Picking My Favorite WoW Expansion by Reputation

There is always a desire to rate and rank things, to quantify things down to a simple calculation.  Sure, you wrote a nice 2,500 review of that game, but how many stars did you give it?  What is the Meta Critic score.

And I am not immune to such things.  I can ramble on for hundreds of words about something, how I feel about it, what I liked and what bothered me, but sometimes I’d like a nice objective measure of my real reaction.

Which brings us to World of Warcraft expansions.  I had this idea rolling around in my head and then Syp moved me to action by essentially praising what I found to be one of the worst aspects of the first WoW expansion, The Burning Crusade.

Looking out from the Portal

I find expansions problematic in general.  They must change the game and, in doing so, alienate some segment of the game’s population.  They seek to extend the support of the fan base yet risk driving it away because every horrible feature, no matter how seemingly universally reviled, is somebody’s favorite.  So when an expansion makes something better it inevitably wrecks the game for somebody.

I’ve long said, only semi-sarcastically, that EverQuest: The Ruins of Kunark was the only “good” expansion, mostly because it expanded Norrath without changing it too much.

And yet I am always at least somewhat enthusiastic for expansions, so I am even at war with myself over the idea.

Anyway, my gut ranking of WoW expansions has generally been:

  1. Wrath of the Lich King
  2. The Burning Crusade
  3. Mists of Pandaria
  4. Warlords of Draenor
  5. Cataclysm

Vanilla can’t really be ranked in that list, it is more of a baseline, and WoW Legion is still active and I am still playing it, so the jury remains out.

But I do wonder how much of an effect distance in time has on that ranking.  If it wasn’t for a peeve of mine about quests in TBC it might actually contend for first spot.  I mean, I loved the dungeons, there were plenty of them and, at the time, that was more important than a lot of other things.

So I started fishing around for a way to quantify my activities in each expansion.  Ideally I would be able to extract something like total play time or number of quests or number of dailies or number of dungeons run while each was the current live expansion.

I stopped for a bit at measuring the number of characters who hit the level cap during the expansion, that being at least theoretically being a measure of how much I enjoyed playing in an expansion, but discarded it when the list turned out like this:

  1. Warlords of Draenor – 7
  2. Mists of Pandaria- 3
  3. Cataclysm – 3
  4. Wrath of the Lich King – 2
  5. The Burning Crusade – 2

Hanging with Khadgar and Thrall in Draenor

This is more a measure of how easy it was to level up rather than an indicator of enjoyment.  Plus, WoD started the trend of giving players a level boost and ended on the pre-launch event for WoW Legion where I managed to get two character to max level.

So I fished around some more and settled upon factions.  More specifically, how may factions from a given expansion did I end up getting to exalted status?  It is a decent measure of how long I stuck with a given expansion and it is something I tend to do with a single character.

So I went over to the WoW Armory and looked at Vikund’s standings, took the total number of “main” factions and the number I managed to get to exalted and ranked the expansions based on the percentage, which looked like this:

  1. Mists of Pandaria – 10 of 12 or 83%
  2. Wrath of the Lich King – 8 of 11 or 73%
  3. The Burning Crusade – 6 of 13 or 46%
  4. Warlords of Draenor – 3 of 8 or 38%
  5. Cataclysm – 1 of 4 or 25%

Jumping into Pandaria

Of course, there are problems with that measurement.  To start with, not all expansions have the same, or even comparable, numbers of factions.  And there there is the question as to which factions should really count?  I put “main” in apologetic quotes above for a reason.  I somewhat arbitrarily decided individuals in Mists of Pandaria should not count, nor should the Sholazar Basin factions in Wrath of the Lich King.

If I add those in MoP goes to 63% and WotLK goes to 61%.  Since that keeps the ranking the same I dismissed that for the moment.

Going the other direction, I might argue that the sub-factions of Alliance Vanguard in WotLK ought not to count the same way the Sholazar Basin factions didn’t count, which would give the expansion an 86% score, putting it on top.

And then there is the question of which factions did I get to exalted in one expansion AFTER a later expansion appeared.  Things get ugly for TBC with that, since I did at least three of those factions long after the fact, and even uglier for Cataclysm, which drops to zero.

  1. Wrath of the Lich King – 8 of 11 or 86%
  2. Mists of Pandaria – 10 of 12 or 83%
  3. Warlords of Draenor – 3 of 8 or 38%
  4. The Burning Crusade – 3 of 13 or 23%
  5. Cataclysm – 0 of 4 or 0%

Valiance Keep Harbor

This is the reason I cannot rate Vanilla, I am pretty sure I only had one or two factions to exalted at the most during the reign of the original game, and maybe not even that.  The Argent Tournament in WotLK got me to exalted on most of the main alliance factions  Also, there are a those wacky factions, like the Bloodsail Buccaneers, or raid only factions, like the Brood of Nozdormu, that I was never going to crack.

And this brings in a side issue, which is the expectations set by the previous state of the game.  After Vanilla my expectations for TBC were pretty high.  They were met on the dungeon experience side of things, but were dashed by how Blizz decided questing should be handled.  And don’t get me started on ugly equipment or the introduction of some really dull daily quests.

