• Lore-rich WoW expansions like Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King deepened the conflict between factions with epic storylines.
  • Cataclysm reshaped Azeroth, introducing new races and zones while bringing about significant in-game changes like LFG features.
  • Shadowlands offers a glimpse into the afterlife of fallen characters and introduces a complex narrative involving powerful entities.

As a developer, Blizzard has created a lot of popular game franchises, and World of Warcraft has been one of their flagship titles since the 1990s. The online version of the game was first released in 2004, and it was a continuation of the story that was told in the original RTS games.

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The lore and story have gone through some changes since the early days, but WoW is still known for focusing on the conflict between The Horde and The Alliance. The lore is so vast in fact, that Blizzard could never hope to tell the full story in a single installment, which is why they will never run out of material for WoW expansions.

Updated June 12, 2024 by Kristy Ambrose: As the Achievement says, What A Long Strange Trip It's Been. 2024 marks the 20th anniversary of the original release of the MMORPG, and a few Classic servers remain to commemorate the old days.

The recent news from Blizzard regarding expansions includes something for Retail along with more changes to the Classic WoW experience with the release of Cataclysm. There are always one or two events that reshape the world's most successful MMO to some degree, and tracing the WoW expansions in order is like a history lesson in real life.

The recent and incoming expansions have changed what servers are available for certain areas. Retail WoW is found under what is currently the Dragonflight tab, and this is where The War Within can also be found. The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King are no longer available, and "Vanilla" WoW is available in three forms - Season of Discovery (SoD), Hardcore, and regular Classic.

The Burning Crusade

The Destruction Of The High Elves And The Sunwell

  • Original Release Date: January 16, 2007
  • New Races: Blood Elves & Draenei
  • New Zone: Outland

The Burning Legion is an army of ravenous demons who have invaded countless worlds while being led by some of the strongest beings in the WoW universe. Burning Crusade focused on the Legion's latest attempt to invade Azeroth, which happened because the Doom Lord Kazzak reopened the Dark Portal to Draenor, otherwise known as Outland, the original Orc homeworld.

The Horde and The Alliance fought the Legion and even went through the portal to deal with the enemy at its source. This ultimately led to the defeat of Illidan Stormrage at the top of the Black Temple, who had declared himself the ruler of Outland.

This WoW expansion also saw the troll warlord Zul'jin declare war on The Horde and The Alliance, and he summoned ancient Gods to destroy both factions. The disgraced Blood Elf prince, Kael'thas Sunstrider also tried to summon Kil'Jaeden through the Sunwell.

  • Retail World of Warcraft. When the original expansion was released in 2006, the wave of excitement crushed every other MMORPG on the market and solidified WoW's status as the monolith that none could destroy. Most players were impressed by the improved content that included a whole new continent to explore, several new raids and dungeons, and ten more levels to gain.
  • Classic World of Warcraft. The Burning Crusade came to Classic WoW in June 2021, and although there was some talk of preserving it in a few dedicated servers, none were retained when The Wrath of the Lich King expansion was released a year later.

Wrath Of The Lich King

The Tragic Story Of Arthas Menethil Comes To An End

  • Original Release Date: November 13, 2008
  • New Class: Death Knight
  • New Zone: Northrend

Wrath of the Lich King is still considered to be the best WoW expansion, and for good reason. Players familiar with the lore of the RTS games know all too well how Arthas Menethil became the Lich King, and during his assault, he caused the original deaths of Sylvannas Windrunner and Dranosh Saurfang.

Many consider Icecrown Citadel to be WoW's best raid, and it ended with Arthas' defeat and closure to a long story that started with Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne in 2003. This defeat included the destruction of the cursed runeblade, Frostmourne, which had the power to take the souls of those it had slain and dominate the undead.

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  • Retail World Of Warcraft. The bug fixes and tweaks finally completed quality-of-life improvements that players had been asking about for years, including the dual-spec option and an upgraded LFG feature. This latter change was seen as little more than a detail of convenience at the time, but it would become one of the most important issues in the future.
  • Classic World of Warcraft. The nostalgia was strong with this one, enough to carry the fanbase for a while. Like the version of Burning Crusade Classic that came before it, there was some discussion about keeping WotLK servers before bringing in Cataclysm Classic, but none are presently available.


