I remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 2004 and it was a damn good year for gaming. We saw the release of a ton of top-tier titles such as Halo 2, Half-Life 2, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and Fable to name a few. Some would even argue that November 2004 was one of the best months in gaming history.

On November 23rd, 2004, two days before my 16th birthday, World Of Warcraft was launched. I remember walking into Best Buy and seeing the display for it. An MMO set in the Warcraft universe? I lost my mind. I was OBSESSED with Warcraft lore. I played the hell out of both Warcraft III: Reign Of Chaos, and its expansion pack The Frozen Throne. I remember beating Frozen Throne wondering what was next? Where was the story going to go? I needed answers. And on that very day, I was finally able to get the answers I was seeking by creating my own hero of Azeroth.

The game allowed you to play one of two factions: The Alliance or The Horde. Set after the events of The Frozen Throne, the tensions were high between the two of them. At the time both factions had 4 races to choose from. The Alliance had Humans, Dwarves, Gnomes, and Night Elves and The Horde had Orcs, Trolls, Tauren, and Undead. Once you picked a race you could choose from one of 9 classes: Druid, Hunter, Mage, Paladin, Priest, Rogue, Shaman, Warlock, and Warrior. Paladins were exclusive to Alliance and Shamans to Horde. Once you had chosen your race and class your journey began.

Now back in my day, WoW was hard. The level cap was 60 but it was no easy feat to achieve. Various classes had access to different weapon types, BUT to effectively use those weapon types you had to individually level each weapon skill. Each class had specific talent trees you could spend points in to customize your play style. A Warrior could spec into Arms to be an effective damage dealer, or Protection to be an effective tank. But if later down the road you wanted to try the other tree out, you’d have to pay a hefty fee in gold… and gold was not easy to come by in those early days of WoW.

Trying to solo quest as certain classes and specs was damn near impossible. Leveling up professions was a massive grind. Getting around the world took so much real-world time until you found all the connected flight paths. At level 40 you could purchase a mount for a 60% traveling speed increase but it was EXPENSIVE. At 60 you could get an even faster mount which was a 100% speed increase but good luck having the gold for this one. If people saw you riding around on a level 60 mount, you were pretty much the cool kid of the server.

Once you hit the level cap you could grind out dungeons to get better gear… but to do that you needed a group and finding one wasn’t easy. You either would have to join a guild or spend an hour in general chat trying to assemble a squad of 5 (And in some instances 10) people to slay the beasts and get the loot. Once you had some solid gear on your character you’d be ready to tackle a raid that would get you THE BEST gear for your specific character class. But to run a raid you needed 40 PEOPLE to get that done. If you wanted to raid, you had no choice but to be in a guild.

Writing this I look back at my early days playing WoW and part of me smiles. I had a Night Elf Rogue named Lanta. I was part of a guild whose name I can no longer remember. Once a week we’d get together in TeamSpeak to run Molten Core, which was the only 40 man raid available at the time. I remember gearing my self out in the best armor at the time, The Nightstalker Set. I had a pair of what was considered the best daggers in the game at the time, Perditions Blade and Core Hound Tooth. I had maxed out Alchemy and Herbalism and was cranking out potions for myself and my guildmates. I even managed to max out all weapon skills for my rogue.

I started diving into Player Vs Player content and hit the battlegrounds hard. Battlegrounds were these mini warzones where both factions battled each other in various capture the flag and capture point game types. There was a ladder on each server with the title of Grand Marshall waiting for the best of the best. I remember working my way up to Lieutenant Commander and being only 4 ranks away from the top. I was a hardcore player and at the time one of the elites. It felt damn good.

The thing is at that time I was only 16 years old. Life was different. I had all the time in the world. I’d spend 8 hour days grinding it out. Some days I’d be up till 2am with my guildmates running dungeons and raids. The amount of time I poured into that game would be considered a full-time job at that point. Looking back part of me feels a little ashamed that I poured so much time and effort into a game. But I did have a lot of fun and make some great friends along the way.

I’m now 31 years old. I’ve grown and changed a lot. And much like I’ve grown and changed in those 16 years, so has World Of Warcraft. Since launch, World Of Warcraft has had 7 major expansion packs: The Burning Crusade, Wrath Of The Lich King, Cataclysm, Mists Of Pandaria, Warlords Of Draenor, Legion, and Battle For Azeroth. The 8th expansion, Shadowlands, was scheduled to release on October 27th but has been delayed to November 23rd which will be WoW’s 16th Anniversary.