So my expectations were more modest for WotLK.

Then came Cataclysm, the expansion I spent the least amount of time playing.  That set expectations so low that I punted on Mists of Pandaria until it had been out for a year, then found it to be a really solid expansion.  But with only 5 level boost in the level cap you could get to dailies and follow on items like playing with your farm or doing fishing quest pretty quickly.

That realization, along with the return to TBC vibe that Warlords of Draenor started with and the idea of housing, again set expectations high.  The zones were fine, the dungeons good, but garrisons sucked the life out of things, seemingly having been designed to prove a comment that Blizz made long ago about why they didn’t want housing; they pulled people out of the world into their own little domains.

To add to the list of things that this might measure, I should also consider what I got out of getting various faction standings to their current state.

In WotLK getting to exalted unlocked mounts.  Many mounts.  Likewise, mounts were a motivator in MoP.  I know that the only faction I have at exalted in Cataclysm is there because I wanted that camel mount, while in TBC the Netherwing and the Sha’tari Skyguard specifically to get their mounts.  But in Warlords of Draenor I either didn’t want mounts or they were not there.  I can’t remember.  All I really wanted was to unlock flying, and that

And over the course of all of this the game has changed, the market changed, and we have all changed.  Goofy stuff that my daughter and I used to do, like wander far afield just to find a specific pet, have been replaced with other tasks.  The instance group, with whom I ran though Vanilla, TBC, and WotLK, started to fall apart as the years went by, our lives changed, and our ability to stay up late diminished.

So I have gone from a situation where the dungeon content has been supreme in my mind to being much more interested in solo items with some touristy group things via Dungeon Finder and LFR.  That means my rankings are flawed in an even more esoteric fashion.

So TBC and WotLK were good at dungeons when that was important to me while Cataclysm was not, while MoP was very good for solo when that was important to me while WoD wasn’t quite there.  But WotLK was also very good for solo for me once the group tired, while the TBC solo content didn’t hold me very well once the group was done with dungeons.

So maybe, in my own little world, I can admit that WotLK was a good expansion and put it alongside Ruins of Kunark.

Basically, 1,500 words in, I think I have decided that I have wholeheartedly liked two MMO expansions, but I don’t expect you to agree with me.

12 thoughts on “Picking My Favorite WoW Expansion by Reputation

  1. Bhagpuss

    I am a huge fan of expansions. I agree they risk splitting the population and annoying people, often to a hysterical degree, but NOT having expansions is far, far worse.

    I think SOE might have pushed things just a tad too far when they went from a 9-12 month cadence to six months but the sequence that runs from April 2000 to September 2003 – Ruins of Kunark, Scars of Velious, Shadows of Luclin, Planes of Power, Legacy of Ykesha, Lost Dungeons of Norrath – six expansions (okay, five-and-a-half) in three-and-a-half years is the high water mark for the genre in terms of continued content development as far as I see it.

    These days MMO companies seem to think two years is a perfectly normal cadence for expansions and three years is not beyond the pale. I think, as a player and customer, that anything less than a full expansion each and every year is an open invitation to me to take my business elsewhere. Only the fact that business models have changed and most MMOs don’t ask for a sub any more keeps me hanging around indefinitely.

    And bear in mind we used to get all those expansions AND major content updates inbetween them, as a matter of course. We really didn’t know when we were well off, did we?


  2. Izlain

    I’m tempted to make a similar value judgement about Everquest 2, only because it’s the only MMO I’ve stuck around with for a number of years. I was not present for every expansion on release, but I have played through most. I suppose I will need to finish up this new one (and the two that came before it) to really be able to make such a judgement. Perhaps this is something I can get back to in a month or two.

    I’ll agree with you though, that Kunark from EQ1 was my favorite expansion, and I spent more time in it than any other.


  3. Hordling

    Burning crusade was the best expansion. It’s the last one when the core of wow was even remotely hard.

    The only good thing to be said about the Lich King is that it was the high point for expansion unified story telling. By the end of WOTLK if you didn’t hate Arthas with a passion you didn’t have a soul. But what Blizzard did to dumb down wow and make a legion of players who don’t know how to CC in dungeons and homogenized player abilities across class really took the joy that comes from mastering a challenging game. They tried to bring back CC in the next expansion and all the WOTLK cry babies couldn’t handle it. They put it back on easy mode and there it has stayed. The majority of the accessible content in wow is basically entertainment now, unless perhaps you’re doing Mythic raids which are just over the top ridiculously hard.

    It’d be like if CCP made all the weapons shoot thermal but with different colors for the different races, all the missiles have the same range, removed drones because drones are hard, and let you buy 100% insurance for a fixed fee of 10,000 isk.


  4. anypo8

    @Hordling I started WoW during WotLK and quit when Cataclysm came out, so while I don’t have much of an opinion about relative merits of expansions in general, I have a pretty good idea of why I bailed on Cataclysm.

