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The Ups And Downs of World Of Warcraft 2010-2019

Robin Baird Posted:
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Maybe it’s just because my life has changed so drastically over the last ten years, but 2010 feels like it was a lifetime ago. Things got even murkier when I started thinking about the most significant changes which happened in World of Warcraft this decade. Then I remembered Cataclysm didn’t launch until the end of 2010. For the majority of that year, we were still doing Wrath things. For help in reminding me of when things happened, I turned to the World of Warcraft Timeline on Wowpedia. It’s a great resource to look at when things happened, but I’d like to delve a bit deeper into some significant moments here.

Wrath of the Lich King Wind Down

One of the first big things to happen in 2010 was the 3.3.5 Patch, which included, among other things, the implementation of Real ID. Before Real ID, the friends list was limited to your character and server. Real ID changed all of that. Players could choose friends to become Real ID and be able to chant across server, faction, and even in different games. For the most part, this was a welcome change, and the fact players had to opt into it made it pretty much perfect. The alternative system, Battle Tags, which lets players choose a name to be known by wasn’t implemented until Patch 5.0.4 (MoP pre-patch).

The part of Real ID, which went over like a lead balloon, was the plan to force all posters on the forums to post using their Real ID. There was even an option to make your main character’s name and realm visible next to your real name. Although some people supported this change, mostly thinking it would lead to more civil discourse if people weren’t anonymous, most responses were firmly against it. While yea, I’m sure some people were sad about the idea of trolling under their real names, most concerns were about safety, especially as it relates to kids playing WoW because unlike in-game, this change wasn’t going to be voluntary. Thankfully though, Blizzard rescinded this planned change a mere three days later.

Another critical point is the often-quoted line of “WoW was the most popular during Wrath, so that was the best expansion” is a bit off. The 12 million sub mark was reached in 2010 and happened sometime in the preceding quarter (it was announced in October of 2010). Icecrown had been added at the end of 2009 and was fully opened during January 2010. If it were really Wrath drawing people in, I would have thought the subs would spike sooner. Or heck if people were waiting around to get to fight the Lich King, a spike at the end of 2009 would have made the most sense. Not to mention we were in Icecrown for an entire year (no Ruby Sanctum doesn’t count) so it’s not as if there were all kinds of great new content in 2010 drawing people in.

What makes the most sense is Wrath was a highly successful expansion overall (it gave us our first real in-game cinematics after all) and riding on that there was a ton of hype for Cataclysm. Because Cata gets so much flak for being a bad expansion, it’s effortless to forget how many players looked forward to it at the time. That’s also the key there. A significant portion of the disappointment over Cata had a lot more to do with how high player expectations were leading into it. Sure it’s fun to get hyped about stuff, but sometimes it just leaves an impossible to meet expectation.


On December 7th, 2010, Cataclysm launched with all its fury and glory into our unsuspecting hands.  One of the ways Cata was different from the expansions prior was the max player level only increased five levels to a max level of 85. One of the reasons for this was as part of the pre-patch The Shattering happened and transformed both the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor. While purists will lament the shattering, overall, it was a good thing. It made the entire world feel new again and introduced some exciting questlines to the original game. Of course, I do miss some of the old zones and questlines which were taken out, but life moves forward; it doesn’t stay stagnant. Also, the revamp allowed flying to be possible in the old zones which was not possible before.

It feels like Firelands gets overlooked when people talk about Cata, but I have to mention it because it is still one of my favorite raids. All of the bosses were interesting and offered unique challenges, which you’d think could be said about every raid, but most bosses are the same with a slightly different mix of abilities. For example, Beth’tilac required splitting the group a bit with one group fighting her on her webs which was weird and fun. However, my favorite fight was Alysrazor because back then, I was a Shadow Priest, so I got to fly around in all the rings which was utterly different from anything I had ever done in a raid previous, and a blast. Seriously, I have no idea what people who stayed on the ground did because I just flew around that entire fight!

While overall, the Hour of Twilight patch was pretty solid, it gets a lot of hate. One reason is we were stuck in Dragon Soul for eight months, not as bad as Icecrown, but Icecrown was a more interesting raid. Also, the Spine of Deathwing fight was a huge pita, though I do have to give them credit for unique mechanics there as well. Another reason this patch is looked down on is this is where LFR was first introduced. People love to hate on LFR, and most of the time the reasoning is pretty terrible as it only affects people who choose to do it. There was some argument for some people feeling like they had to do it to get their tier bonuses asap, but at this point hating on it just pointless.

One excellent all-around addition that came with the Hour of Twilight patch was the addition of transmogrification. I know some people don’t like it, but personally, this was one of the best additions to WoW. I am by no means a fashionista, people who have met me in real life are laughing themselves silly at the notion, but I do love not having to have mismatched gear. Also, it allowed my warrior to use some of her old armor and weapon skins I always loved. Of course, this first round of transmogrification was very restrictive and unlocks were unique to each character. Nonetheless, it was a very welcome change and for those of us who had been hoarding items since vanilla, it was also an exciting time.

Mists of Pandaria

Mists rolled around in September 2012 and brought with it what felt like a new direction for WoW. Not only did an entire island appear out of nowhere, but it also seemed like it might be the beginning of a new course for Horde and Alliance. Sure, there was a whole war going on and Garrosh did terrible things. Jaina, who had previously been all about peace, was now out for blood, but there was still hope. Anduin was beginning to come into his own and had finally grown beyond his childhood. Additionally, Varian had shown some signs he was also maturing a bit and might be able to consider peace.

One of the core themes of Mists was the idea a person’s emotions could manifest in the real world and cause real trouble for people. This kind of forced both the Horde and Alliance to step back and examine why they fight, and what’s the point. Particularly with both coming together to defeat Garrosh and then having Vol’jin as the new leader of the Horde. At the time, it felt like things might change between the two factions. Vol’jin was undoubtedly poised to be the greatest Warchief they’d ever had and things were left with an uneasy peace, but there was still peace.

Mists also brought with it the first round of the cinematic shorts we’ve all become accustomed to. The Burdens of Shaohao tells the story of the last Pandaren emperor before Pandaria was enshrouded in mist. Sure, lore shorts were being presented outside of the game, which can be dicey for some. However, these were also artfully crafted and told a compelling story that indirectly furthered the storylines we were experiencing in-game. These were not something I ever looked for from the WoW team but once I saw them, I just wanted them to keep making these. The fact every expansion since Mists has also had shorts, and that they are expected at this point, is an indication of how positive the reception to the Shaohao story was.

In terms of game system changes, the biggest and most impactful change was the overhaul to talent trees which came with Mists. The trees were removed entirely and replaced with the tiered talents with three choices in each row, similar to what we have now. Through these changes, some talents became baseline while others just disappeared. The main issue with the old trees was they often offered the illusion of choice. There was nearly always a correct choice and a wrong choice and very few reasons to branch out especially when doing endgame content. The new tiers were intended to offer more options and give players talents, which might be useful for one boss and a different option for a different boss. This kind of worked out long-term. I do change my talents depending on what boss we are working on, sometimes. Unfortunately, most of the time there is still always a “correct” choice.

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Robin Baird

Robin loves RPGs, MMOs, JRPGs, Action, and Adventure games... also puzzle games... and platformers... and exploration games... there are very few games she isn't interested in. When it comes to MMOs she focuses on WoW and GW2 but will pick-up other games as they catch her fancy. She's a habitual returner to FFXIV because that game is an all-around great MMO.