Through those 7 expansion packs, we’ve seen a lot of changes to the game. Instead of 4 races to choose from per faction we now have 11 races per faction to choose from. The Alliance has added the Draenei, Worgen, Void Elves, Lightforged Draenei, Dark Iron Dwarves, Kul Tiran, and Mechagnomes. The Horde have added the Blood Elves, Goblins, Nightborne, Highmountain Tauren, Mag’har Orcs, Zandalari Trolls, and Vulpera. Mists of Pandaria added a 12th “neutral” race that can be played on either faction, The Pandaren.

We now have 12 classes total to choose from. Monks which were added in the Pandaria expansion, and two hero classes: The Death Knight and Demon Hunter which were introduced in Wraith Of The Lich King and Legion expansion packs. Shamans and Paladins are available to both factions. Talent builds have been drastically reworked. They’re much simpler, all are viable to solo content, AND changing them no longer costs any gold. You simply walk into a rest zone and swap talents.

Up until the recent Pre-patch for Shadowlands, the level cap was 120. Blizzard went and squished it down to level 50, and it’ll be raised to 60 once Shadowlands is released. Unlike 60 back when I played 15 years ago, hitting level 50 is a MUCH easier process. It no longer feels like a grueling grind and you actually enjoy the entire process along the way because of how well done the entire quest system and storylines are.

Speaking of quests and storylines, 15 years ago we had nothing but long quest descriptions to read and voiceovers were reserved to single lines bosses would spurt out. While we still have to read quest descriptions, we now have lots of voice-over lines for quest givers. We have in-game cinematics that plays out during some quests and we even have fully rendered high-quality story cinematics for major events that happen in-game.

Dungeons are extremely well done. You have an extension of the zone storyline play out and the bosses have full voice-over dialogue with you. The same goes for raids that have an even more epic feel to them. When it comes to finding groups for Dungeons you simply hit a button, pick which one you want to run from a drop-down list, and you’re thrown into a waiting queue that finds others to fill the slots in the group. Raids require only 10 people and if you’re lucky you can even queue up and find people to run them in that way.

Making money and leveling up professions is a piece of cake now. As you get through your quests in specific zones you’ll find plenty of resources to collect for your specific profession. The auction house is streamlined and you can easily put the materials up for sale and turn a quick profit. Mounts are MUCH cheaper now and with how quickly you can make money, you’ll be riding in style in no time flat. Oh… and did I mention that mounts can fly now?

World of Warcraft today has made the leveling process so much more streamlined and enjoyable. Because of this you can reach level cap easily and enjoy endgame content even more. Instead of just having a few raids and dungeons to run at level cap you now have endless amounts of content to run. In the Legion expansion, they even added the ability to get rare class-specific armor sets and mounts. The new races require you to complete a questline to unlock them. You can also farm for older armor sets and use the new Transmogrification feature to give your new gear a classic look.

In 15 years WoW has traded in its hardcore grind fest of an MMO for one that’s more accessible to the general audience. If you’ve only got a few hours a day to play, you’ll still find it rewarding and fulfilling. If you somehow can spend hours on end playing, there are even juicier rewards waiting for you.

WoW hasn’t just grown gameplay wise though. It’s had a MASSIVE graphic overhaul that has managed to make this game look like a game look even better than it did at launch. With that graphical upgrade comes enhanced character models and an even better character customization system.

I honestly never would have imagined this game would last this long. I figured Blizzard would have shut it down at one point to move onto World Of Warcraft II. But instead, they’ve managed to keep the game growing and keep it fresh that people still keep coming back 15 years later.

I’m now 31 years old and instead of a level 60 Night Elf Rogue named Lanta, I am now playing a level 50 Night Elf Warrior named Ryuko. I’m enjoying the game just as much as I did when I first played it in 2004, and I honestly like it more. I’m currently grinding to unlock the other Alliance races so I can make my alt a Void Elf or Lightforged Dranei Priest. I still haven’t settled on which race but I’ve got time. I’m also getting ready to make an Undead Mage on the Horde side so I can hit the level cap and snag those new Horde races too. Shadowlands is set to come out on November 23rd so I’ll have even more new content to enjoy once that comes out.

World Of Warcraft is a game that has stood the test of time and has shown that if you want to keep going, you have to be willing to change. Some diehard fans are angry about this but Blizzard released a WoW Classic client for that exact audience. If for some reason you want to spend hours on end getting a character to 60, individually leveling each weapon skill, and running a raid with 40 people, you have that option. But for me? I’m going to enjoy this new WoW and I have a feeling ten years from now I’ll be right here again writing another piece about how World Of Warcraft is still going 25 years later.