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The 15 Best Games Since 2000, Number 3: World of Warcraft

Despite being almost 11 years old, World of Warcraft still remains the most-played MMORPG. Here's why.

Retrospective by Jaz Rignall, .

We're nearing the end of our daily countdown of the 15 Best Games Since 2000. Want to read more? Check out the rest of the entries here.

Jaz Rignall Editor-at-Large

The cultural phenomenon that is World of Warcraft needs little introduction. Launched in November 2004, and still going strong with some 5.6 million monthly subscribers, this massively popular, massively multiplayer game evolved and essentially defined the modern-day MMORPG.

Played by an audience of some 12.5 million during its peak in 2008, and having earned developer Blizzard in excess of $10 billion so far – making it the biggest-grossing game of all time – World of Warcraft is a juggernaut that has only recently shown signs of finally slowing down. With almost 100 million accounts created so far, what makes it so popular? Many things.

It's the sheer size, scope and complexity of this multi-faceted title that draws in such an incredibly broad audience. Simply put: there are a vast number of things to do in this game that appeal to a wide spectrum of gamers, from hardcore PvPers fighting nightly to the most casual of Sunday afternoon players pottering around for a couple of hours a week.

WoW's fundamental gameplay involves selecting and customizing a character – a damage-dealer, healer, tank or hybrid variant. The player then levels up that toon by exploring the lands of Azeroth, completing open world quests – many of which articulate stories and background to the game – and participating in five-player dungeons. There are raids too. These are more complex and involved dungeons that can take several hours to work through, and require anywhere from 10 to 25 players. Back in the early days of WoW there were even 40-player raid dungeons. Those have since been canned due to the complexity of organizing such a large group. Then there's the PvP side of the game, which features battlegrounds involving teams of up to 40v40, plus 2v2, 3v3 and 5v5 arenas. And that's just the basics.

Additional expansions have added features like a farm, essentially your own in-game house, a garrison and shipyard, which you can build and customize, and a host of different crafting systems that enable you to make items like armor, weapons, jewelry and augments for your character. There are also many mounts to find and collect, as well as hundreds of personal pets that you can capture, level up and use to battle in competition with other pet owners, Pokemon-style.

And then, of course, there's the vast game world itself. The original "vanilla" World of Warcraft introduced two very large major landmasses to explore, and since then, the Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King, Mists of Pandaria, and Warlords of Draenor expansions have all added big new regions to the game, each with their own capital cities and many new zones, plotlines, and landscape features. The third expansion, Cataclysm, didn't add any new regions to the game, but did add new zones to the two original vanilla lands, as well as extensively modifying them.

What helps keep players at their keyboards is the fact that Blizzard continually updates the game with content patches. These appear every few months and contain refinements to the existing game, but, more importantly, add new dungeons, raids, and gear for characters to earn. That, combined with the regular expansions appearing every two or so years on average helps keep the game fresh enough that it continues to hang onto its audience some 11 years after its launch – something that few other games can boast. Even with its gradual, inevitable decline, the game currently still has more paid subscribers than any other MMO.

But bottom line, it's the gameplay that is the secret to World of Warcraft's success. It features a level of difficulty that can be completely tailored by the user. From simple dungeons where even a novice who's not fully familiar with the game can pull their own weight to highly complex, advanced raids that challenge the very best of the best WoW players, World of Warcraft has a flexible difficulty setting that lets players find and stay within their own limits. It's an exceptionally clever system that's flattering to pretty much anyone who plays it.

How many more years World of Warcraft has in it remains to be seen, but with yet another expansion on the horizon, there's no sign of the game letting up anytime soon. Sure, its subscriptions might be on the wane, but over five million players are still paying to play the game, even now. No, WoW is here to stay for a good while longer, and I'm sure it'll have a few twists to its tale as of yet. Put it this way: I was an avid player of the game up until very recently, but I'll certainly re-up my subscription to play the game again when the new expansion arrives, even though it might not keep me occupied every day like the game used to.

Ultimately, World of Warcraft is a seminal title; an MMORPG unlike any other. Its sheer size, scope and gameplay is unmatched by anything else out there, even over a decade after its release. That's because few, if any other companies will ever have the resources to be able to create a game that can truly compete with it. We'll probably never see anything quite like it again.

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Comments 9

  • Avatar for Compeau #1 Compeau 2 years ago
    So far exactly one game from the USGamer list would also be in my personal top-15 for the 2000s: Red Dead Redemption.

    But that's OK. Everybody has different tastes, and it just goes to show how many great games have come out over the past 15 years.
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  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #2 SigurdVolsung 2 years ago
    I would list this up there for the 3rd most influencial game of that period, but probably not my 3rd best. But I did play it for years. My favorite era of the game was vanilla WoW when MC, Ony, and BWL were the only 40man raids. Probably my favorite time spent in an MMO. I didn't hate the expansions, but there was just something magical about that time. Even if finding 40 people on at the same time and for the right classes was difficult at times, even in our massive guild... 50 dkp minus.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #3 brionfoulke91 2 years ago
    Never liked WoW much. I remember back when I was playing Starcraft and Warcraft 3, and mostly the multiplayer. Just for fun, I tried dabbling in the single player campaigns, and they were kind of fun, with amusing storylines. But the idea that anyone would take those silly storylines seriously was something I just didn't consider. When Would of Warcraft was first announced, I naturally had no interest, as the worlds in Starcraft and Warcraft were not worlds I was particularly interest in exploring. I still to this day don't really understand the appeal, or why they are so successful.

    Personally, for me, FFXI is the best MMO I have ever played. I don't know if I'd put it on a list of the 15 best games since 2000. Even the best MMOs still don't come close to being as good as the best single player games.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #4 MHWilliams 2 years ago
    @Compeau You're a saint and a gentleperson. Great comment.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #5 SatelliteOfLove 2 years ago
    God this game and the community used to be so damn GOOD and getting better back in the day before going 180.

