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World of Warcraft: A Brief History & What’s Next?

Updated: Sep 11, 2019


World of Warcraft (WoW) is a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) where players take on the roles of individual characters within the world of Azeroth and becomes heralded champions of their respective factions as they progress through the layered stories and events.


Spawning from Blizzard Entertainment’s (known to fans simply as Blizzard) massively successful real-time strategy (RTS) Warcraft franchise where players experienced a top-down perspective and controlled a vast array of units and hero characters, WoW seeked to reintroduce the same thematic storytelling elements that Blizzard is known for but on a more personal scale. Rather than depicting large-scale battles and assaults that RTS games are known for, WoW personalized the story of Warcraft and introduced players to a world where they themselves could picture themselves inhabiting.


Starting off with their classic version of the game, simply titled World of Warcraft (but also dubbed “vanilla” by the fans), the game introduced several of the known races from the previous RTS games like humans, elves, orcs, trolls, and other typical fantasy races. While vastly different from the game that most WoW fans will know today in 2019, vanilla WoW will have struck a chord for many fans of the MMORPG genre, cementing it as one of their first and most beloved entries into the genre. So much so that there was enough fan support for Blizzard to start a project called WoW Classic where the project seeks to reinvigorate the feel and nostalgia players still have for the oldest version of the game.


“Vanilla“ continued the same thematic elements from the RTS games with tensions rising between two different factions: the Alliance and the Horde. Depending on which faction the player decided to be a part of, they had a small selection of races to choose from. For example, if a player played Alliance, they could choose to be human or night elf; if they chose Horde, they could be an orc or a tauren. Different races had access to different classes and not all race-class combinations were available which prompted the player to choose wisely about which role(s) they were going to play throughout the game. For example, the Horde did not always have the ability to choose paladin for their class nor did Alliance always have the ability to choose shaman. Of course, later expansions to the game would remedy this.


“Vanilla” sold beyond Blizzard’s expectations; so much so that the number of units that they sold could not be supported with their current setup of online servers. Being the fledgling gaming company that Blizzard was, they did not fully anticipate the popularity their game would achieve. Eventually, however, they would set down the long road of being able to supply their rapidly growing fanbase with the server dedication and connection that they needed to enjoy the game.


With their newfound success, talk eventually shifted to “what’s next?” Players were already burning through the content of the first game and were hungry for more. It was time Blizzard started working on an expansion. This came in the form of The Burning Crusade where players were tasked with journeying to a new world called Outland in order to hunt down a notorious demon hunter traitor by the name of Illidan Stormrage. Outland was host to several new zones and instances with challenging mobs and bosses. The level cap was raised and more content was introduced to the game. Of course, with the rising popularity of WoW, Blizzard saw their subscription base numbers rise higher and higher, and fans devoured this new content as well.


Enter the next expansion some months later titled Wrath of the Lich King (WotLK) where players returned from their adventures of Outland and ventured to the frozen continent in the north called Northrend. Here fans of the RTS games would recognize an old favorite in the form of a character called Arthas Menethil who is regarded to have one of the most fully fleshed stories in the whole of the Warcraft universe. From an eager young paladin and prince of Lordaeron, to enemy of life as the new Lich King, players face off against Arthas and his undead scourge across the various zones, all culminating atop the Lich King’s citadel of Icecrown where they face Arthas himself and eventually put an end to him once and for all. WotLK is fondly remembered as some of Blizzard’s finest writing and is a benchmark that many longtime fans hold the rest of the series up against.


WoW would continue to enjoy great success over the next several years with more expansions following WotLK. Players would fight massive dragons bent on breaking the world and having it succumb to Lovecraftian horrors from the dark in Cataclysm; they would venture to a new continent once again in Mists of Pandaria where the conflict between the factions would take another sharp turn and escalate; they’d take a trip back in time to an alternate reality to a time where Outland wasn’t quite Outland but a planet called Draenor and stop the rise of of an evil threat in Warlords of Draenor; Warlords would directly influence the next expansion, Legion, as the final events triggered the next which would have players facing off full-fledged demonic invasions and even travelling to the demon homeworld in order to put a stop to the demonic threat.


And finally, in 2019, even as WoW is seeing purportedly record-low numbers in terms of subscriber count, the game continues with its latest expansion: Battle for Azeroth. The tensions between the Horde and the Alliance have bubbled over into all-out war between the factions where faction identity is more important and loyalties are tested.


Over its 15-year life, WoW has become the benchmark for MMORPGs. Many other companies either seek to surpass the juggernaut of the industry or, at the very least, copy it (thus coining the often slanderous term “WoW-clone”). Even if it is described by many as being cartoonish (mainly due to the art style used for the game), it has survived these many years with millions of people coming back to play the game they grew up with.


With Blizzard’s recent merger with another gaming company called Activision, the future of the game is in doubt. Some have even heralded the end for WoW because of the merger. Regardless of questionable futures, however, WoW, in this author’s opinion, will see at least one more expansion (or even more).


Until next time,


shawnmentzer

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