    First, Cataclysm was grindy beyond belief. Just endless underwater levels with the same boring quests over and over. Having just completed the grind to 80, the grind to 85 looked like zero fun. I think I made it to 82 before I gave up.

    Second, gear hyperinflation was a pretty massive shock. It was like CCP had suddenly introduced new insanely good officer mods, new deadspace mods better than the old officer mods, and so on down the list. Getting that green common drop and seeing it was better than the purple item that you had used a bunch of time, gold, skill and luck to get was just discouraging beyond belief.

    Third, Cataclysm nerfed my son’s class and my class and primary profession massively, for no obvious reason. My son was playing a Hunter, and Cataclysm was the expansion where they entirely changed the Hunter mechanics to something dull and unpleasant. I was playing an Arcane mage, and for some reason apparently everybody was supposed to switch to Fire. I don’t know why, that’s just what the mechanics changes did. It’s not like Arcane Mage was OP: sooo unbelievably fragile. Cataclysm also spelled the beginning of the end of Inscription, which was my primary profession. Don’t know why: just changed all the skills and requirements around and bled all the profit and interest out of it.

    All in all, I was getting bored with the game anyway, and couldn’t figure out why I was paying a monthly fee. The customer service I’d been dealing with was dumpster-class. Cataclysm convinced me Blizzard was not to be trusted, and it isn’t like I could port my characters somewhere else.

    Hard would have been fine. Stupid was stupid.


  5. Gevlon

    I positively hate expansions as they bring gear reset. Practically removing the old game. Imagine that when Everquest 2 was released, EQ1 was shut down. That’s what practically happened with all old WoW content when the next expansion was released. Sure, some scenes remained, but trivialized in difficulty and void of rewards.

    That said, WotLK rep grinds were piss easy, so you probably spent less hours getting those exalteds than you spent on your Panda reps.


  6. Hordling

    Maybe i’m the goldilocks hordling….
    So there’s a difference in the areas of difficulty. BC got the complexity hardness right like EVE does. If you wanted to do a heroic dungeon you needed to know which 2 CC to bring to that particular dungeon, you needed to know which pulls to LOS, you marked every group of mobs and assigned CC roles to the dps, the trash was interesting. You needed knowledge to set up the fights but you could plan in advance and then execute generally without getting splatted. Now as a tank, you just run in, gather up the mobs, aoe them down and move through the dungeon, it’s mind numbingly dull in comparison. BC wasn’t perfect, there was a 7 mob pull in heroic shattered halls that I couldn’t tank with a single target threat warrior no matter what group comp I brought, but the flaws often added to it’s rewarding complexity.
    In Mythics now, seems like if you step the wrong way once in a 10 minute fight you’re just dead. The complexity of the dance moves on many fights is just ridiculous. It’s a different kind of hard, one that as an aging gamer I do not find as attractive as a complex game that I can defeat with knowledge. The only way to succeed in Mythic raids seems to do them over and over and build “muscle memory” about what frantic activity to do when. And yes, I do know what I’m talking about, I led a team through Mythic (then called heroic) Pandaria raids all the way up to killing Garrosh ahead of the curve which was just a cluster fight if there ever was one. Maybe I’ve just done too many of them and doing another one doesn’t seem worth the work. I wish I could just do dungeons that weren’t a speed race and instead required some group coordination and planning.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Telwyn

    1. Burning Crusade
    2. Wrath
    3. Cataclysm
    4. Mists
    5. Warlords

    I’d rank them as above mainly on my subjective view of how much fun I had in dungeons in that expansion. That includes dungeon variety, mechanics, difficulty and design asthetics.

    Although story is very important to me WoW will always be a small group dungeon-fun game in my heart.

    Cataclysms dungeons were actually excellent, they were brutal at heroic to start with. TBC had very brutal hard modes to its dungeons. Mists could have been a contender but then Blizzard temporarily abandoned 5-person content mid-expansion. Warlords dungeons were a bit too gimmicky for my tastes, we grew bored of them quickly.


  8. Shintar

    One thing you didn’t mention (and which Gevlon of all people commented on) is that the difficulty of maxing out reputations also changed over time. In WotLK it was easy because of the tabard system – slap on any faction’s tabard while running easy dungeons and you’d be exalted in no time. Compare that to things like having to run Shattered Halls or any of the Hellfire Citadel dungeons on heroic to get to exalted with Thrallmar (I forget what the equivalent Alliance faction was called) during Burning Crusade…


  9. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Shintar – The thing is that I used the tabard option very little when it was available, and mostly for Cataclysm, and you can see my score there. Yes, getting Honor Hold rep to exalted was a pain. But I could have run daily quests for other reps. I didn’t even bother until many expansions later.


  10. Shintar

    Hm, I thought Cataclysm was when they removed the tabard option (temporarily?) because they decided that it was too easy, however I can’t find anything to back that up right now. Must have gotten some things mixed up in my memory there…


  11. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Shintar – I am wearing the tabard of the Wildhammer Clan on my main still, and I do not have them at exalted yet, so I think that might be something that came in with Mists of Pandaria. You had to get exalted to collect tabards in Pandaria.


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