A great MMO expansion brings so much to the table: fresh excitement for a game, new classes, innovative features, expanded vistas, additional races, and more. Pull it off right, and studios rake in big bucks while a spike in player interest sends the crowds in to see the current popular thing.
That’s a great MMO expansion, and we all have our favorites. But a bad one? One that goes down in infamy as the worst that the game had to offer? One that stinks up the joint, repels players in droves, and makes good, functional things far worse? Those are the ones that we hold grudges against for years.
Today we’ll be looking at ten of the worst MMORPG expansions of all time, specific to larger, more popular MMOs rather than itty-bitty ones. To be sure, some people still loved them and some of these packs weren’t quite as bad as some players made them out to be, but in general, here are ten releases that probably shouldn’t have happened as they did.
In World of Warcraft circles, debate is always hot and furious over the worst expansion. There are strong proponents of Warlords of Draenor, Battle for Azeroth, and even Mists of Pandaria to be sure, but the bulk of the vile seems reserved for Cataclysm alone. Blizzard’s attempt to destroy-slash-recreate the world left a bad taste in many a nostalgic gamer’s mouth, and the retooled talents, annoying dungeons, and scattered zones didn’t win many advocates either.
Back in the day, DAoC had a fairly strong following for a PvP-centric game and was on the rise. Then came 2003’s Trials of Atlantis, which became a textbook example of an MMO shooting itself in the foot. Forcing players to go through a painful PvE grind to be competitive in the new PvP scene hobbled if not ruined the RvR foundation on which the game was built. It was a good lesson to developers: Don’t be too eager to introduce super-powerful gear if the cost is unbalancing your game’s economy and meta.
Among the hot-headed and ruthless pilots of EVE Online, Incarna is the only answer to the question of a worst expansion. CCP had promised to take players outside of their cockpits for the first time, but instead of giving players stations and worlds to roam around on, everyone was effectively grounded and sent to their rooms. The community rioted, and the Captain’s Quarters feature ended up being so shameful to the dev team that it took it out of the game years later.
I’m sure that some of my fellow LOTRO players will disagree with me on this, but I still can’t get over what a colossal disappointment Mordor turned out to be. In what should have been the game’s crowning achievement as we followed Frodo’s path into the dreaded land of the Enemy, we ended up in a five-zone slog with the joy of lootboxes, few milestones, and the sly re-introduction of Radiance gear.
Picking a worst RIFT expansion is weirdly difficult because all of them are pretty bad in their own way. And that’s coming from someone who adores the game! But I’m giving the nod to Storm Legion, because Trion Worlds went overboard with the difficulty level and sloppy zone design while hoping that a mostly naked dragon girl would distract the fans.
6. Star Wars Galaxies: Trials of Obi-Wan (and the NGE)
This kind of has to be on here even though the expansion itself wasn’t outright terrible. However, the timing of the release of the New Game Experience — hot on the heels of Obi-Wan — ended up ruining the expansion for those who just started going through it. Smedley promised that fans would find Obi-Wan even more exciting with the NGE’s top-to-bottom game revamp, but in the end the pushback was so fierce that SOE offered refunds from customers who felt bait-and-switched.
Despite Al Rivera claiming that it was the “best expansion ever” with widespread player approval, Delta Rising was a hot mess when it first released. We’re not just talking about the fact that it was infused with Vitamin Neelix, a character that pretty much nobody wanted to see return to the franchise; the expansion was a narrative mess and prone to getting bogged down in horrible ground maps.
To the team’s credit, Cryptic did pour in a lot of work to straighten out some of the more egregious issues and eventually turned this expansion into a respectable slice of content.
EverQuest players are somewhat used to dealing with uneven expansions, but Gates of Discord seems to be the worst of the title’s 200 or so releases. Probably the most egregious issue was the fact that the expansion was supposed to come with a level cap increase, a feature that SOE simply didn’t include nor would until the following expansion. Beyond that, it was a fairly broken and bug-riddled mess. Players left en masse, and John Smedley called the 2004 expansion “SOE’s worst mistake in five years.”
While some expansions are terrible right out of the gate, Knights of the Fallen Empire went the Trojan horse route with an initially crowd-pleasing release. However, in an effort to get back to its single-player KOTOR roots, BioWare went and transformed SWTOR into a single-player MMO that jettisoned open worlds in favor for heavy instancing and a storyline that proved more divisive the longer players went through it. Players weren’t exactly thrilled that all of their companions had taken off due to the five-year narrative leap, either.
While Heart of Thorns certainly has some fans and proponents, Guild Wars 2’s first expansion received (and continues to receive) plenty of vitriol from those who felt that it delivered a sub-par story while veering the game in an undesirable direction. Players were also generally not fond of the tougher zones, grindy progression, and the move away from dungeons and into raiding.