What makes expansion great? What is the thing that makes a feature so popular for awhile and then dwindle? And what makes us look to the past expansions with the rose-tinted glasses and reminisce as time goes by?
Wrath of the Lich King is my favourite expansion. Heavy with lore, reasonable with reputation grind and easy on the eyes. I love bright places. And no matter where I went in Northrend, no matter the corruption, scourge or the darkest cave I could find, it was always bright enough. It was fun to see Lich King every now and then show up and let us live. As if he saw our real potential. He waited for us to be at the peak of our strength before he would claim our souls. Or so he claimed. At the end we were victorious, and Arthas met his end at the tip of our collective weaponry. What I did not appreciate was sudden return to the kilts with Paladin armor. Two out of four, was two too much in my opinion. Also, I wish never again lay my eyes on another sword, axe or mace that was shattered and then taped together.
I enjoy Mists of Pandaria it immensely. Currently my second favourite expansion, close behind Wrath of the Lich King. The story is entertaining, and instead of dealing with a bunch of crazy people who want to destroy the world for their own entertainment, we get to see the untouched continent. People who were wrapped in their business for so long they thought everyone else a myth and legend. It is great, even though Golden Lotus dailies were pushing the limit. And it shows, of all the Loremaster achievments, I only got Loremaster of Northrend and Pandaria.
I never played vanilla. I started playing with Burning Crusade. And truth be told, it is currently on the third place of expansions. It was fun, different, and it has two of my five favourite Paladin sets. The Lightbringer and Justicar (minus the helmet in Justicar's case, that thing is hideous). Nagrand with the beautiful landscape, rocks floating in sky with waterfalls falling into the depths. Scorched wastes of Hellfire, mushroom trees of Zangarmarsh, haunting beauty of Ghostlands and pristine treasure that are Eversong Woods with thousand little waterfalls, white trees and golden leaves, green grass and tall walls of Silvermoon. Burning Crusade also featured Kael'thas and Illidan. They were both villains, yet I still always hoped that the expansion would end with Kael'thas returning home and taking the crown. The joke was on me, when he did return only to make even a bigger mess of everything than what it already was.
Cataclysm was the worst for me. Showing the villain I was not really familiar with from before and the change to the old world really ruined the experience. I like change. Change for the better that is. Change for the worse on the other hand, seeing only more destruction is just sad. When I see Barrens split in half by lava, I wonder why they couldn't make it a river instead. I wonder why did Thousand Needles had to be sunk. Why not just a bit shaken? I wonder why Badlands needed that ugly black scar that changed the landscape and why did Stonewrought Dam need to break into pieces. I remember flying form Undercity to Kargath on my way to Uldaman. On my way, the bat always flew over the dam. It looked imposing, mighty, unshakable. And all that was gone.
A great expansion is one that is aesthetically pleasing, bright, with a story that makes us feel involved and in some sort of control. An expansion where gear is obtained with ease, yet you have to invest a bit of effort. Where reputation is gained with the faction by actually representing the faction. And where the villain is a known and established figure. I enjoy a good story of a fallen hero. I like the tragedy. Tragedy is cure for soul. As long as my Blood Knight is not a protagonist.
In many a case, it is probably nostalgia that keeps our interest and does not allow the newer expansions take the throne. As time goes, so our memory fades. We keep in mind the fun we had, and dismiss countless hours of frustrations, wipes and crashes. Because those are at the end of the day irrelevant.