We’re kind of thinking about the first World of Warcraft expansion around these parts this week. No particular reason, especially in my case; I’m not in the beta test for The Burning Crusade Classic and wouldn’t be super-inclined to do much in it even if I were. I remember all of this stuff from the first time when it was genuinely new, and I don’t feel a burning desire to serve as unpaid QA for the expansion revival. But I did wind up thinking about all of the ways the expansion wound up changing the game, and let’s be honest: It’s a lot.
In many ways, TBC represented not just an expansion but a fresh chance to re-examine some of the design choices that had been baked into the game from launch. It set up a lot of things, both good and bad, that have defined the game even more than its initial launch managed. So let’s take a look at some of the most influential changes made to the game with the launch of its first expansion and how TBC changed WoW forever.
1. The end of faction classes
It seems almost quaint now to think about the idea that for the first chunk of WoW’s lifespan, Paladins and Shamans were exclusive to specific factions rather than being fundamental parts of the class library for both factions. At this point even original races for both factions can use these classes, to boot. But it’s true, there was a time when the Horde and Alliance had access to one of these and not the other. It’s why some of the early design made them roughly analogous to one another, even though they never really seemed to be all that much like copies, and it’s hard to imagine it now.
2. The introduction of scaling content
These days, scaling is kind of a nightmare. You’ve got four separate difficulties of every single raid that are all balanced separately, and as a result the game is somewhat overstuffed with… well, content tiers. But back at launch, it wasn’t the case at all. There was no such thing as Heroic difficulty when the game launched. All of this was a specific change that TBC brought to the game, with dungeons now having two difficulties to scale up so that your leveling dungeons were also your endgame challenges.
Some of these may have wound up going a bit overboard at some point, if you haven’t noticed.
3. Making every spec valid
If you wanted to tank in the original game, you played a Warrior. If you wanted to heal, you played a class with a healing spec because that was what you would be doing in dungeons and raids. There were very clearly right and wrong choices when it came to specs, and you could expect to find yourself in a pretty narrow role by the level cap. TBC was the start of a major shift there, and while it wasn’t wholly successful, it was clear that the goal was to ensure that every spec was a valid choice at the level cap.
Yes, even if that choice was wanting your Warrior to be a DPS.
4. Currency-based gear vendors
What’s that? I already wrote an article about the stupidity implied in the term “welfare epics,” so I don’t need to reiterate that? Whew. Anyhow, yes, this is when all of those systems started to be a thing at all.
5. Daily quests
Debates over the merits of daily quests are probably going to continue for half of forever, but they’re not really a foundational part of the game. It was only in TBC when they got added, and as a result they served as a major change to the structure of the game by giving players access to a repeated source of reputation, money, and other rewards via repeated quest objectives.
Whether or not you like dailies on a whole, the influence this has had on the game is pretty undeniable, especially as even more modern options like world quests only exist as a direct response to how players have engaged with daily quests over the years. Daily quests weren’t even a launch feature for the expansion, but they’ve definitely had a pretty big impact on the game as a whole.
6. Structural changes to raiding
It’d be nice to say that TBC represented the point at which the game settled into a specific paradigm for how raiding would work, but that’d be lying. What would be honest, however, would be to point out that TBC did represent the point at which it became clear that structural changes to raiding were on the table for any point in the future. There was no such thing as a fixed or inviolable rule about how this content worked; it would be adjusted and changed based on the needs of players and Blizzard as a whole.
7. The modern content island
I didn’t say all of these were necessarily good things. TBC definitely served as the template for what would later become WoW’s dominant content model, wherein the new zones are all clumped together in a way unconnected to older stuff and often with no real explicit connection or quests leading you back to older areas. Of course, Outland being a literal floating island was a bit on the nose.
Oh, the debates. Is flying a good thing in the game? When will players be able to fly? Should maps be designed around being more interesting when flying? How much should flying matter in the game? All of these wouldn’t exist if not for the fact that, well, TBC introduced the idea that you could have your very own flying mount and enjoy slipping the surly bonds of gravity under your own power.
What strikes me as at least a little funny is that this was largely a thing because Outland is a collection of islands floating in space, so being able to fly makes a certain amount of gameplay sense right off the bat. Still, once you’ve introduced it, you’re going to be hard-pressed to convince players to go back to running everywhere instead of continuing to fly, which is how we cycle right back around to the debate of when people get to fly every dang expansion.
9. Bombing missions
These days there are a lot of different quests and objectives that involve players hopping in vehicles or the equivalent and going into a short genre-bending experience, ranging from the rolling club in Mists of Pandaria to the Flappy Bird experience in Shadowlands and so forth. But all of these trace back to the bombing runs that were first introduced here, a quest that was so popular the developers added the ability to just go on another bombing run for no real rewards.
10. Expansion resets
Here’s perhaps the most subtle and yet most long-term unhealthy element of this first expansion, normalizing the idea any given expansion represented a chance for Blizzard to rewrite and reboot good chunks of the game as desired. In many ways this is a good thing, but in other ways it leads to the expansive problem wherein a large number of fundamental systems are rewritten more or less at a whim now, that each expansion is much a full reset as it is an addition to the game as it exists now.
But hey, this all started when the expansions did.