World of Warcraft’s player base has been on a downward trend for years. Granted, in Blizzard’s case, that’s a very relative measure. The 5.5 million subscribers the company reported in November 2015 was a low point that the title hadn’t hit since 2005, but WoW still dwarfs other massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). When Blizzard announced last year that WoW had fallen to 5.5 million subscribers, it also said it wouldn’t be sharing subscriber information going forward. But a quote from a recent interview with game designer Tom Chilton seems to imply that the company’s figures have leaped skyward once again.
According to an interview in the Polish magazine Pixel, WoW’s subscription figures have surged to 10.1 million in the wake of Legion’s launch, nearly doubling the company’s reliable total. While this still doesn’t bring WoW back up to its glory days, it very nearly does — as the chart below shows, WoW peaked in mid-2010 with 12 million subscribers. Blizzard, however, refuses to confirm or deny this figure, only saying it won’t provide data on subscriptions going forward.
Bringing subscription numbers back up to 10.1 million, even if its temporary, is a huge boost for Blizzard — and WoW is still the behemoth in the industry, even if it has lost a little weight. While I hate to rely on anecdotal data for subscription information, I’ve seen a number of old friends and guildmates popping back to play the expansion and staying for more than the handful of weeks required to level up and complete the initial content.
We’re working on a full review of Legion, but in light of the subscription jump, I’ll say this: Based on my experience thus far, World of Warcraft: Legion is the best expansion Blizzard has ever released. While I can’t claim to have played them all, I was an early closed beta tester for World of Warcraft and played the game from early 2004 through the end of Cataclysm and the early zones of Mists of Pandaria. With Legion, Blizzard decided to emphasize a single-player storyline — and while WoW’s lore is fairly standard fantasy fare, focusing tightly on your player’s individual character makes the game more interesting.
Overall, this is the most polished I’ve ever seen an expansion be this soon after launch. That doesn’t mean there are no rough spots — play an MMO long enough and you discover there are always rough spots, and since the game constantly evolves, you often get them all sanded out about six months before the next expansion launches. I’ve never been particularly interested in the story behind WoW until this expansion, and I’m still running around finishing zone quests just to see how the plot plays out. There have always been individual quest chains in WoW that commanded that kind of interest, but there are more of them in Legion — and a lot more for individual players to do without worrying about signing up for the 4-6 hour raiding grindfests that often made the game inaccessible to those with limited amounts of time, or who simply didn’t want to play with 39 other cantankerous people while trying to progress through end-game content.
The slideshow above highlights some of the new zones and environments of the Broken Isles, WoW’s latest new continent to explore. Feel free to drop your comments below — do you like how Legion has evolved, or did you prefer one of the previous expansions? While there’s no guarantee that Blizzard will retain a larger player base in the next few months, Legion’s story and overall gameplay have been strong enough that I plan to stick around a little while to see what happens next. Getting back into the game was rough, but I’m glad I did.