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World of Warcraft

Which World of Warcraft Expansion Should You Play?

Izabela Tomakic

World of Warcraft is one of the most popular titles in gaming, and has been ever since its original release back in 2004. Thanks to well-polished storytelling, immersive and original gameplay, and a vast, magical world, World of Warcraft peaked with more than 100 million registered accounts, laying the foundations for many MMORPG games to come.

world of warcraft expansion sylvanas

Image Credit: Blizzard Entertainment

Over almost twenty years, Blizzard Entertainment has launched eight major expansions, with the latest one, Shadowlands, released in 2020. Although Blizzard initially intended to further evolve and expand the Warcraft universe within the main version of WoW only, they did embark on a quest to rekindle the community’s love for the game in 2019 with their release of World of Warcraft Classic. Sadly, after two years of patch progression, WoW Classic came to an end with the release of the final raid, Naxxramas. This resulted in a re-release of the next WoW expansion, The Burning Crusade.

Since Blizzard now offers three unique game versions: World of Warcraft Classic Season of Mastery, The Burning Crusade Classic and Shadowlands. New and returning players may struggle with distinguishing between the expansions and selecting the right one for them. We’ll compare and analyze the three currently available game variations and help you determine the best WoW expansion for you.

World of Warcraft Classic Season of Mastery

The original game, released in 2004 and concluded with the launch of The Burning Crusade, remained highly relevant in the WoW community throughout the years, even though it wasn’t playable on the official servers. This was mainly due to the community effectively developing and maintaining private servers, allowing everyone who installed and logged in to this version of the game to get a taste of classic WoW once again. Although Blizzard stopped at nothing to shut down classic WoW servers on the rise, they couldn’t shut all of them down. Finally acknowledging the persistent demand for classic WoW, Blizzard finally announced a legitimate way to play it in 2019. After a two-year-long success story, Blizzard concluded this era of the game with yet another re-release, The Burning Crusade. Although players had the option of moving their characters to the TBCC realm or leaving them in the Classic era, almost all players chose TBCC realms, leaving the Classic era ones desolate. 

Reluctant to leave WoW Classic servers in a neglected state and eager to give die-hard fans another window of opportunity to enjoy the game, Blizzard launched Classic WoW Season of Mastery, a reiterated version of Classic WoW, in September 2021. Since WoW Classic SoM was planned to last for 12 months, Blizzard introduced many new systems and quality-of-life changes, such as a significant experience buff, Looking For Group tool, adjustments to the raid bosses, disabled world buffs in raids, hardcore mode, and so much more. After WoW Classic SoM ends, those characters will be moved to either a Wrath of the Lich King server or a classic era server.

The most critical change introduced in WoW Classic SoM was the experience boost. Since leveling in WoW Classic is extremely slow and tedious, a 100% experience boost considerably changes the game, opening it up for even casual players. Although leveling and the dungeon-finding experience is relatively casual-friendly, raiding is a different story. Since WoW Classic SoM has a smaller population than the BCC servers, the players who want to raid will need to find a guild. Although finding a guild may seemingly be an easy task, as the raids only feature 40 players, the raiding population is relatively small due to being consumable-heavy. This is primarily caused by the increased raid boss difficulty and removal of world buffs such as Rallying Cry of the Dragonslayer, Warchief’s Blessing, and Spirit of Zandalar. In the past, these buffs had an immense impact on raid encounters.

The Burning Crusade Classic

The Burning Crusade Classic hit live servers on July 1 2021, exactly six months after the players had re-entered the infamous Naxxramas raid. Planned in five phases, the first phase of The Burning Crusade opened the gates to Karazhan, Gruul’s Lair, Magtheridon’s Lair, and Arena Season 1. Unlike WoW Classic SoM, TBCC didn’t introduce any major quality of life changes. However, in looking to put to an end harmful player habits such as boosting, botting, and gold-selling, Blizzard have buffed experience, capped AOE damage, and nerfed outdoor leveling bosses to motivate returning players to level.

Similar to WoW Classic Season of Mastery, TBCC’s most crucial changes are the significant experience boost and AOE caps. Another notable change is the casual-friendly one-time boost that gives the opportunity to immediately jump into the Dark Portal. Throughout the patches, TBCC has remained extremely accessible and welcoming to all returning players, with more than enough catch-up mechanics such as heroic dungeons, PvP sets, and badge gears. Notably, raiding in TBCC doesn’t involve the dreadful experience of searching for a guild, since low-tier raids are teeming with PUGs looking for more players. However, in order to experience the current content, the players are encouraged to look for a guild.

Shadowlands

The latest World of Warcraft expansion, released in November 2020, is Shadowlands. Although featuring several minor patches, Shadowlands only had two major content patches, the Chains of Domination and Eternity’s End. Eternity’s End, launched earlier this year, is the final patch of the expansion, and introduced plenty of new features. These include the zone Zereth Mortis, a new progression system known as Cypher of the First Ones, fresh campaign chapters, the raid The Sepulcher of the First Ones, return of class tier sets, new Torghast wings, and much more.

Like every retail expansion, Shadowlands has an abundance of catch-up mechanics that allow new and returning players to jump into the game to defeat the expansion’s final boss, the Jailer. For one, players can craft their own gear up to item-level 233. There is also an option to buy binds-when-equipped items from the Auction House. Finally, there are vendors in Zereth Mortis that sell 246 item-level gear.

If you prefer dungeons, Shadowlands has a wide variety of dungeons, including different difficulties. The most popular dungeons are mythic plus dungeons, which pose quite a challenge for veterans and new players. However, if you’re new to the game or simply lack gear, then you should start by doing low-tier mythic plus dungeons and normal raids. Although having a guild in Shadowlands may drastically improve your experience, joining a guild is not necessary unless you want to do high-level keys or mythic raids. The best place to look for a PVE-oriented guild is the in-game guild searching feature or the official Blizzard forum.

The Best World of Warcraft Expansion in 2022

Each version of the game has a distinctive approach to gameplay and philosophy. While WoW Classic Season of Mastery is a first-time seasonally-oriented game, The Burning Crusade Classic is rather focused on fulfilling the fantasy of a traditional WoW expansion, one that will soon be the home of the Lich King. Shadowlands continuously focuses on bringing new content, designing ground-breaking systems, and reinventing the MMORPG genre.

Although we can’t give a definitive answer to which expansion you should play, we can help you choose.

Choose WoW Classic Season of Mastery if you: 

  • are a casual player
  • love Azeroth before Cataclysm
  • wish to experience classic WoW, but you didn’t have the time in the past
  • want to level a character for Wrath of the Lich King

Choose The Burning Crusade if you: 

  • want to level your character for the Wrath of the Lich King
  • want to join a big community
  • prefer a Vanilla-esque playstyle

Choose Shadowlands if you:

  • want to experience fresh content
  • are competitive 
  • enjoy different systems and gameplay variations