Tough Act to Follow

We are in the waning days of the Battle for Azeroth expansion in World of Warcraft.  This expansion seems destined to rank down the list in the annals of the game.  It is a bit hard for me to even judge it as an expansion, as I did about as little as you could do and still be able to claim to have played.

Battle for Azeroth

But even with my low commitment to the expansion… I made it to level cap with two characters and unlocked flying, but did little else besides the main overland quest lines… I felt the pain of the expansion.  The whole idea that mobs ramped up in difficulty so that equipping better gear made the game harder… a problem that Blizzard acknowledged but said they didn’t care about… was just the main issue I had to deal with.  But it seemed like everything from the story to the raids was making somebody angry over the course of the expansion.

However, some of my lack of enthusiasm is no doubt related to the fact that the previous expansion, Legion, was one I did enjoy.  I played that through pretty thoroughly… for me at least, no raiding, but I ran the instances via LFG… and came away feeling pretty satisfied.  I liked the story, the zones, the mechanics of the classes I played, and I honestly felt a bit robbed when my legendary weapon abilities went away.

So I wonder how much of my disappointment… or at least my lack of enthusiasm… lays in the fact that I enjoyed Legion more.

I have, in the past, tried to articulate the problems with expansions.  They must, by necessity, reset the game in some way, undo what has gone before, in order to give you new things to accomplish.  They also stand as waypoints where  a company can assess features, add new ones, and adjust things that players were complaining about.  For WoW, the latter always involves an update to classes because there has literally never been a time in WoW when somebody wasn’t loudly and repeatedly complaining about their favorite class being bad on some other class being too good.

That means there is almost always a shake up to the status quo, something that will make some slice of the player base pack up and walk away.

And yet some expansions are recalled fondly.  Maybe not by everybody, but there is often something of a consensus about what was a good expansion and what was not.  The good ones mentioned are often:

  • Wrath of the Lich King
  • Mists of Pandaria
  • Legion

While the bad list tends to be:

  • Cataclysm
  • Warlords of Draenor
  • Battle for Azeroth

But there is clearly a pattern to that, and a regular “every other expansion sucks” seems a bit too convenient.  So I wonder how much the quality or popularity of a specific expansion influences that of the expansion after it and how much the expansion before it does the same.

As I noted above, my enjoyment of Legion might very well have shaded my reception of BFA.  Maybe.

More certainly, my time spent with Wrath of the Lich King, where I played from the last few months of The Burning Crusade and straight through the whole time it was live, made me less receptive to Cataclysm.

I have softened a bit on Cataclysm over time.  Destroying the old world still seems like a mistake… unless you think somebody was playing the long game and that Blizz meant to do WoW Classic the whole time.  And giving people flying out of the box was problematic.  But there was still some quality content there, including possible the prettiest zone in Azeroth, Vashj’ir.  And when we went back and did the instances, especially the 5 person heroic versions of Zul’Gurub and Zul’Aman, those were a good time.

And it is quite arguable that my enjoyment of Mists of Pandaria… I skipped the first year of it, but then played it through until Warlords of Draenor hit…  was colored by my dislike at the time of Cataclysm and the fact that I stayed away from WoW for at least 18 months before getting into it.

Which, of course, brings me into another cycle with WoD, and the story continues.

Are the ups and downs of my relationship with World of Warcraft because of the expansions and their merit (or lack thereof) or due to my own expectations being set or mis-set by over exposure or hype?  Should we be thus optimistic about the coming Shadowlands expansion, it having followed one of the down expansions?

Every expansion is its own time in the WoW continuum, and yet none of them exists in a vacuum either.  Each one builds on the past and sets expectations for the future.

7 thoughts on “Tough Act to Follow

  1. Belghast ⚔️ the Timeshifted 💚 (@belghast)

    I think at least for me… the pantheon of Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Pandaria, and Legion are expansions where they are about larger battles with insurmountable forces. Sure there is some stupid PVP nonsense going on in the background of Pandaria, but it feels like you are quickly ushered into this massive rich world with factions that you have never experienced before, and the ultimate battle against an enemy that both Horde and Alliance agree they should be fighting.

    World of Warcraft for me is a game best played when we are dealing with large conflicts that are from external forces and not the tired red versus blue narrative.

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  2. Marathal

    I think for me it feels like in an effort to give us lots to do they ended up forcing us to do a few things a lot. The most recent horrific visions, grind tokens from two zones over and over to run two instances over and over. I am very skeptical of the Tower in Shadowlands. How many times can you do the same thing with different affixes. As for class revamps, I know there is nothing for my Shadowpriest and that in itself is really making it hard to get motivated.

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  3. Shintar

    I always find it interesting that Burning Crusade is the one expansion that doesn’t fit into that pattern. Many don’t like to list it among the best, but hardly anyone would put it on a worst list either. Then again, maybe that’s just because it was the first one and the rhythm hadn’t had time to get going properly yet. As someone who did enjoy BC a lot I certainly did find Wrath also somewhat disappointing in comparison.

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  4. Asmiroth

    BfA has the near same story beats as Pandaria, but the execution was all over the place. I’d be curious if the parallels of RL permeated our ability to escape to this setting of madness without reason. It’s hard to point a finger at the concepts.

    Expectations are one. Legion had issues around RNG and alts. The rest was solid. How BfA decided that MORE RNG was a good idea, then to add reverse power scaling and skill loss, I mean, that’s impressive. Had the azerite system of 8.3 been there at launch, we would be having a different conversation. The game today is mechanically solid. A few tweaks to the randomness and NPC vendors, combined with some number balancing to reduce the skill gap and it’s a hood formula to build on.

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  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    Somebody pointed out to me on Twitter that the list of good expansions all include addition of new classes. I am not sure that is the whole story, but I must admit that a new class trumps a dozen allied races when it comes to my making new alts.

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  6. Naithin

    I would probably put Burning Crusade fairly high on my list. It was the first time I actually really enjoyed the game even, I would say. But then I also really enjoyed Wrath right after it where I spent the lion’s share of my time with WoW.

    Pandaria is one that I came to love in retrospect moreso than at the time. Kind of an inverse phenomena to what you were talking about, where WoD made me appreciate Pandaria even more — rather than the greatness of Pandaria making me less inclined to like WoD. Hah.

    My top three would probably be:
    – Wrath
    – Legion
    – BC

    With bottom three being:
    – WoD
    – BFA
    – Cata… I guess? Although actually I didn’t have a significant issue with it either at the time or looking back in retrospect.

    That might be coloured somewhat by the social lens though and who I was able to play it with at the time.

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  7. khoronado

    Honestly, the devs need to wake up and smell the player base. They have one goal for everyone, high-end raiding! That’s it. A one trick pony that has become stale over the last few expansions no matter the state of the story they are trying to tell. If a player wants to do anything else (oh, lie crafting as one example) in Azeroth they have put so little effort into making it a viable part of the economy (unlike, say transmog and AH trading) its just ridiculous.

    People have different interests and the devs ignore them at the games peril. Not everyone wants to compete with Method in the raiding race. My best times in WoW are the initial release days when I can explore new territories, discover hidden little sites, and just plain experience a new world. After that, the pure randomness of leveling becomes a grind in itself.

    Instead of growing a char class with each new release, we’ve been hammered with new systems that mostly fail due to their randomness and bugs and tend to remove any agency the player might have had with their chars.

    Until the devs welcome all the different styles of play their players enjoy they will continue to fail with each release no matter how pretty the world or how good the story.

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