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How World of Warcraft has remained the dominant MMORPG

World of Warcraft Onyxia

Few games have come to define an entire genre the way World of Warcraft has come to represent MMORPGs. But is the game still going strong, and how much longer will it last?

Activision-Blizzard’s role-playing giant has been a great success for the developer and publisher. Though its popularity today isn’t what it once was, World of Warcraft continues chugging along with new expansions and a consistent stream of updates.

The game looks a bit different than when it first launched, and the playing experience has changed dramatically. But the subscription MMORPG remains, and so do many of the game’s players.

What was World of Warcraft’s original release date?

World of Warcraft was originally released on November 23, 2004. It is one of the longest-running games ever to boast a paid subscription model, and that’s in addition to the upfront payments players must make on the base game and its new expansions.

The original game’s development cycle lasted for nearly five years, dating to well before the release of WarCraft 3: Reign of Chaos, which launched in July 2002. World of Warcraft continued the story of WarCraft 3 and its expansion pack, The Frozen Throne, which was released just one year later in July 2003. This meant that WarCraft fans were treated to a new game in the series each year from 2002 to 2004.

World of Warcraft was far from the first massively multiplayer online role-playing game, or MOBA. Ultima Online famously popularized the genre concept and was released several years prior, in September 1997.

Everquest was another popular MMORPG, and was more similar to World of Warcraft in that it was fully rendered in three dimensions. Releasing in March 1999, Everquest led to a spurt of similar games trying to capitalize on the potentially lucrative subscription model, from City of Heroes, to Star Wars Galaxies, to Dark Age of Camelot.

World of Warcraft managed to transcend all of those titles almost immediately upon its release. The game removed some of the more punishing mechanics that had become the norm in MMORPGs, most notably lessening the impact of player-character deaths. It also leveraged the popular WarCraft IP, boasted an enormous and interconnecting world ripe with opportunities for exploration, and had a sheen of production quality that was then considered the norm for Blizzard-developed games.

How many classes are there in WoW?

There are currently 13 playable classes in WoW. This number has slowly grown over the years, with some expansions bringing new classes into the fold. The most recent class to be added to World of Warcraft is the evoker, which was added as part of the World of Warcraft: Dragonflight expansion pack.

The game originally featured only nine classes, with eight classes being playable for each of the game’s two opposing sides, the Alliance and Horde. The paladin class was exclusive to the Alliance, while the shaman class was exclusive to the Horde.

Over time, these restrictions were dropped, and players were able to utilize any of the game’s classes no matter which side they played on. Other restrictions based on character races were also made less severe over time, broadening the race and class combinations that were open to the game’s players.

This broadening of class combinations and allowances has arguably made it easier for Blizzard to balance the game. This was particularly true of the extension of paladin and shaman classes across the Alliance and Horde division.

How many expansions are there for World of Warcraft?

World of Warcraft has now seen nine major expansions released by Blizzard since the original game was released in 2004. The first of these expansions, World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade, was released in January 2007 to great fanfare. This gap of more than two years remains the longest amount of time taken between World of Warcraft releases.

The Burning Crusade was given a generally positive reception from fans and critics alike, as was the next expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, which tied up the major narrative threads left hanging by WarCraft 3 and its expansion pack.

Not all expansions have been positively received, however. The first expansion to receive a more mixed response was Cataclysm, which made significant changes to World of Warcraft’s base structure and existing game world. Multiple expansions since have also had detractors in the game’s playing community.

The most recent World of Warcraft expansion is World of Warcraft: Dragonflight, released on November 28, 2022. This latest expansion pack has generally been considered a success, with particular praise given to its new flight mechanics.

How to download WoW

Like other Activision-Blizzard games, WoW must now be downloaded and launched through the company’s official Battle.net launcher. Players can peruse available downloads on Blizzard’s official downloads page.

Updates to World of Warcraft are automatically served to players who have downloaded the game through the Battle.net launcher, and must be installed in order to play. World of Warcraft is a strictly online game, requiring players to be connected to a server at all times.

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Written by Jared Wynne

Jared Wynne has been covering gaming and esports for the past two decades. He's a former competitor in Counter-Strike, and still counts it among his favorite games along with RPGs like Baldur's Gate and Mass Effect. He studied journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

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