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:
- Wrath of the Lich King
- The Burning Crusade
- Mists of Pandaria
- Warlords of Draenor
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:
- Warlords of Draenor – 7
- Mists of Pandaria- 3
- Cataclysm – 3
- Wrath of the Lich King – 2
- 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:
- Mists of Pandaria – 10 of 12 or 83%
- Wrath of the Lich King – 8 of 11 or 73%
- The Burning Crusade – 6 of 13 or 46%
- Warlords of Draenor – 3 of 8 or 38%
- 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.
- Wrath of the Lich King – 8 of 11 or 86%
- Mists of Pandaria – 10 of 12 or 83%
- Warlords of Draenor – 3 of 8 or 38%
- The Burning Crusade – 3 of 13 or 23%
- 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.