World of Warcraft is a game that needs no introduction. It’s possibly one of the biggest MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game) in the world. The game has literally changed the way other MMOs have been approached. The incredible level designs, the questing system, the gameplay, and the community itself are all what makes World of Warcraft the biggest MMO giant.
But what most people don’t know is that the characters of World of Warcraft are all based from the Warcraft universe, and the lore simply expanded from the RTS (real-time strategy) games from Warcraft I to Warcraft III up to the current WoW expansion. From the initial base game all the way up to the latest WoW expansion, there’s roughly thousands of hours of content that players both new and old can undertake.
With news of an up and coming expansion pack in the works, let’s go back in time and see what the Warcraft franchise has to offer with this World of Warcraft expansions list:
World of Warcraft
Date of Release: 2004
This Warcraft expansions list wouldn’t be complete without tackling the base game. This is the game that started it all, and has it roots coming from the vast Warcraft universe.
Back in 2004, players simply purchased the base game pack and maintain a monthly subscription to access all the gaming content. While the game could be purchased online via their website, players also had the option of buying a physical copy.
World of Warcraft takes place in the world of Azeroth and set as a sequel to the RTS games that Blizzard Entertainment released years back. The difference between the World of Warcraft franchise and the Warcraft RTS series was the gameplay. WoW belonged to the MMORPG genre and Warcraft was an RTS. World of Warcraft had players making their characters, doing quests, and create their own personal gaming experience as a solo player or as a member of a community or guild.
But physical copies for the games, and the next expansion moving forward, were no longer available. Blizzard changed the pay model back in 2018. Warcraft players no longer needed to purchase individual expansion packs and the base game, but instead, they can play all existing expansions with their monthly subscription. Any expansion pack introduced moving forward will simply need to be purchased by the player for a minimal fee (which is priced between $25 to $60, depending on expansion pack). In simpler terms, you simply need to subscribe to World of Warcraft and purchase access to the new expansion’s content, which is sold separately.
Every World of Warcraft Expansion Pack
World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade
Date of Release: 2007
Three years after the first game was released, the first World of Warcraft expansion was introduced: Burning Crusade.
This was the first official WoW expansion that brought new elements into the game, incentivizing new and old Warcraft players to spend more time in the game. First, the expansion pack introduced two new races: Blood Elves for the Horde and Draenei for the Alliance side.
Players were immediately introduced into new cultures that were part of the game’s lore, including access to class-related advantages. Both Draenei and Blood Elves had access to Paladins. This was a class that was only restricted to the Alliance. Likewise, Draenei had access to the Shaman class, which was only restricted to Horde.
There were also new additions to the Player vs Player (PVP) system. The introduction of the new battleground Eye of the Storm, along with the new death-match battle system, motivated Warcraft players to delve into PVP.
Lastly, there was also a new mechanic introduced into the game: flying mounts. Unlike the latest expansion, Burning Crusade only had you flying in Outland, but that didn’t really stop players. Regular mounts and store mounts were made cheaper and accessible. All in all, Burning Crusade would later lay the foundation for the up coming Lich King expansion.
For endgame content, Illidan Stormrage was the last raid boss that people fought in Black Temple.
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
Date of Release: 2008
Following the success of Burning Crusade, Blizzard Entertainment saw it fit to add another WoW expansion pack: Wrath of the Lich King. The expansion pack was introduced a year after the release of Burning Crusade, and followed the story of Arthas, the anti-hero who was crowned the Lich King at the end of the The Frozen Throne (the third game of the RTS franchise).
Burning Crusade introduced Outland and Wrath of the Lich King introduced Northrend, a snowy wasteland that was familiar to the RTS players.
Unfortunately, the expansion did not add any new races, but they introduced the first “Hero” class: the Death Knight. The Death Knight could only be accessed once you had a toon that reached level 55. Death Knights started at a higher level of 55 and in their own starting zone in Eastern Lordaeron. They even had a class-specific profession called Runeforging, which was crucial to the roles that players wanted to take.
Wrath of the Lich King saw the level cap increased from 70 (Burning Crusade) to 80, as well as the addition of new abilities, reworking of the talent system, new dungeons, and zones. There was also more PVP content added into the game with two new arenas and battlegrounds as well as the first world PVP zone called Wintergrasp.
