Of course, that was the in-game reason. The meta-effects of the expansion saw many of the original zones from 2004 World of Warcraft updated into more modern, streamlined experiences. Old quests were scrapped, new quests were added, and those starter zones became very different than their vanilla incarnations.
Necessary? Probably, but you'll still find players out there that swear by original World of Warcraft. Either way, Cataclysm also marked World of Warcraft's peak — shortly after the expansion's release the game hit its maximum subscriber base of 12 million.
And on into the future
It seemed poetic to end with World of Warcraft's peak. While Mists of Pandaria and (to a larger extent) Warlords of Draenor have both rekindled love for the MMO, it definitely hasn't had as big of a cultural penetration in the last few years.
But that's not to say the game is dead — far from it. In fact, in the wake of Warlords of Draenor's release last week the game jumped back up to 10 million subscribers. That's incredibly impressive for a decade-old game, and especially for an MMO that still charges a monthly subscription in the age of free-to-play. Blizzard's also done a good job feeding on that nostalgia, resurrecting not just the Tarren Mill/Southshore feud but the original Molten Core raid content (scaled now to high-level players).
Blizzard thinks World of Warcraft has at least another ten years to go, and it's hard to disagree with that sort of player retention. Even if not, the game's left an indelible mark on its players, not to mention both the MMO landscape and the games industry at large. Here's to ten years, World of Warcraft.
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