The Face Of Azeroth Changed Forever

  • Original Release Date: December 7, 2010
  • New Races: Goblins & Worgen
  • New Zones: Kezan, The Maelstrom, Twilight Highlands, & Gilneas

Cataclysm was a WoW expansion that brought a lot of changes to the world, as the evil dragon aspect, Deathwing the Destroyer, caused a massive cataclysm that reshaped Azeroth. The user interface also changed dramatically and LFG became a permanent fixture. Aside from dealing with Deathwing, players needed to help Vol'jin stop the Zandalari trolls from attacking both factions.

Raids banished the Firelord Ragnaros from Mount Hyjal and then traveled to the elemental plane to defeat him once and for all. During the final battle with Deathwing, the other Dragon Aspects sacrificed their powers, thus leaving Azeroth's protection in the hands of both faction's heroes.

  • Retail World Of Warcraft. Volcanic eruptions drastically altered areas, along with fearsome fires and powerful earthquakes. This event also brought Azeroth closer to the Elemental Plane, which is why Ragnaros and other Elemental lords attacked. As a result, evil elemental spirits invaded Azeroth, and tensions between The Horde and Alliance were reignited.
  • Classic World of Warcraft. Classic Cataclysm was released in May 2024, following the same pattern as the expansions more than a decade ago. This has effectively erased the Classic servers except for "Vanilla" Classic servers, SoD, and Hardcore, all of which are based on the 2004 version.

Mists Of Pandaria

A New Continent And A Neutral Race

  • Release Date: September 25, 2012
  • New Races: The Pandaren (for both Horde & Alliance)
  • New Zone: Pandaria

Normally, this expansion isn't available, but it's currently part of a Retail event; WoW Remix: Mists Of Pandaria. This is a time-limited event that allows players to explore the Pandaria expansion as it was released on September 25, 2012. It started on May 16th and ends in August of 2024.

Mists Of Pandaria introduced players to a new, mysterious island, but it also introduced the Pandaren race. Pandaria was hidden from the rest of the world for thousands of years, but that all changed when the Horde unintentionally chased Anduin's ship onto the continent's shores. As the Horde and Alliance fought, the Mogu allied themselves with the Zandalari trolls and resurrected Lei Shen the Thunder King to reclaim Pandaria.

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The expansion saw the fall of Warchief Garrish Hellscream, whose thirst for power turned him into a Pandaren war criminal, but he also turned against the Horde and formed his own "True Horde" comprised of just orcs. The Alliance and Horde besieged Orgrimmar to stop him, and when they did, both factions agreed to stop fighting.

Warlords Of Draenor

An Alternate Timelineline Of Orcs And Dragons

  • Release Date: November 13, 2014
  • New Races: n/a
  • New Zone: Draenor

Before Garrosh could be judged, he was rescued by a Bronze Dragon named Kairozdormu, who allowed him to travel back in time 35 years to an alternate Draenor. There, he warns the orcs that they will become slaves if they accept Gul'dan's gift of power. This new Iron Horde conquers Draenor and builds a new Dark Portal which allows them to invade present-day Azeroth.

This expansion sees the return of many old faces, and it has the Horde and Alliance join forces with the Draenei. Garrosh meets his end when he battles Thrall, his former Warchief and friend, as well as Gul'dan who goes on to take control of the Iron Horde.

Thrall and Garrosh were extremely close, and when he killed him at the end of the expansion, the emotional impact caused him to lose his connection to the Elements. The former Warchief then decided to go into hiding to spend more time with his family. Thrall essentially decides to walk away from the Horde, and without his leadership, the faction goes down a questionable path.


The Return Of The Demons

  • Release Date: August 30, 2016
  • New Races: None, but introduced a new class, the Demon Hunter
  • New Zone: Argus & The Broken Isles

The next demon invasion occurred in the Legion expansion when Gul'Dan stole Illidan's body and opened a portal at the Tomb of Sargeras. The demons used this portal to pour into Azeroth which forced the Wardens to release the fel-enhanced Demon Hunters. When the Horde and Alliance go to meet the Legion's forces, they take heavy losses, including Warchief Vul'jin and King Varian.

Players end up defeating Gul'Dan again and bringing Illidan back to life. The story in this expansion comes to a climactic end when they travel to Argus using a massive ship called the Vindicaar. The Horde and Alliance continue to battle the Legion on Argus, where they defeat Kil'Jaeden and two Titans.

Argus was Legion's final raid boss, and he would have destroyed everything if the Titan Pantheon had not intervened. Once the Titan World-Soul was defeated, the Pantheon used the last of Argus' power to imprison Sargeras, the Titan who served as the franchise's overarching villain.