For all players and classes, a new profession was introduced called Inscription. This was a profession that allowed players to create special glyphs that would alter or improve certain abilities. This profession also covered the creation of scrolls that gave out temporary buffs and vellums, which was used to store enchantments. Endgame content had players killing Arthas himself in Icecrown Citadel.
World of Warcraft: Cataclysm
Date of Release: 2010
The third expansion added into World of Warcraft was Cataclysm, introduced two years after Wrath of the Lich King. This expansion literally changed the face of Azeroth and affected the game and community as a whole. By this time, two important characters from Warcraft classic were already killed off, namely Illidan and Arthas. Next up on the list for players to kill is Deathwing.
World of Warcraft Cataclysm introduced two new faction-specific races: Worgens and Goblins. They both have their own unique starting zones in Azeroth, but these were simply the cherry on top of the expansion sundae.
The once familiar landscapes that players were changed drastically after Deathwing’s destruction. What were once luscious and green were now barren and empty. Cataclysm introduced a new PVP area called Tol Barad and two new battlegrounds.
For in-game mechanics, the level cap was increased to 85 and all existing classes were rebalanced and redesigned. There were also new race-class combinations added. Lastly, the talent system was revamped once again.
Two major mechanics were introduced in Cataclym. First major mechanic that was introduced in Cataclysm is guild leveling. Members of a guild could access extra perks as their guild leader leveled the guild up. The second major mechanic introduced was flying could now be done in all of Azeroth. Cataclysm also introduced new dungeons and raids, with the endgame content having new players and other players taking on Deathwing himself.
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria
Date of Release: 2012
Two years after Cataclysm, World of Warcraft reveals their fourth expansion: Mists of Pandaria. This wasn’t as widely received as the first three expansions, mostly because the new race introduced by the expansion was first revealed as an April Fools joke. Needless to say, players were highly suspicious.
But Blizzard Entertainment was true to its word, and we saw the Pandaren introduced as the first neutral race that could be accessed by Horde and Alliance players. Pandarens start out as neutral, but players could decide on which faction they’d join.
The level cap for Mists of Pandaria was raised by five, from 85 to 90. There was also the introduction of a new class called Monk, a hybrid class that could take on Healer, Tank, and DPS roles.
The talent system was also revamped once more. Old passive bonuses that made up most of the old talent trees were removed. Instead, players can now choose between three specific abilities once every fifteen levels.
Mists of Pandaria also introduced Scenarios, which were small dungeons that could be overcome by three players (instead of the five players that a normal dungeon needed). Challenge modes were also introduced to the existing 5-man dungeons. PvP combat was expanded further with the introduction of three new battlegrounds.
Lastly, a new mechanic was introduced albeit not exactly as game-changing. This was the Pet Battle System, which was a turn-based combat similar to how Pokemon played out.
Both the Alliance and Horde players weren’t tackling or killing major characters from the Warcraft III franchise, but there was enough PVE content to go around.
World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor (2014)
Date of Release: 2014
Two years after Mists of Pandaria, WoW reveals their fifth expansion pack: Warlords of Draenor. Unfortunately, the expansion pack does not tie in with the current events that took place in the previous game.
While new players saw the expansion pack as a breath of fresh air, other players thought otherwise. You see, the latest World of Warcraft expansion was a time travel storyline. This was a way for Blizzard Entertainment to creatively retcon existing lore without suffering a lot of major backlash. Granted, Warlords of Draenor never retconned anything, but it does border close to resetting everything the Warcraft universe. This almost drove the WoW community insane because of the way the story was developed.
WoD’s story revolves around an alternate timeline during the pivotal moment that determined the fate of the Orcs when Draenor was still whole. The plot focuses on “what could have been” if the Orcs did not pledge with the big bad Pit Lord Mannoroth, with Garrosh Hellscream influencing the entire decision.
The fifth expansion increased the level cap by ten, which made 100 the new level cap. The overall goal of World of Warcraft’s Warlord of Draenor was the streamlining of game mechanics as opposed to introducing new ones. For starters, WoD removed secondary stats and introduced Group Finder, which was a streamlined group-finding tool for players who didn’t belong to a guild or community, or those who just wanted to run things with random players. The Group Finder system covered both PVP and PVE content, so no players were left behind.
The battleground gameplay was also refined. Inventory and quest logs were now more manageable than compared to the previous expansions.
