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What signals the end of an expansion?

Anne Stickney

Wrath of the Lich King ended on kind of a sour note for me, largely because I didn't get to participate in my guild's one and only 25-man heroic Lich King kill before Cataclysm launched. Part of the rankle was for personal reasons, but part of it was also that for me, that kill would have ended the expansion. Never mind that we didn't kill Halion on heroic -- that was filler content, as far as I was concerned. Wrath of the Lich King was all about the Lich King and seeing him die.

But really, it goes back farther than that. In vanilla, I had no idea what an expansion really was; my MMOG experience was limited to WoW, for the most part, with a brief dabble in City of Heroes. So terms like expansions didn't make any sense to me until a friend explained what it meant: a new game was coming, building off the game I was already playing. No, I didn't have to purchase it if I didn't want to, but I wouldn't be able to see any of the new stuff if I didn't. And then my friend showed me just a sampling of all the cool stuff to be seen in The Burning Crusade. A beta invite later, and I was thoroughly hooked.

But there wasn't an end to vanilla for me. One day, I was playing vanilla WoW; the next, I was tromping through the Dark Portal and headed to Outland.

Jaded Alt wrote a piece over the weekend about her guild's accomplishments and the impressive number of achievements she's racked up this expansion. As of her guild's heroic Madness of Deathwing kill, Windsoar's only got one raid achievement left to gather for this expansion. And that is really impressive to me -- I'm still missing the achievements for heroic dungeons, never mind the raid ones. Windsoar talked about what she and her guild will be doing as the expansion draws to a close, which really got me thinking -- at what point do people say "All right, call it a night and wrap it up?"

For all my wide-eyed ignorance at the term expansion, by the time I got done testing things in beta and leveling through The Burning Crusade, I was pretty pleased with the whole idea of the thing. But one thing bothered me and continued to haunt me -- honestly, it's haunted me since The Burning Crusade launched. I missed that closure moment with vanilla WoW; my raid guild evaporated during AQ40. I never saw the 40-man version of Naxxramas. Instead, burnt out on raiding, I mostly fiddled around with PvP and occasionally helped people out with runs of Molten Core and Blackwing Lair.

In The Burning Crusade, the raid guild I eventually joined was pretty good and a very friendly group of people, but we barely set foot in Sunwell, choosing instead to endlessly farm Black Temple. I didn't say anything at the time because I honestly didn't mind repeatedly killing Illidan, and Black Temple was a fun place, but there was a part of me that mourned the fact I would never see Sunwell as current content. I switched raiding guilds mid-Ulduar during Wrath, and just when I thought I'd see that final boss in Icecrown downed ... I didn't.

Here's the weird part: For some reason, I have it fixated in my head that the end of the expansion is signaled by the defeat of the final raid boss on the highest level of difficulty. I have absolutely no idea how or why I decided this. I wasn't even raiding at the end of vanilla and hadn't been for months, but for some reason, I thought a Kel'Thuzad kill was the big It, the big The End, roll the credits, now move to the next thing. And that intangible, whatever it was that made me decide this, has stuck around through three expansions.

My guild's happily plowing through heroic Dragon Soul and will likely see heroic Madness complete in plenty of time before Mists. But now I have this uneasy, questioning sensation of whether or not that The End in my head will actually be anything like I have apparently been dreaming about for years. And I'm still wondering -- is this a typical thing for most people? Is it just a raider thing? And why on earth would I latch onto a raider thing when I wasn't a raider?

So I leave the question to all of you: What signals the end of an expansion? Is it defeating the final boss? Is it whatever in game event that pops up before the next expansion's launch? Is there even a moment where you look around, pat yourself on the back and say "Good job!" before moving on, or do you simply play without thinking of these kinds of things? What's the end of Cataclysm to you and the beginning of Mists of Pandaria?

It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!

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