Why World of Warcraft is one of the greatest games ever made

For a second, forget about whether or not playable pandas will ruin World of Warcraft (hint: they won’t). Forget about “welfare purples,” “broken” class mechanics, or the jaded WoWers’ ill-conceived belief that Blizzard is inept when it comes to MMO design. World of Warcraft is, without a doubt, one of the best games ever. It took ideas and mechanics straight from the genre’s originators and streamlined them in ways no game had before. WoW wasn’t a niche experience enjoyed almost exclusively by the fantasy crowd--it infected the hard drives of families and hardcore gamers alike. In any given pick-up group, you were just as likely to party with husbands, wives, ex-husbands divorced by neglected wives (or vice versa), kids, teens and tweens.

Prior to WoW’s launch in 2004, MMOs were often structured in such a way that only players who were able to dedicate hours of play per day could enjoy them. Many had taxing death penalties (ahem, Everquest), and several more required lots of grinding to hit that ever-elusive level cap. WoW, on the other hand, allowed you to quickly get back in the action after death, simply diminishing the durability of your gear instead of detracting experience points from your character. It also revamped the leveling experience by establishing myriad questing hubs--small outposts bloated with quests--to disguise the amount of grinding necessary to level. No, quests weren’t a new idea, but WoW piled them on you seemingly ten at a time. Killing 20 monsters under the guise of a quest was far more enjoyable than killing them just for experience points, especially when completing quest objectives yielded additional rewards.

What’s more, those quests embellished the rich lore established by the Warcraft series--especially the hugely popular Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and its expansion, The Frozen Throne. To this day, the Warcraft universe maintains one of the most fully realized fictions in gaming, spawning a series of comics, novels, board games, trading card games, and more. It’s immensely deep, and produced some fantastic fantasy heroes and villains. From its launch, WoW was extremely successful at dividing its fanbase into two of the most fiercely loyal factions in all of gaming. If you chose to play on the Alliance side, players often lamented that the Horde were better at structured PVP, while Horde players complained the opposite, often adding that Alliance players predominantly consisted of babies and sexually inexperienced males.

While none of the claims from either side were ever statistically proven, both factions resented one another with immense hatred. Those grudges often carried over into real life. Just watch Youtube videos from Blizzcon, Blizzard’s once-annual convention, where you’ll see thousands of players en masse shouting “for the Horde!” or “for the Alliance!” in unison.

That faction loyalty was further fueled by guilds--large groups of players that worked together under one uniting banner. While guilds existed long before WoW, the game’s sheer number of players resulted in huge communities that promoted teamwork and rivalries while cultivating friendships, marriages, and (probably) lots of break-ups.

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  • Xtapolapopotamus - September 19, 2012 2:06 p.m.

    Great article, and anyone who says WoW sucks is generally a troll. The game may not be for everyone, especially now, but its mark on the MMO genre and gaming in general simply can't be ignored. I thought I was done for good after Cata, but I've re-subbed and am eagerly anticipating MoP. Whatever the exact reason is, WoW is hard to stop paying attention to.
  • JohnEP - September 19, 2012 2:12 p.m.

    I have to agree. The hours eaten away from my life by WoW is truly staggering. I finally quit due to sheer saturation but I can remember events in the game better than things that have happened in RL. World of Warcraft will go down in history as the best computer game ever created.
  • ObliqueZombie - September 19, 2012 2:47 p.m.

    Fantastic article, Ryan. I started playing at the beginning of last summer, and though I had a few months hiatus (thanks to SWTOR--I regret nothing), I've been back on track for a few more months and I can honestly say I haven't enjoyed a game this much in a long, long time; not to mention enjoying for a long time. The lore, too, is what draws me in the most. I'm nothing if not reliant on ambiance, atmosphere, and straight-up feeling, and WoW nails in in the MMO department. Christie Golden has written some of my favorite game-to-book iterations, and I'm eager to continuously delve into the lore. It's just such a shame I can't play this, play every other game, and go to college and get a job effectively. If only I wasn't a rounded gamer, maybe I could sink more time into it.
  • RyanTaljonick - September 19, 2012 2:50 p.m.

    Thanks! Some of Golden's WoW novels were pretty rad; others not so much. But there's a LOT of great story in that game if people are willing to sort through it and pay attention :D
  • ObliqueZombie - September 19, 2012 7:33 p.m.

