For Azeroth! The World of Warcraft expansions, ranked cover image

For Azeroth! The World of Warcraft expansions, ranked

Start out your new year by reading our list of the best and worst World of Warcraft expansions ranked. Are you prepared?

Twenty years of WoW brings about a lot of opinions. Best raids, worst looking transmogs, and whether or not Garrosh was right--Of which the opinion is split when it comes to the editors of this website. However, no list is more hotly debated than the World of Warcraft expansions ranked from worst to best.

So, why not kick off the year 2024 with some hot takes? I'm here to rank the WoW expansions from bottom to top, with some truly brave opinions along the way. We'll be ranking each on a series of four metrics. This includes main storyline, the big expansion feature/selling point, end-game content, and longevity.

For the sake of fairness we won't be including vanilla World of Warcraft in the ranked expansions list. As for the rest? It's open season, so let the games begin.

World of Warcraft expansions ranked

9 - Battle for Azeroth

Category
Score
Main Story
D
Expansion Features
D
End-Game Content
B
Longevity
D

Were you expecting to see Warlords of Draenor in this spot? Well, think again. For my money (and when it comes to WoW expansions) the main hooks for new content boil down to two main points. What is the story and what is the new thing drawing me back to the game. In the case of Battle for Azeroth, it's not only the WoW expansion with one of the worst story arcs but the most frustrating new features.

BFA brought the Horde vs Alliance war from the boiling backburner and straight to the front window display. Your mileage may vary on if you like the "us versus them" in Warcraft, but it's just not what I'm here for when it comes to WoW. The main story's plodding, island-hopping war campaign brought us two of the least interesting new zones in the game's history in Zuldazar and Kul Tiras, but major plot points that brought out the worst characteristics of both factions.

<em>Credit: Blizzard</em>
Credit: Blizzard

Features wise, the big selling point was the Heart of Azeroth legendary neckpiece. Meant to be a piece of gear you got at the start of the expansion and levelled up throughout, it more often felt like an albatross than a cool, evolving treasure. Meanwhile, the island expeditions feature now sits as a mere afterthought.

The real saving grace for BFA when it comes to its place in the World of Warcraft expansions ranked list is its raid content. Despite a floundering story, the raids of Uldir, Dazar'alor, The Eternal Palace, and Nylotha brought some of the most beautiful, varied, and interesting raids in the game's history. However, each was also buried beneath a mountain of daily quest grinds.

Ultimately, the legacy of BFA is that of an expansion nobody really wants to revisit, even in hindsight. Considering it was the follow-up to one of the best and most beloved of the expansions in Legion, BFA felt like a complete reverse in momentum and the start of a black period on the IP for fans.

Speaking of that period...

8 - Shadowlands

Category
Score
Main Story
F
Expansion Features
C
End-Game Content
D
Longevity
C

The World of Warcraft expansion released during the height of Activision's most tumultuous years, it almost seems reflective in the product created by Blizzard. Workers rights scandals, sexual harassment stories, and the upheaval of the pandemic lockdown era all lead towards Shadowlands, number eight on our World of Warcraft expansions ranked list.

And it didn't have to be this way. After all, the idea of an afterlife expansion was kicking around from the very beginning of World of Warcraft--an idea that sprang to mind the greater revolving world of WoW. Instead, we got a story centering on one-time waifu turned most hated character Sylvanas Windrunner and a truncated end-game release full of shorthanded content.

<em>Credit: Blizzard</em>
Credit: Blizzard

However, where I will stand up for Shadowlands is in its presentation, zone design, and its central features. The world of the Shadowlands is beautiful and varied, with Bastion and Ardenweald being some of the best-looking zones in the game. Likewise, the rogue-like dungeon crawl of Torghast was a fantastic idea that, even without realizing its full potential, brought a new energy to the game.

Those positives weren't enough to ignore the worst story arc in WoW history. It's entirely possible this game was the reason that Blizzard did everything in its power to bring Chris Metzen back into the fold. So, maybe it's not all so bad. Still, Shadowlands brings up a lot of bad memories and feelings for a number of players, myself included.

World of Warcraft expansions ranked: 7 - Warlords of Draenor

Category
Score
Main Story
C
Expansion Features
C
End-Game Content
D
Longevity
B

Kept you waiting, huh? If you ask most fans what their least favorite World of Warcraft expansion is ranked you'll see Warlords of Draenor mentioned a lot. For many the time-travel nonsense and almost non-existent end-game content is too much to bear. Likewise, many felt like it was a cop-out going back to Draenor, given the popularity of The Burning Crusade.

