Try as a person might want to, some things are simply true regardless. Wrath of the Lich King remains the best expansion for World of Warcraft. Some can quite validly lay claim to The Burning Crusade and I will support that as best I can. Support is the key. I can’t verify how good it was because that’s the period where I started playing the game. I can certainly tell you there were great things in the era of the 70, but I can’t compare it to anything before it. Still, the first expansion needs to be succseful in order to lead to more expansions.
The conversation about World of Warcraft in general seems to settle in to the notion that Wrath wasn’t the best expansion, but the game’s actual pinnacle to date. I’m going to quickly dispute that a little bit. In many ways, the game is better than it was back then. Unfortunately, it’s riding two expansions that instead of hitting it out of the park like Wrath did…chose to bunt. Cataclysm and Pandaria were ok, but neither one of them were great by any stretch. But I still believe the game itself has gotten better in the past five and a half years…except I liked the old talent tree system.
So okay, fine. Wrath of the Lich King is the best expansion. Well…why? I mean, everyone talks about it but do they ever really tell you anything that makes you feel the same way? Is there any legitimate fact to their comment? I don’t know if I can sway anyone who doubts where the march to Icecrown lands in terms of WoW history, but I’ll try just the same and I’ll begin where the expansion did.
I’ve talked about the Scourge Invasion that came prior to Wrath’s launch and I won’t elaborate on it too much more. There was the zombie plague that you either loved (me! me! me!) or hated. There was also the periodic attacks on the main cities by Scourge minions, sent by Arthas himself. There were also the necropli floating over certain areas. Those fights were a blast, especially as a guild. This was also the way you obtained the Haunted Memento that sells for a good mint on many servers. Those of us who had several and got rid of them look pretty dumb these days. All in all, the pre-Wrath event was great. You were really ready for Nothrend by the time it concluded.
Out of all the expansions Wrath was the one that felt epic. Cataclysm certainly had the potential for that, but in the end it came up incredibly short. Right out of the gate you felt the presence of Arthas (more if you started in Howling Fjorde than in Borean Tundra), and as you went along it all felt tied together without feeling like you were questing on rails -something that has become too common in the days since. Fans who played Warcraft 3 were in their glory as years after following his evolution into the Lich King, players could now climb the Frozen Throne and confront him. And the confrontation on the throne itself did a great job of wrapping things up with a nice neat bow. Not because Arthas was defeated, but because during that battle you find out why the Lich King drew the forces to Northrend in the first place (hint: your hero had the potential to be the ultimate Death Knight). From the music to the lore, from the Wrathgate to the zones themselves, you really felt like you were in the midst of something epic.
Mechanically, the game was for the most part sound. The developers were hitting a stride in implementing some new ideas and tech, without it taking over the game or causing problems (for the most part). WoW’s second expansion introduced phasing, and it was different…and then they ran with it and subsequently had to use it everywhere in Cataclysm and Mists. Raids became a bit more accessible thanks to the two tiers, and quite frankly Ulduar remains the largest and most encompassing raid in the game.
While the Raid Finder and Real ID have certainly evolved the Looking For Group for the better (mostly), this was the last time servers really had any identity. It’s one of the reasons Wintergrasp was so largely contested (another new feature) whenever that timer came up. Even non-PvPers would jump in, though that might have been just for the easy loot in Vault of Archavon. But outside Wintergrasp, this was still the era in which you had to group with people on your server. It’s how you got to know your server, and in some case make some friends in the process. Rarely did you have people being cynnical douchebags, doing nothing but name calling and criticizing the efforts of others. Why? Because they would get a reputation and quite frankly folks wouldn’t run them in their group. Grouping has become easier since then, but it’s not in all ways better.
I feel like I’ve said so much about Wrath of the Lich King and yet part of my feels like I just haven’t done enough to truly convey what a great time it was in the game or whether I’ve said enough to illustrate just why it’s the benchmark for expansions. My honest hope is actually that Warlords of Draenor surpasses it, in all capacity. I don’t think Mists of Pandaria ever really had a chance, and Cataclysm had the potential but fell horribly flat. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not putting the pressures on WoD to be the best expansion yet. As I’ve already said, it’s a pretty lofty goal. Just stand at the base of Icecrown and look up.