World of Warcraft has been around for a very long time. It launched way back in 2004 and has managed to keep current by routinely releasing new expansions.
Unfortunately, that can make WoW a little intimidating to newcomers who don’t know where to start.
There’s a lot of lore to catch up on! So let us take you a little WoW history lesson, as we catch you up with the WoW expansions in order.
World of Warcraft Expansions in Order
The Burning Crusade 2007
We start our World of Warcraft expansions list with The Burning Crusade, which was released in 2007.
At this point, the game was a huge success and this showed in its reception as It sold over 2.4 million copies in a day! WoW was already 3 years old now, and The Burning Crusade did much to give the game a shot in the arm.
On top of this, the level cap was increased from 60 to 70. This served to bring back players who had become bored after reaching the original cap and gave them more to play with and the ability to further customize their characters.
Finally, the game added Jewel crafting, flying mounts, and PvP. Beyond mechanics, the expansion also added a huge amount of lore.
Most of the expansion is set in Outland (or Draenor), a new area that players could access via a dark portal once they had hit the original level 60 cap.
Outland is the Orc’s original homeworld, Draenor. A land twisted by black magic. The story focuses on the Burning Legion’s newest attempt at invading Azeroth.
The Burning Legion is a scary demon army led by dark gods.
Doom Lord Kazzak has reopened the Dark Portal and the Horde and Alliance must fight back.
Players must venture through the portal to take on the threat directly and takedown Illidan Stormrage, the self-appointed ruler of Outland.
The Burning Crusade set the tone for what could be expected from pretty much all WoW expansions. New races, gameplay mechanics, and races served through heavy dollops of lore.
Wrath of the Lich King 2008
Only a year later. Blizzard released Wrath of the Lich King.
This was no quick cash grab though. Wrath of the Lich King is still widely regarded as one of the best, if not best World of Warcraft expansions.
Once again the level cap saw an increase, this time going from 70 to 80. No new races were added but the expansion did introduce players to the Death Knight class.
This is notable as Death Knights were unique at the time. They were the game’s first hero class (they start at level 1). They are also uniquely positioned as heroes of both the alliance and horde who have passed away.
Finally, the expansion added an entirely new continent, Northrend.
Story-wise the expansion begins with the forces of the Scourge amassing to begin a huge assault on Azeroth.
The Horde and Alliance respond by sending armies to Northrend. Northrend is home to Arthas, the Lich King. Arthas originally appeared in the original RTS games.
All you need to know is he’s a fallen hero and the big-bad of the expansion. The expansion culminated in a raid where players take down Arthas with the help of Jaina Proudmoore and Sylvanas Windrunner.
However, defeating Arthas creates a power vacuum and the undead go on a rampage across Azeroth.
To rectify the situation Alliance commander Bolvar Foldragon puts on the Helm of Domination and takes the Frozen throne to protect Azeroth.
Wrath of the Lich King is a highly regarded expansion largely thanks to the way it takes so much lore from the original games.
When people think about World of Warcraft’s expansions, the raid against the Lich King is still seen as one of the best raids the series has seen.
Cataclysm was another huge expansion that added a ton of new features to the game. This time the game saw a more modest increase to level cap. Increasing from 80-85.
Over 3,500 news quests were added to the game to keep players busy. Many areas of Azeroth saw fairly significant redesigns and were filled with new mini-quests to encourage players to return to them.
Multiplayer was a big focus of Cataclysm. Cataclysm brought Contested zones to WoW. There were new areas that featured PvP focused questlines.
Lore wise, Cataclysm is similar to Wrath of the Lich King in that it takes all its lore from one of the RTS games, this time World of Warcraft 2.
Shortly after Arthas’s defeat, Azeroth is struck by a series of earthquakes and elemental attacks. The cause is Deathwing the Destroyer.
Deathwing is one of the 7 dragon aspects and one of the baddies from WoW 2. Deathwing tears through the barrier which separates Azeroth from the elemental plane. This leads to evil elementals invading Azeroth.
The tearing of the barrier also leads to a cataclysm that reshapes much of Azeroth. Players go on a journey that includes helping Vol’jin stop the Zandalari trolls and banishing the Firelord Rangnaros from Mount Hyjal.
The expansion culminates with a trip to the elemental plane and a final boss fight against Deathwing. In the end, the other Dragon Aspects sacrifice their powers to defeat Deathwing.
Cataclysm added a lot to WoW but is probably best remembered for the way it reshaped so much of the map.
