Have you ever read a book or watched a TV show and loved it so much that you want to go and visit the location in which it was set, so that you can see for yourself where these great events happened, and just be there? That’s me with World of Warcraft.
Except it’s not me visiting those places, it’s my character.
While it was my love of RPGs and the fantasy genre in general that drew me to World of Warcraft, the story is a huge part of why I stayed. And as you’d expect from a game that was released in 2004, Blizzard’s MMO has a lot of story.
Stay awhile and listen
The history goes back further than 2004, however, with the foundations for the world of Azeroth and beyond set in the original Warcraft games. Orcs & Humans was released 10 years earlier, in 1994, and contains the origins of the factions we now know as the Horde and the Alliance.
I can only imagine the excitement that players of Warcraft 3 must have felt, to experience the world of Warcraft without the constraints of an isometric viewpoint, and in a fully interactive environment.
Actually getting to see the throne room in Lordaeron where King Terenas sat, or retracing the steps of Arthas and Uther as they searched for the source of the mysterious plague; Azeroth is littered with references to events that took place in the Warcraft era, giving the world a much larger, more tangible feel.
The original game was grindy; there were quests, but no markers to tell you where to go. There was no Dungeon Finder; if you wanted to do a dungeon, you’d have to ask friends (or strangers) to group up, then find your own way to the dungeon entrance. Group content was hard, and required coordination and cooperation with others, meaning that if you wanted to progress in the game your only real option was to find a guild.
Clearly, this was not something that would appeal to the casual player, but you can understand how the game’s dynamics built a sense of community and an incredibly loyal fanbase via the forging of friendships, initially through necessity, then by choice.
Throughout the game’s history, the Horde and the Alliance have always been at odds, and players are passionate about the faction they choose to play. While more recent expansions have seen them set their differences aside and work together to overcome old enemies, faction loyalty has always been a big part of World of Warcraft, and the latest expansion, Battle for Azeroth, will put it to the ultimate test.
A change of seasons
World of Warcraft has evolved a great deal since its initial release nearly 14 years ago. One of the first major changes arrived towards the end of the second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, and saw the addition of the Dungeon Finder tool, allowing you to queue for dungeons for the first time.
This was followed in 2010 by Cataclysm, which saw further changes, including the reworking of some low-level areas, making leveling easier (essentially helping your character gather enough experience to unlock new abilities) and less time-consuming.
While these updates made Blizzard’s MMO feel more accessible, fans were understandably nostalgic for the feeling of community that the original game’s grindy, unforgiving nature made necessary.
Furthermore, Cataclysm, while still remaining true to what had gone before, was the first storyline that hadn’t been foreshadowed in quite the same way as previous expansions, based as they were on events that started back in Warcraft. As a result, some of the original players started to fall away.
Numbers fell again during the fifth expansion, Warlords of Draenor. The introduction of garrisons seemed to encourage isolation, and fans felt that this addition further drove the game away from its multiplayer roots. Warlords also saw the longest content draught the game has ever seen.
Blizzard took note of these shortcomings, and the next expansion, Legion, scrapped garrisons and revisited older themes and characters. Legion also saw a dramatic increase in the amount of content. As a result, player numbers grew once more.
Despite the lulls that World of Warcraft has encountered, it still remains the most popular MMO on the market. Other companies have tried to follow in Blizzard’s footsteps, but the majority of new MMOs fall short, unable to match the legacy of World of Warcraft and the years of content that’s available.
You are now prepared
While the game may have less need for community than it once had, guilds are still very much part of World of Warcraft. Whether you’re into raiding, or just want to enjoy leveling characters while doing the occasional dungeon, you can find a guild that will cater to your needs.
Thanks to the addition of Dungeon Finder, and more recently Raid Finder, it’s possible to play through group content without the need for a guild, although you’ll be missing out on a lot of fun if you choose to play solo.
One of the advantages of a franchise being almost 14 years old is the vast amount of content waiting to be discovered. Aside from raids and dungeons, there are over 400 rideable mounts, each offering varying degrees of difficulty. Appearances can also be collected, so you can transmogrify your gear to look like any armor set in the game.
If PvP (player versus player) is more your thing, the new Warmode introduced with Battle for Azeroth means you’ll no longer have to choose a PvP server – you can toggle Warmode on and off to engage in PvP with the opposing faction. You’ll also get an extra 10% experience if you have Warmode enabled while leveling.
Recent changes to the subscription model mean that trying out WoW is now easier than ever. You can play for free up to level 20 without time limits, and if you decide you want to play beyond that you no longer have to pay for the base game or older expansions; paying the monthly subscription will automatically unlock all previous content.
You can also try out a level 100 character for a limited time if you want to test the feel of a class closer to maximum level, and with most of its skills unlocked.
Another recent update means zones now scale to your level, making questing smoother and giving you the chance to experience the story as it unfolds, rather than skipping ahead to the next zone as you out-level an area.
What Legion started, with the (re)discovery of the Broken Isles, a place that was thought lost to history, Battle for Azeroth looks to continue. As World of Warcraft returns to its roots, the Horde and the Alliance go to war against each other once more.
The War of the Thorns has begun.
World of Warcraft's Battle for Azeroth expansion is available now.
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Sarah James is a freelance video game writer with bylines at PC Gamer, TechRadar, Official PlayStation Magazine, PCGamesN, Kotaku UK, RockPaperShotgun, GamesRadar, Red Bull Gaming, GAMINGbible, and more.