And yet, I'm willing to stick up for WoD and it's weird little slice of the WoW pie. The history of Draenor in Warcraft canon is fascinating. I loved being able to see even a glimpse of what that orc-based world looked like, even if it's in an alternate reality. Likewise, the garrison system may be as close as we ever get to player housing.

<em>Credit: Blizzard</em>
Credit: Blizzard

Was it perfect? Absolutely note. Even today the grind in WoD is real, and if you aren't into orcs then this expansion just isn't it. It also doesn't help that Warlords possesses the absolute worst end-game content in WoW. It's almost funny, considering that Hellfire Citadel is actually an excellent piece of content. But it was too little too late.

However, that has made the expansion great to go back, explore, and earn rewards after the fact. But I still remember experiencing WoD in real time and those were dark, dark days. Warlords of Draenor isn't as bad as many fans remember, but it also isn't worth remembering.

6 - Cataclysm

Category
Score
Main Story
C
Expansion Features
B
End-Game Content
B
Longevity
C

Is anyone excited about Cataclysm Classic? I don't say that to be glib, it's just that when I think about classic eras of WoW I don't include the time they blew up the entire freaking world. And yet, the thing that stands out most about Cata and why it sits in the middle of our World of Warcraft expansions ranked list is the sheer shocking nature of its renovations.

What other game, at the height of its popularity, would be willing to destroy the status quo, upend beloved areas and storylines, and change everything that players knew? The risk didn't fully pay off, but Cataclysm has a number of memorable moments that made it a fascinating expansion in retrospect.

<em>Credit: Blizzard</em>
Credit: Blizzard

The story of Deathwing's return and the literal destruction of Azeroth is a sweeping epic that took players back to the old world of WoW in cool ways. Being able to fly in the old zones at last made the then-ten year old game feel as fresh as Vanilla WoW. The expansion also features some of the best raid set pieces and bosses ever, with Cho'Gall, Onyxia, Deathwing, and more all making appearances.

The worst I can say about Cataclysm is that its status-quo changing remaster of the old world, in retrospect, was a flashpoint for many players. The good, old days of WoW were no longer available. For many, this is where the longing for a 'classic' version of World of Warcraft began. Which, of course, makes it even more strange that actual WoW Classic is dipping into the waters of Cataclysm.

5 - Mists of Pandaria

Category
Score
Main Story
B
Expansion Features
C
End-Game Content
B
Longevity
B

The initial reaction to Mists of Pandaria was that of jaded, old school fans wailing about the sky falling down. "Panda bears? This is the moment that WoW jumped the shark!" was a common complaint upon the expansion reveal. But I've never thought that was fair to an expansion that had the unenviable position of being the first to try something new. Pandaria wasn't full of old villains from Warcraft or long requested zones. Instead, players ventured to a new land to meet a long-rumored Azerothian race on their own terms.

And, yes: There will always be idiots out there ready and willing to shout about how Mists was an attempt to cowtow to the Chinese audience or fans of... I don't know, Kung-Fu Panda? My point being, Mists of Pandaria is an extremely good expansion that gets way too much hate.

The new expansion features of the pet battle system and a revised talent tree system aren't the most exciting additions to the game. Heck, in the case of the latter it doesn't even exist anymore. Despite that misstep, the raid content and storyline hold up to this day as something worth revisiting in its entirety. It's also home to some of the best transmog looks across the game's history, which isn't worth nothing.

If you've never experienced Mists of Pandaria for yourself then consider this your invitation. See the secrets being the veil and you'll be rewarded with an abundance of treasures. Also, go see the Throne of Thunder raid. It's awesome.

World of Warcraft expansions ranked: 4 - Dragonflight

Category
Score
Main Story
B
Expansion Features
A
End-Game Content
B
Longevity
C

Call it recency bias, but Dragonflight is a breath of fresh air after BFA and Shadowlands. Showcasing the beginning of a new era of content and transparency for the WoW team, Dragonflight feels different than its prior iterations. Maybe it's a fresh start, both in regards to the game's development but also within the universe and story involved. Either way, Dragonflight needed to score big and it did, with room for improvement.

The main dragon-riding mechanic is the best thing added to the game since flying mounts in BC. It provides a wonderful sense of speed, scale, and scope to a game that was beginning to feel smaller and smaller each year. And credit where it's due: The post-launch content has been excellently paced and a wonderful balance between cool locations and thought-provoking mechanics.