Players were used to expansions adding new areas but Cataclysm made major changes to the base game that Players had been playing for six years.
WoW had changed forever.
Mists of Pandaria 2012
Mists of Pandaria is probably the wackiest WoW expansion. After the darkness of the last couple of expansions Blizzard decided to try something different here.
First off the expansion introduced a new class and race to WoW.
The Pandaren race was originally an easter egg in WoW III, appearing in the bonus horde campaign.
Besides their interesting origin, Pandarens are interesting because they start the expansion as peaceful, aligning themselves with neither the Horde nor the Alliance.
Instead, Pandaren players must choose a side at the end of the Wandering Isles quest.
Mists of Pandaria also introduced challenge mode. Players were encouraged to finish dungeons as quickly as possible to win medals and rewards.
The expansion also overhauled pets. Pets could now engage in combat through the Pet Battle system, level up, and even had a class system.
The expansion kicks off with a massive naval battle between the Alliance and Horde which ends with their forces shşpwrecked on Pandaria.
The fighting also released the Sha, evil spirits which are physical manifestations of despair, doubt, fear, anger, and hatred.
The plot revolves around the rise and fall of Warchief Garrosh Hellscream, a power-hungry zealot who becomes a Pandaren war criminal. He creates a true horde of orcs and the Alliance and Horde must unite to take him down.
After the world-shattering events of Cataclysm, Mists Of Pandaria proved to be a bit of a letdown.
The story and setting are very insular and the story lacks any major consequences for WoW as a whole.
Lore wise, Mists of Pandaria felt pretty light after the heavy-hitting lore of the past few expansions. Plus the whole thing is all a bit depressing.
The Padarens were happy living a peaceful life for thousands of years and then the Alliance and Horde turn up, release a load of demons and wreck everything.
Warlords of Draenor 2014
By the time Warlords of Draenor was released in 2014, WoW was beginning to show its age.
While other expansions focused on adding new features, Warlords of Draenor can largely be seen as an overhaul of what came before.
On the visuals side, WoW saw a pretty major overhaul with new textures, animations, and design updates all aimed at bringing WoW in line with its contemporaries.
PvP also saw changes. Crowd control abilities were nerfed and changes were made to how dodges, parries, and hits worked.
The only real additions to the game were another level cap increase up to level 100 and the introduction of player-built garrisons.
The level cap was pretty par for the course at this point but the garrisons were at least fairly deep, featuring their own upgrade paths.
Of course, players wouldn’t have been happy paying for an expansion that just featured a load of cosmetic updates so Warlords of Draenor also came with a substantial story.
The story kicks off right where Mists of Pandaria left off.
Garrosh is rescued by the Bronze Dragon Kairozdormu who sends him back in time 35 years to an alternate timeline Draenor.
Here he warns the Orcs not to accept Gul’dan’s gift of power. This creates a new, more powerful Iron Horde who then conquer Draenor, build a new Dark Portal, and then invade present-day (prime) Azeroth.
The Horde and Alliance then have to join forces with the Draenei to take on this new (old) threat.
Garrosh goes on to battle Thrall, who he was once extremely close to, and then Gul’dan. Thrall is forced to kill him and in turn, Gul’dan takes over the Iron Horde.
The expansion climaxes with the defeat of the Iron Horde at the Hellfire Citadel. Gul’dan summons Archimonde for backup as a final boss for the expansion.
As Archimonde is defeated he throws Gul’dan through the dark portal to set up later expansions.
Long-term consequences are that Thrall is so traumatized by killing his former friends that he essentially retires. Without his sage leadership, the Horde will make questionable decisions and go down a dark path.
All in all Warlords of Draenor didn’t bring many new features to the game but it brought a hell of a story.
After the disappointing Warlords of Draenor, Blizzard hit back with Legion, which was a little more feature-heavy.
The level cap was raised to 110. This became the new base cap as older expansions became free. The expansion also featured two new substantial areas to explore, Argus & The Broken Isles.
However, the most substantial addition was the Demon Hunters class. These are another hero class. What made them unique is that they start at level 98.
To be able to play as them, players had to complete a prequel questline before they could unleash their new character on the world.
Finally, the expansion brought in a new Mythic Dungeon difficulty. This encouraged players to replay dungeons to get new, powerful rewards.
Of course, the expansion came with a new storyline. Gul’dan, that son of a gun is back and has stolen Illidan’s body and opened a portal at the tomb of Sargeras.
Demons begin to pour through this portal and so the Demon Hunter class is released to deal with them.