    Yeah, Christie Golden is, I believe, the Golden Goose of the WoW novels. Most, if not all, of her stuff is stellar. I personally have read The Shattering, Thrall, and her brand new Jaina Proudmoore: Tides of War, all of which gave me emotional roller coasters I never thought WoW lore capable of. Richard A. Knaak, however, I've heard didn't do it justice. Not a personal word of mine, but just something I've heard from Vanillan WoW fans I know. But seriously, if you have some time, I recommend Jaina Proudmoore whole-heartedly. I'm usually a slow reader, and three days is what it took for my to finish this wonderful piece of literature.
  • NelosAngelos - September 19, 2012 2:57 p.m.

    While I've grown bored and am starting to get frustrated with this game's shortcomings. I will admit, of the 7 years I've played on and off with this game, many hours of it were very enjoyable. No one can deny that Blizzard did something right with this game, and 10 million people at one time all agreed the same thing. I love Warcraft, always will. World of Warcraft however I don't think I'll ever go back to, but I will say that it left a huge impression on my life as well as the MMO genre probably for the rest of it's history.
  • PhantomDave - September 19, 2012 3:18 p.m.

    I can't argue with this, the same way I can't argue that Justin Bieber is popular. But to say that it STILL is, is beyond ridiculous and is for no other reason than attempting to generate hype for an expansion coming out. Because this game is far, FAR from what made it great in the first place anymore.... I used to love this game. I played for years of my life when it came out. But it turned into a joke to the point of actually pissing me off and quitting. The only reason such a majority keep playing it is because they like having their hands held to a level cap, or they've been playing so long they then have to start asking themselves why they've been wasting their time after the repeated care bearing it's progressively been going through. It's time to put this mess of a game to rest and begin with WoW2 already, and bring it back to it's competitive roots. No more of this "Everyone Gets A Trophy" mentality....
  • RyanTaljonick - September 19, 2012 3:26 p.m.

    But why SHOULDN'T everyone get a trophy for playing? The people who put more time into still get the shinier ones, anyway. Your raid / PVP gear has far better stats than anything from a hard mode 5-man run.
  • KnowYourPokemon - September 19, 2012 5:28 p.m.

    Exactly. I'll never understand the mind set honestly.
  • Juicyfruit - September 19, 2012 4:27 p.m.

    Opinions are great huh?
  • CapnClassy - September 19, 2012 3:29 p.m.

    Never have I ever played a game with such an immense amount of lore in any game. Sometimes when I got bored of grinding I would often just explore around the different regions zones of Azeroth or Outland just to find something new :)
  • Redeater - September 19, 2012 3:50 p.m.

    You misspelled Warcraft 2. Seriously though, I'll never understand how people still aren't bored with this game. My friend has played it religiously since its debut while I hit level 40 after a few months and never had the desire to return.
  • KnowYourPokemon - September 19, 2012 5:21 p.m.

    Different people like different games, the individuality of opinions is extremely outstanding.
  • ObliqueZombie - September 19, 2012 7:35 p.m.

    Some people just aren't into MMOs. They play them, sure, but getting to max level is hard for some--like my friend Jared (Flyin Machine on the GR site). For me, the lore drives me. How it makes me feel when playing it, not just the gameplay alone, though I love that just as much.
  • Viron - September 19, 2012 7:38 p.m.

    I wouldn't have such a problem with WoW if it didn't choke up the market and essentially run a monopoly.
  • laurenhiya21 - September 19, 2012 9:46 p.m.

    I'm not quite sure what's so enjoyable about WoW, to be honest ><; I tried to play it a few times... I just couldn't get into it though It's not that I don't like MMOs (I really like Mabinogi, and there was another one which I played for a bit...), but I guess I might just be picky with them >-<;;
  • Shnubby - September 20, 2012 8:22 a.m.

    It's a great game no doubt but seriously it needs an addiction warning on the packet because even when I stop playing I often get an urge in the back of my head to hand over some more money to Blizzard so that I can get back to playing! I wish I could quit it completely as easily as some other people have!
  • Scoob - September 20, 2012 10:06 a.m.

    There's a difference between addiction and behaviour modification (operant conditioning). TheCakeIsaPie above you linked an article explaining the basics quite nicely in layman's terms. While the end result is very similar, the difference is that addictions are a disorder, while operant conditioning is about affecting your compulsions. If you end up going to university and have to take a lab class for any reason, take an intro to psychology class. It'll change the way you see video games today in a good way. You'll start playing them for fun rather than shooting for the meaningless rewards (points, trophies, etc).
  • TheCakeIsaPie - September 20, 2012 8:55 a.m.

    Saying WoW is a good game is like saying heroin is a good drug. Effective at what it does? Yes. Addictive? Very. That doesn't make it good. WoW was a very well constructed, expertly executed Skinner box whose only purpose was to rake in $15.00 per month from 10Million subscribers. Just make Warcraft 4, already!

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