Battle For Azeroth

The Betrayal Of Sylvanas And The Rise Of Anduin Wrynn

  • Release Date: August 14, 2018
  • New Races: Void Elves, Lightforged Draenei, Dark Iron Dwarves, Kul Tiran, Mechagnome, Nightborne, Highmountain Tauren, Mag'har Orc, Zandalari Troll, & Vulpera.
  • New Zone: Zandalar, Kul Tiras, & Nazjatar

Many fans were not pleased with the Battle for Azeroth expansion, which saw the Alliance and Horde in conflict after Warchief Sylvannas burned Teldrassil, the home of the Night Elves. The expansion brought players to the troll kingdom of Zandalar and the human kingdom of Kul'Tiras, but it also introduced Warfronts which were massive PVE events.

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Players end up dealing with a Blood Troll uprising, which leads to the release of the Old God, G'huun. Trouble also stirs in the depths, leading both factions to Nazjatar, where they finally battle and defeat Queen Azshara. This act led to the release and eventual defeat of the powerful Old God, N'Zoth.

After Sylvannas betrays the Horde and kills Saurfang, she travels to Icecrown Citadel, where she battles Bolvar Fordragon, who was the Lich King at the time. Bolvar loses the fight, and Sylvanas ends up taking the Helm of Domination from him. Instead of wearing the Helm herself, she breaks it in half, and this causes the veil between Azeroth and the Shadowlands to shatter.


What Lies Behind The Graveyard

World of Warcraft: Shadowlands
ReleasedNovember 23, 2020
  • New Races: n/a
  • New Zone: The Shadowlands

Shadowlands brings players to the realms of Bastion, Ardenweald, Revendreth, and Maldraxxus. As the story progresses, longtime fans get to see the spirits of characters who died a long time ago. Players learn that Sylvannas has joined forces with the Jailer, a God of Death who is trying to conquer the entire Shadowlands.

The expansion also added an endlessly playable, ever-changing dungeon called Torghast, Tower of the Damned, as a way of tapping into the popular rogue-like dungeon trend. Additionally, the discovery of beings much greater than the Titans, who are called The First Ones, brings the universe of World of Warcraft into an even wider perspective.


A New World, A New Race, And Flight Powers

World of Warcraft: Dragonflight
ReleasedNovember 28, 2022
Developer(s)Blizzard, Activision
  • New Races: Dracthyr
  • New Zone: Dragon Isles

Although it's chronologically the earliest, the story of this expansion goes deep into the ancient history of Azeroth to the memory of the various Dragonflights. The talent system has got another total renovation and not everyone was happy about the idea of all the changes.

The pressure was on Blizzard to improve after the exodus to Final Fantasy 14 and the lukewarm response to the previous expansion. Dragonflight was well-liked by players and critics, exploring the unique abilities of the Dractyr race and using level-scaling to make the whole world accessible to everyone.

The War Within

Literally Deep Within The World Of Azeroth

  • Release Date: August 26th, 2024
  • New Races: Earthen
  • New Zone: Dorn Island, Resonant Caverns, Sanctification, Azj-kahet

The War Within is the first of three expansions that will be launching as part of The Worldsoul Saga. The first installment launches on August 24th, 2024, and reintroduces the underground world of the Earthen, a Titan-forged race that also appears in Northrend, along with several new zones that players can explore, including some new endgame content.

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The big bad of this expansion seems to be an entity known only as the Harbinger of the Void, and his plan to use an army of deadly arachnids to conquer all of Azeroth has just reached the ears of both Alliance and Horde leaders.

Midnight (TBD)

The History Of The Elves

  • New Races: TBD
  • New Zone: Quel'Thalas

The setting for part two of the Worldsoul Saga is Quel'Thalas, and the player is the hero who unites the scattered Elven nations for a stand against those who would destroy the Sunwell.

This recalls the long-lost history of Azeroth, which includes a tragic story of how the Night, Blood, and High Elves came to be, and how the use of arcane magic and the horror of The Sundering separated them.

The Last Titan (TBD)

Ancient Galactic History

  • New Races: TBD
  • New Zone: TBD, Northrend

The Titans are entities that existed before Azeroth had evolved as a planet, and players were immersed in some of their lore when they fought Old Gods or toured their old stomping grounds in the furthest reaches of Northrend.

In the third and last installment of the Worldsoul Saga, the story returns to that northern zone that's been a favorite of Warcraft lore and history since the RTS days. Little else is known about this WoW expansion, except that it involves some kind of conspiracy among these ancient and powerful beings.

World of Warcraft
ReleasedNovember 23, 2004

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