The Hunters are needed because both the Horde and Alliance take heavy losses when trying to deal with the Legion. Warchief Vul’jin and King Varian are both lost.
Eventually, players defeat Gul’dan and bring Illidan back from the dead.
The expansion reaches its end by traveling to Argus, the expansion’s final raid, where the Horde and Alliance continue to work together to defeat Kil’jaeden and 2 titans.
It all ends with Sargeras (WoW’s big, big bad) being imprisoned. He fights back by thrusting his sword into Azeroth, which causes the planet to bleed Azurite.
Battle for Azeroth 2018
Battle for Azeroth is one of the more unpopular entries on any World of Warcraft expansions list. The level cap saw yet another bump, this time to 120.
It also added two new continents, Zandalar and Kul Tiras as well as Nazjatar.
However, the talking point was probably the addition of the allied races. These are races that were once allied with one faction but could now join the other.
To unlock this potential players had to complete specific quest chains.
All in all, this led to the addition of 10 news races, Void Elves, Lightforged Draenei, Dark Iron Dwarves, Kul Tiran, Mechagnome, Nightborne, Highmountain Tauren, Mag’har Orc, Zandalari Troll, & Vulpera.
The final addition to the game was Warfronts, which are massive PVE events. Lore wise it’s safe to say most players weren’t very happy with Battle for Azeroth.
The Alliance and Horde are once more butting heads after Sylvannas burns the Night Elves home, Teldrassil.
Players take on a blood troll uprısing which releases G’hunn. Both groups then travel to Jaztajar where players battle and defeat Queen Azshara which in turn leads to the release and eventual defeat of yet another old god N’Zoth.
The expansion finished by setting up the next expansion. Sylvannas travels to the Icecrown Citadel and takes out good old Bolvar.
She then destroys the Helm of Domination, destroying the veil between Azeroth and the Shadowlands.
And finally, we reach WoW’s latest expansion, Shadowlands. Shadowlands did a lot to bring WoW up to modern standards.
The level cap was lowered to 60 and the leveling for each class was completely reworked.
Now after reaching level 10 players can jump straight into Battle of Azeroth or use Chromie to play through old expansions to level up to level 50.
If they so wish, players can play the previous WoW expansions in order or jump straight to the new content.
From level 50 onwards the new Shadowlands content becomes available. Story-wise, Shadowlands is pretty awesome and sets up WoW’s future in exciting ways.
That pesky Sylvannas has teamed up with The Jailer (WoW’s god of death) to take over the Shadowlands.
Players travel to the Shadowlands and get to meet plenty of characters killed off in earlier expansions. They also discover The First Ones who outpower even the Titans.
Shadowlands ends with the titular lands thrown into chaos. Instead of deceased souls being judged and sent to the correct part of the land now every soul, good and bad, is sent to the Maw (WoW’s version of hell).
Shadowlands has been well received by fans.
It does a lot to make the game more approachable for newbies to the MMO whilst still giving enough content to entice old players back for more.
Most importantly it does a lot to set up WoW’s future by setting up a whole new, even bigger mythos.
New World of Warcraft Expansion
So what is next for WoW once you’ve played through the World of Warcraft expansions in order?
WoW expansions tend to release roughly every 2 years so players have their hopes up that the new World of Warcraft expansion should be launching at some point in late 2022.
However, Shadowlands was pretty slow-paced and took a long time to play out so a 2022 release date doesn’t exactly look promising.
Furthermore, there has been complete radio silence from Blizzard so far. Not even a hint to tease as to what to expect.
If a new World of Warcraft expansion was set to release this year we’d expect something any day now.
Of course, radio silence from Blizzard doesn’t mean the internet isn’t full of speculation and supposed ‘leaks’.
People seem to agree that the “Dragon Isles”, an area cut from an earlier expansion, will play a large part.
It is expected that the level cap will rise to 70 and new races will be introduced. There’s no point speculating until Blizzard starts to drop hints, hopefully shortly.
That’s it for our WoW expansions list. We omitted WoW classic as it’s less of an expansion and more of a side launch.
Interestingly it looks like Blizzard plans on repeating history by re-releasing the WoW expansions in order for WoW classic over the next few years.
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How long has WoW been out?
Of course, in many ways, a different game from what it was then.
When did vanilla WoW come out?
WoW classic was released in 2019 and is the original WoW before any expansions were released.
How many WoW expansions are there?
1. The Burning Crusade
2. Wrath of the Lich King
4. Mists of Pandaria
5. Warlords of Draenor
7. Battle for Azeroth