The game had significant changes made with the introduction of WoD. First, there was the Garrisons. Second was the graphics update. Garrisons were customizable fortresses where players could develop and participate in various activities and missions made available to them. These activities and missions gave them items, equipment, and even reputation points.
On the game graphics side of things, there were updated character models along with other minor graphic improvements that helped keep WoW up to date (at least from a graphics’ point of view). After all, WoW couldn’t run on a 10-year old graphics setting forever.
From a lore point of view, World of Warcraft’s Warlords of Draenor never really affected the main lore. Rather, this was something that would’ve been considered an alternate universe. This meant that whatever happened in this WoW expansion never affected the lore from the previous expansions and future expansions moving forward, except for one.
World of Warcraft: Legion
Date of Release: 2016
WoW’s sixth expansion pack followed the events from Warlords of Draenor. Yes, here we have another “what-if” scenario that doesn’t really affect the lore of both either the Alliance and Horde side.
Originally Gul’dan died in the Tomb of Sargeras, but Legion had other plans for him. Instead of Gul’dan dying, he instead reopened the Tomb of Sargeras in the “Main Reality”. And just like that, we went back to the time of the Burning Legion, and Illidan is once again brought on as the big bad focal point of the story, along with Sargeras.
Legion also brought new zones to Azeroth, including the Broken Isles. This was only accessible to the Night Elves back in the Frozen Throne campaign. The level cap was increased from 100 to 110 and Legion also introduced the second hero class called the Demon Hunter. That’s right, players were now able to get a feel of what Illidan would’ve been like.
The Demon Hunter class was a hybrid hero class that could either take on DPS or Tank roles, but unlike the Death Knights, only Night Elves and Blood Elves could become Demon Hunters. This restriction applied in the next expansion and the future ones. Demon Hunters start out at level 98 and had their own specific class quests moving forward for leveling and progressing.
Legion also brought Class Orders, which were class-specific quests that offered cosmetic rewards and access to class-specific campaigns. There was also the introduction of heavily customizable artifact weapons that scaled with player level. These were used as the primary weapons throughout the events in Legion.
The PVP system was streamlined in this expansion pack. PvP gear was removed and the honor system was revamped. Through the new honor system, players obtained new abilities using honor points instead of gear. This heavily reduced the significance of gear in PvP combat.
For the most part, WoW Legion was received positively by players even if it did give us a sneak peek of what might’ve been if decisions were made differently.
World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth
Date of Release: 2018
Both Warlords of Draenor and Legion were focused too much on PVP, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when other players left the game. Some of them just didn’t want to do PvP when they login and play. But the latest expansion, Battle for Azeroth, was PVE oriented just like the Lich King expansion.
Unlike the previous game expansions where players had to play their way through world-ending events, World of Warcraft’s Battle for Azeroth focused on the Horde and Alliance War, all covered in the multi-chapter War Campaign.
The expansion also introduced eight new races, four for either Alliance and Horde factions. But these races were simply like reskins of previous races as opposed to being new ones.
Alliance faction got the Lightforged Draenei and Void Elves, while the Horde got Highmountain Tauren and Nightborne Elves. These were all added during the Legion expansion when players pre-ordered the Battle for Azeroth expansion. Later on, Dark Iron Dwarves and Kul Tiran Humans were added for Alliance, and Mag’har Orcs and Zandalari Trolls for the Horde.
Each of these new races offered different racial passives and abilities, making some of them ideal choices for certain classes. For example, Dark Iron Dwarves and Zandalari Trolls were ideal choices for people who wanted to roll Paladins.
But these new classes weren’t made available to players from the get-go. You needed to complete certain parts of the War Campaign, and other storylines, as well as earn Honored or Revered reputation for some of them. Acquiring these new classes were tedious because of the many backtracking that players needed to do. Thankfully, you didn’t need to use any of the new class to enjoy and play BFA content.
The level cap in BFA was raised from 110 to 120, and saw the addition of a new mechanic called Warfronts. These were massive PvE scenarios combined with RTS elements of the classic Warcraft games. Weekly rewards were offered every now and then for completing these scenarios. For the most part, BFA felt very rewarding in small doses, and gave players a sense of achievement even for only a few hours of play. But what really separated these casual players from the hardcore players was how the future content of BFA was introduced into WoW.
Island Expeditions was also new PvE content introduced in BFA that allowed players to farm for Azerite, a new resource that would allow them to upgrade their items (introduced later on in the game).
