembered very fondly. With the Burning Crusades likely to be coming to Classic in the next few years, it will be interesting to see how well the expansion is perceived when the time comes, when rose-tinted glasses come off and we see it compared to modern games. Until then, BC is considered by most to be alongside Wrath as WoW’s best expansions, as shown in the video above by the top WoW streamer, Asmongold.
Mists of Pandaria
Mists of Pandaria was an expansion that at the time felt just OK, but looking back many players – myself included – learned to appreciate it more. It always seemed to me that the panda aesthetic, the world and the Pandaren race introduced seemed like a “joke” to some. I mean, the original idea of a Pandaren race was an April Fools joke back in Warcraft 3. The Pandaren race was “revealed” as the game’s 5th playable race. So the race was doomed when it was first unveiled and it’s not widely played to this day, despite being open to both factions.
One notable aspect of MoP that players talked about during BFA was MoP’s class design. Looking back, people speak of it as a golden era for the game. One notable figure that highlighted this in 2019, shortly after BFA released was current Max, Guild Leader, and Raid Leader of World #1 WoW raiding guild Complexity Limit. Speaking about how the fundamental design was what made it great, it was less about content and more about that core loop.
Battle for Azeroth
When ranking WoW expansions, the golden rule is to make your last 3 picks as controversial as your first 3. BFA is coming to an end and it’s been one hell of a decisive expansion. BFA can be summarized as an expansion full of ideas, some which never worked and had been replaced by other ideas and features that ended up pilling up and making a mess of an experience.
BFA has been weird. It probably won’t be remembered fondly among the player base, though I suspect as time goes on it might be looked back on as an expansion with ideas above its station, most of which just failed to live up to the early promise. Features like Island Expeditions, Warfronts and the overwhelming number of systems left most people disappointed and buried in “busy work”.
It wasn’t all bad, the lore, story, atmosphere, and raiding content were top-notch, as it has been for a number of expansions now. The idea that the Art Team at Blizzard “carries” the game now is often talked about in Reddit threads, and sometimes it’s hard to disagree.
Warlords of Draenor
WoD is often on the bottom of most people’s lists. It nearly killed WoW, and it was certainly responsible for the game’s continued drop off in subscription numbers since Cataclysm. As a result, Blizzard no longer publicly speak about WoW sub numbers, bar a brief mention at Activision Blizzard investor calls, and even then we just get lines such as “WoW numbers continue to climb”. Obviously, with Classic now part of the subscription the total number of players is not as meaningful as a gauge for how popular WoW is anymore.
That said, WoD had some good ideas. The Garrison was WoW’s answer to Player Housing, a feature that fans had wanted for years (some still do). Rather than being a cool place to hang it, it became your only location to play. You could queue up for nearly everything there, speak in trade chat, and even farm crafting materials.
The expansion ended very poorly, with an entire content patch being cut. A poster on popular WoW fansite MMO-Champion even collected a huge list of cut or delayed content, and it’s fairly damning. The worst part was the one year gap between WoD’s final patch and WoW: Legion released in 2016. All this came together to mark one of WoW’s darkest days.
Cataclysm was the remaking of WoW’s world, Azeroth, torn asunder by the dragon Deathwing. While it changed the world, it didn’t do much to refresh the endgame content of WoW which ultimately sees it placed here.
Cataclysm added some decent features. Goblin and Worgen joined the factions while Archaeology, guild advancement, rated battlegrounds and Flying mounts in Azeroth also joined the feature list. Obviously, a new world meant the 1-60 leveling experience had a revamp too, something that’s still in the game to this day.
The problem is that most of those features are either dead, dying, or hated by the community. Archaeology has not really changed at all in recent expansions, and as of now is set to have nothing meaningful done to it in Shadowlands. The new Guild features totally ruined the economy of the game and sparked a flood of 500+ member guilds abusing the gold making feature. Flying mounts are always a controversial topic in WoW – some people love them, some only like them in new content, and others just wish we had them from the second the expansion dropped.
Lastly, Rated Battlegrounds are all but forgotten. It seemed like the perfect esport for WoW but was only ever utilized by a handful of community events. Sitting here, I can’t name a single feature I loved about Cataclysm. Even the raids were disappointing, especially the awful Deathwing fight.
We all have our favorite flavor of ice cream, some of us like some actual flavor… only joking, Classic isn’t an expansion. I had you going though, didn’t I?