    Modability, responsive play, scalable art direction, distinctive granular goals.


    @MHWilliams


    That philosophy has been my marching orders for years now.

    #wierdassgamingtastesEdited 2 times. Last edited August 2015 by SatelliteOfLove
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  • Avatar for PlatypusPlatoon #6 PlatypusPlatoon 2 years ago
    World of Warcraft might be my favourite game of all time. It's hard to say - how do you compare an MMO that requires such an intense time commitment that it becomes a standalone hobby, to a casual game with loads of plastic instruments that fill up your living room and makes for great parties, to an epic single-player RPG with an unforgettable cast of characters and soundtrack, to... well, any other game that's completely different from the rest? Apples and oranges and 18-wheel tractor trailers. It's already unusual to see an MMO on a list of this sort, because "Top X" lists tend to focus on memorable single-player experiences for the hardcore gaming crowd, whatever the heck that means. But this is why I love USGamer. Once I saw League of Legends at #14, and then Minecraft at #5, I knew all bets were off, and anything was on the table.

    Bringing the discussion back to WoW for a second, it has to be one of the best co-operative games of all time, if not the best. Despite playing on a PvP server, I was never a big fan of any of the competitive aspects of the game. There were simply lots of games that did competitive multiplayer much, much better, and to this day I guess I still don't understand the appeal of Battlegrounds, or Arena. But that sweet, sweet, PvE content. There's nothing quite like jumping into this game with several of your real-life friends, and tackling an instanced dungeon while you each play your specialized roles to perfection. The sense of teamwork, camaraderie, and satisfaction this engenders is beyond any reward that a single-player game can offer, and WoW was the perfect sandbox in which to play.

    At its best, the game itself is kind of like the lobby of other multiplayer games - you just go in there, hang out in one of the towns, chat, check your auctions, craft some gear, and dawdle around. Before you know it, all of your friends are also online, and then you gather round and jump into one of the many dungeons. It basically replaced hanging out in real life for us for nearly seven months - for better or for worse - because it was just that much more fun to hang out in the virtual tavern than in a real life coffee shop.

    Despite not having logged in in eight years, the time I spent in WoW was among the most fun I've had with a video game. I can't wait to see what's coming up at #2 and #1.Edited August 2015 by PlatypusPlatoon
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  • Avatar for theresacatalano27 #7 theresacatalano27 2 years ago
    I'm not a fan of this particular choice. Not that WoW is a bad game, but it's not my favorite MMO and I don't think any MMO belongs on this list, personally.

    But that's okay. I actually agree with a lot of your choices so far. Katamari Damacy, Cave Story, Super Mario Galaxy, Resident Evil 4, Minecraft, Persona 4, and Shadow of the Colossus. That's over half. Can't really ask for much better than that for a list that is chosen democratically!

    Now if the #2 and #1 choices could just be Bayonetta and Dark Souls respectively, that would make me very happy! Cmon democracy, I know you can do it!
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  • Avatar for theresacatalano27 #8 theresacatalano27 2 years ago
    @NiceGuyNeon I think a Souls game is still a given. I'm totally happy to not see Halo, Half Life, or Portal on the list... I wouldn't put any of those games in my top 15. Okami and Ninja Gaiden Black would both be nice, but I think Bayonetta is a better choice than those two games, so I'm hoping that will be #2. A top 15 list without Bayonetta just doesn't seem right.

    It's a shame that a couple of spaces were wasted on games like League of Legends and Grand Theft Auto.
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  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #9 KaiserWarrior 2 years ago
    I fell out of love with WoW at the end of Wrath of the Lich King. Coliseum of Champions left a really bad taste in my mouth despite the neat idea of turning Ikaruga into an MMO raid, and I stuck around long enough to see Arthas die before hanging up my priest's hood and staff. I dabbled briefly in Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria but never took them seriously, and I skipped Warlords of Draenor entirely -- the first WoW expansion that I did that with.

    Ultimately I disagreed with the direction Blizzard took the game in. I appreciated the depth and diversity of the gameplay in the early days, and with each new expansion they gradually removed more and more of that. I won't judge them too much on that front; you gotta do what you gotta do to try to change it up and grow your player base, but I had more fun with the game when there was more to playing your character, more decisions to be made and more options for a variety of situations.

    But when I loved WoW, I loved WoW. I'd never seen anything like it, and I will never see anything like it again. You can never go home again, and you can never experience MMOs for the very first time again either. The sense of awe and wonder, of exploring a whole new world full of mystery and magic, of being a completely unique character with a story and a personality that comes through in how you play them... these things simply can't happen any more, once you've become a Veteran of MMOs and you've settled into the groove of reducing these games to their mechanics and systems. It stops being about weaving spells and starts being about calculating optimal rotations and planning your next five GCDs. It stops being about contemplating the sombre duty of killing young nightsabers to control their population growth, and starts being about the dread of the upcoming level grind. It stops being about wandering around the world, taking in all of the music and the neat little details and just stopping to look out over that moonlit valley as the haunting zone theme rolls over you, and starts being about sitting in the Dungeon Finder queue so you can hurry up and get to the level cap so the real game can start. It stops being about your Night Elf priest being a tailor because she likes to sew, and starts being about working on your crafting for the end-game enchants or upgrades you can get out of it.

    You can never go home again. You will never again be as innocent and naive as you were when you fell in love with the game, when you could love it just because of the opportunity it represented.

    But you'll never forget those days. They'll always stick with you.

    WoW is one of the very few games I can say those things about, even if I no longer care for it. Good pick.
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