Blizzard has already released a whopping eight expansions every two years for the MMO flagship World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade (January 2007), Wrath of the Lich King (November 2008), Cataclysm (December 2010), Mists of Pandaria ( September 2012), Warlords of Draenor (November 2014), Legion (August 2016), Battle for Azeroth (August 2018), and Shadowlands (November 2020).
The crown jewel of the franchise is the “classic trilogy”, i.e. the base game, The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, which has been published in a new edition since August 2019. The last part, Wrath of the Lich King Classic, is scheduled for release in 2022. In addition to the unbeatable good presentation and the story with many iconic characters, the reason for the success lies primarily in the classic MMO gameplay and the successively expanded talent trees with 31, 41 and finally 51 points for the top talents of the respective specialization. From level 1 to 80, the player experiences each of the three parts largely in its original form, which makes for an excellent overall impression. In addition, the death knight is the first new class, which is still very popular today.
The quality of the following extensions varies from bad to very good. Mists of Pandaria and Legion were rated as good or even very good, while Warlords of Draenor, Battle for Azeroth and – completely unexpectedly – Shadowlands were rated as rather poor or even bad. There are many reasons for the different reception of the stories and game concepts, but above all the Activision-Blizzard merger is clearly hovering at the zenith of WoW in 2008. New projects, cost pressure, bureaucracy, too slow feedback on the wishes of the community or ” Brain Drain” in favor of other House franchises are taking their toll. Suddenly there seems to be this “Us versus Them” and “Too Big to Fail” attitude among the project managers, which undoubtedly rubs off on the developers.
Why such a brilliantly started extension like Shadowlands, which is bursting with original ideas and magnificent graphics, ultimately failed, shows what is probably the biggest design flaw in WoW: the time gating. The sheer amount of “time wasting” to increase the amount of time you have to spend in-game is a major burden for many players. Waiting weeks for quests to progress is a bad feeling. Time-gating things like flying also feel bad – you have to wait up to a year into the expansion for that. Developers now seem to have become obsessed with making the game unnaturally long by putting in doors and walls, rather than designing a game where content consumption feels inherently slow (such as in WoW Classic ). They’re afraid that players will consume the content they create too quickly, ignoring that most people play casually and don’t consume everything greedily. Do they care more about the “all-nighters” (the “whales”) here than the average casual gamer?
In an interview, current WoW game director Ion Hazzikosta vowed to improve and promised that “Dragonflight heralds a new WoW era”. The first technical previews look promising, the screenshots of the new zones create classic flashbacks. According to statistics, every time WoW doesn’t perform as expected, Blizzard always says “all hands on deck” so that the next expansion is guaranteed to be a success. So the signs are good that we will again see one of the better expansions with Dragonflight.