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

Then there were raids--giant dungeons that can only be completed when dozens of players come together as one functioning unit. Gamers who participated in Vanilla WoW’s 40-man raids may recall the rush of stepping foot into Molten Core or Blackwing Lair and downing Ragnaros or Nefarian for the first time, respectively. Teamwork was (and still is) absolutely essential. Just one false move from anyone in the raid would usually result in a wipe--the same holds true even now, years after WoW’s inception. Never had a game rewarded hard work and communication more, and there’s no feeling quite like the adrenaline-pumping, heart-pounding rush of downing a boss seconds after it hits an enrage timer.

Many legends were born during WoW’s formative years, too, including the Corrupted Blood Incident in which a deadly poison from a smaller raid instance boss spread throughout the Horde capital of Orgrimmar, killing auction house bystanders in droves. Barrens chat--the chat channel in a notoriously large Horde-specific zone--became renowned for Chuck Norris jokes and tons of eye-rollin’ trollin. Oh, and the famous Leeroy Jenkins made his debut during this time as well, paying homage to those beaten down by Upper Blackrock Spire’s once-grueling difficulty.

But players also created their own stories and shared them with one another. They still do. Guilds triumphantly recounted a long night’s slow but steady crawl through Blackwing Lair’s suppression room, while hilarious tales of new recruits accidentally jumping to their deaths during Icecrown Citadel’s gunship battle were laughed at for hours on end. There were stories of wiping on a boss one percent away from death. Stories of glory, guts, and plenty of guild drama. You could build a name for yourself in Azeroth, and, to this day, the companionship and camaraderie that WoW enables is unmatched.

WoW’s expansions--The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, and Cataclysm--proved the game was not only capable of reinvention, but also of innovation. A new PVP mode--the Arena--became one of the most popular and competitive skill-based modes still in existence, while raid parties were reduced in size from 40-man outings to smaller 25- and 10-man versions. Finally, more casual players could group together without having to worry about trying out for “hardcore” raiding guilds, instead opting to team up with real-life friends and acquaintances a couple nights each week. Heroic modes of normal instanced dungeons were also introduced, allowing access to powerful but less-than-raid-equivalent gear. The hardcore players felt these heroic dungeons trivialized the loot gained from raiding, but all they really did was make more casual players feel like they weren’t missing out on the fun (but really, they were--WoW’s raid boss mechanics are unparalleled in complexity and challenge).

Eventually, a dungeon finder tool was included, allowing players to queue up for instanced dungeon runs and PVP skirmishes without having to spam chat channels for groups or travel to the physical locations of those places. Blizzard’s system was implemented into the game, too, meaning players from different servers could finally chat or group together for dungeons and PVP battlegrounds. These elements are now considered to be practically essential for fledgling MMOs.

Some of WoW’s playerbase has been lost to genuine disinterest, while others bailed once the ever-evolving MMO lost that “special something” they had once loved. But the game’s constantly shifting nature ensured that hundreds of thousands of new players would find an experience just as deep and compelling as those who’d jumped ship.

And now, with Mists of Pandaria merely a week away, we have truly started to admire one of WoW’s crowning achievements: its ability to adapt to current MMO trends. It’s a game that continually reinvents its world (see Cataclysm) and character classes (see Pandaria). Its never-ending stream of end-game content constantly rewards long-term players, while its lore-rich world and dozens of instanced dungeons and multiple PVP battlegrounds keep even the low-level gamers entertained. Its user interface is fully customizable via player-made addons, and Blizzard adopts the best of them as official in-game features. It even offers a free-to-play starter edition, giving players free access to the game up to level 20. It’s no wonder WoW has managed to so thoroughly capture our hearts. And our lives. And our many, many dollars. For each new expansion that improves a game many have come to love--and for all the players those expansions leave behind--new champions rise up, eager to become Azeroth’s new protectors.

We just hope that huge, inviting world treats you as well as it has treated us.

"Why _____ is one of the best games ever made" is a weekly feature that goes through GamesRadar's list of the 100 best games of all time and highlights different titles, explaining why they're on the list, what makes them so amazing, and why we love them so much.

Associate Editor of @GAMER Magazine