From a PvP standpoint, two new arenas were added and players were given the chance to toggle PVP on and off regardless of the realm they are in. Island Expeditions also had PvP scenarios that pitted two teams of three players against one another.
Heading further into the expansion, a new mode was introduced and allowed players to farm for items with Corruption affixes. These affixes affected the way the game ran up until the end of the expansion pack. Unfortunately, not a lot of players appreciated this alternate way to gain power within the game. It was at this time when WoW spent a lot of time revamping, reworking, nerfing, buffing, and even negating some of the efforts that a lot of players made during the last run of the expansion.
At the end of Battle for Azeroth, players had a sneak peek of what was to come with the future expansion.
Battle For Azeroth also had some upgrades to the system requirements, but still Blizzard Entertainment made it possible for budget gaming PCs to handle most of the game content without major FPS drops.
World of Warcraft: Shadowlands
Date of Release: 2020
When Blizzard announced Shadowlands, which was the latest of the long line of expansion packs, people were hyped up. This time, the expansion pack revisits some of the interactions of the franchise’s recognizable characters. The game also saw one of its biggest overhauls since Cataclysm.
Following after the events of BFA, Shadowlands has players chasing Sylvanas through the Shadowlands, which is the equivalent of the afterlife. Sylvanas finds herself working with the Jailer, a powerful entity that rules all of Shadowlands. The latest raid content of this WoW expansion follows a systematic progress, having you go through the ropes of fighting your way up to Sylvanas and Jailer.
Blizzard announced a lot of the big changes for WoW prior to the actual release. One of them being the level squish. Instead of increasing the level cap, the level was brought down to the original 60. The leveling experience was now relatively shorter compared to the other expansions. Low level players could catch up on their levels with the Timewalking campaigns, which was introduced later on in WoW FA.
Another important addition to the Shadowlands content was the rework of the Flying system. Previously, BFA had WoW players grinding for reputation to unlock flying in Zandalar and the new regions outside of Azeroth. This was a major waste of time, especially for players who didn’t grind out their reputations during the entirety of the BFA storyline. Shadowlands content removed the reputation aspect of Flying in the Shadowlands. Instead, you gain Flying across the four regions of Shadowlands when you unlock it via Renown levels.
The talent and class systems were revamped once more, but to reinforce the new Covenant system. Players aligned themselves with one of four factions in the Shadowlands: Necrolord, Night Fae, Kyrian, or Venthyr. Each covenant had their own campaign and storyline progress that affected the main expansion’s lore, as well as their own bonuses and abilities provided to those who swore allegiance.
The main storyline, along with your Covenant campaigns, tied in together with the Renown system. This was a new system not seen or introduced from the other WoW expansions. Renown levels were acquired when you completed parts of the storyline, did side quests, or farmed items that boosted Renown experience.
Leveling your Renown gave various rewards, as well as allowing you to access new content and campaign progress. While it’s a grindfest for a lot of players, it was still new content that was welcomed by the majority.
Lastly, Shadowlands content introduced the concept of Soulbinding, allowing players to customize their gaming experience further than what the previous game iterations had to offer. This mechanic ties in with the expansion pack’s future content.
What’s Next For World of Warcraft?
We’ve seen World of Warcraft Classic, which was announced together with the release of Shadowlands, and now they’re bringing back Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King. Opening up World of Warcraft Classic gave old players a sense of nostalgia, while allowing players to experience Vanilla from a fresh point of view.
The latest WoW expansion announced a month ago was Dragonflight, which follows a lot like Warlords of Draenor (in terms of alternate universe or what-if scenarios). Not a lot of info has been posted about the new World of Warcraft expansion, but from the YouTube announcement videos, major changes will be implemented for leveling, professions, and access to certain zones. New characters, or possibly a new mode for PvE and PvP, might be introduced but one can only assume. A sneak peek of a new mobile game also made the rounds in social media, but it wasn’t directly tied to the actual World of Warcraft game.
With Warlords of Draenor and Legion being the expansions that started the “what-if” storylines, we wouldn’t be surprised if World of Warcraft reveals more and more “what-if” scenarios that don’t exactly retcon the entire lore, but could come close to giving us an alternate reality, so to speak.
There you have it, a brief overview of the different World of Warcraft expansions from the first game all the way up to the current. The future of World of Warcraft is still relatively bright. Possibilities for future content are endless, and the next expansion might be more exciting than Shadowlands or BFA. But only time will tell.