The Dragon Aspects in World of Warcraft: Dragonflight (Image via Blizzard Entertainment)
The Dragon Aspects in World of Warcraft: Dragonflight (Image via Blizzard Entertainment)

The biggest question is whether or not Dragonflight stands the test of time. It sits at a weird intersection of old Blizzard and the newfound Chris Metzen and Microsoft era. With World of Warcraft potentially changing radically in the years to come via the WorldSoul Saga, it could be that Dragonflight is the last "traditional" expansion. If so, I think it's legacy stands as a great piece of content that got the WoW ship back on track.

3 - Legion

Category
Score
Main Story
B
Expansion Features
A
End-Game Content
A
Longevity
A



Depending on how you feel about Illidan Stormrage, Legion is either the only good modern WoW expansion or a "Break fel-shaped glass in case of emergency" situation. Needing to right the wrongs of Warlords of Draenor, there was a lot of pressure on Legion as a piece of content to succeed. This might also be why Legion feels so absolutely jam-packed with new features, familiar faces, and epic setpieces in every direction.

The Class Hall system is one of the best post-Vanilla features in WoW. It gave every class a sense of identity that remains fresh and cool to this very day. Likewise, Legion utilizes the game's biggest lore characters to create memorable quests, zones, and raid content. If you loved Warcraft 3 then that game's fingerprints are all over Legion.

<em>Credit: Blizzard</em>
Credit: Blizzard

Honestly, the biggest drawback of the expansion is that the story and its enjoyment is purely based on whether or not you like Illidan. He's omnipresent in the story, with everything from its overarching quest to the new Demon Hunter Hero Class all being in the younger Stormrage sibling's shadow. If you can ignore the massive retcons needed to make everything make sense then what you get is the best WoW expansion since the pre-Activision merger days.

Now, go solo Antorus on Mythic. Yes, it's possible. Now, speaking of Illidan...

2 - The Burning Crusade

Category
Score
Main Story
B
Expansion Features
A
End-Game Content
A
Longevity
A

The Burning Crusade is perhaps the most important DLC content ever released. Carrying the weight of being the follow-up to the biggest game in the history of gaming, TBC absolutely had to be a success. Luckily for Blizzard, it would have been impossible from a sales standpoint for Burning Crusade to fail. However, it could have been the thing to make or break the game's legacy with its ravenous fanbase.

And it didn't start out great. I still remember launch day when you couldn't even access the new content because of the sheer amount of players on each and every server trying to access Outland all at once. The great Dark Portal disaster eventually worked itself out, but it was a reminder that there's a price to being the biggest game in the world.

Illidan from the World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade trailer (Image via Blizzard Entertainment)
Illidan from the World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade trailer (Image via Blizzard Entertainment)

In the end I think it worked out. The DNA of World of Warcraft is bolstered by The Burning Crusade in every way, even to this day. Real-time flying was the biggest game changer in MMORPGs and Blizzard made it seem effortless. Every single piece of The Burning Crusade sparkles with that sheen of Blizzard magic, from its unforgettable raids to every quotable line of dialog. If someone refers to the "good old days" of WoW they are most likely talking about TBC.

The biggest knock against the expansion--and the thing that keeps it from the top spot--is that its overall story is a big ole mess at times, with Illidan being an absolute non-factor by the time the final content patch released. Chalk it up to the game's popularity messing with timetables, but it's a small flaw in an otherwise important piece of content.

The Burning Crusade remains the blueprint for all World of Warcraft expansions, only to be topped by one frozen throne.

The best World of Warcraft expansion: Wrath of the Lich King

Category
Score
Main Story
A
Expansion Features
A
End-Game Content
A
Longevity
A

Wrath of the Lich King had to be an absolute success in every way. Anything less than pure perfection would have left a black eye on Blizzard that would never heal. Luckily for all of us, the very first reveal with the game's cinematic spoke volumes. Wrath of the Lich King is the apex of World of Warcraft content, perfect in every way. Story, new features, end-game flow, and ever-lasting legacy. Nothing tops the story of the Lich King and his eventual defeat.

It certainly doesn't hurt that this was the absolute best time to play World of Warcraft, hands down. The game at its critical mass of popularity and place in the mainstream zeitgeist, WotLK capitalized on improving every aspect of the game. Enchanting, memorable zones and music lead players through the icey realm of Northrend--an area fans of the Warcraft franchise had craved for a decade.

It's also one of the few rare MMORPG expansions that tells a functional, cohesive, and all-encompassing story from beginning to end. Blizzard has not managed this feat since, not for a lack of trying.

If, for some reason, you've never experienced Wrath of the Lich King in its entirety, then it's time to correct that error. Go start up an alt today, it's well worth your time. This is the very best World of Warcraft has to offer, never to be topped again--not even by WoW Classic revisiting it.

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