The end-game refers to the part of the game where characters have reached the level cap and are no longer focused upon leveling. While play prior to this point is oriented around accumulating experience and gaining new skills, the end-game represents the polished 'final destination' for players, at which characters are fully developed and ready to tackle the biggest challenges in the game. In the opinion of many players, the 'real' game begins at end-game.
The end is just the beginning
Since leveling is an inherently finite process, all progressive characters will in time reach the end-game. The end-game therefore bears the weight of providing ongoing entertainment and challenges for players once their characters have reached max-level. In contrast to other uses of the term, in World of Warcraft 'end-game' does not refer to the end of the game, but rather the culmination of the leveling process, and the beginning of what to many players are the game's main attractions.
While the game below max-level is an inherently uneven process of expansion and development, inevitably featuring imbalanced and unfinished class design, the end-game represents the finished model of gameplay. Characters have learned all abilities and talents, and are fairly well-balanced against other classes in their strengths and abilities. This affects not only PvP but also PvE, where performance can be expected to be more even for all classes. Developer models for gameplay and class balance are designed for end-game play, with class rotations, talents and synergies often incomplete until max-level is reached.
In contrast to the experience-oriented leveling process, the end-game provides instead a range of goals including acquiring equipment, improving reputation, earning achievements and tackling the biggest challenges in the game. While during leveling gear is quickly discarded in exchange for more powerful new items, the rewards gained at end-game are generally more significant, with players able to accumulate formidable gear which will remain useful for some time.
Following the relatively linear and single-minded nature of the leveling experience, the end-game offers an expansive range of activities for the player to engage in. In contrast to the rapid progression of players through the leveling experience, the end-game is intended to hold players' attention for a substantial time, and consequently features more worthwhile and enduring rewards, as well as many types of play unavailable to players at lower levels.
Note that 'end-game' can refer to both the type of play found at max-level, and the content originally designed for it. As the game has expanded and the level cap increased, much previous end-game content has become a side-show to the leveling process. While the main consequence of this is that much of that content is now passed-by, it also means that some features such as Arena that were once limited to the end-game are now available to players during the leveling process. Nonetheless, player participation in this content is very low in comparison to that of current end-game content, and the lack of relevant rewards also makes this type of play different to that of the current end-game.
Play at end-game involves most kinds of play found during the leveling process, as well as some types found only at max-level, including:
- PvE - earn the most powerful PvE gear in the game, and take on the biggest threats to Azeroth yet
- PvP - balanced PvP offering powerful rewards
- Daily quests and similar systems of progression
- Completing Achievements
- Farming, either gold or resources
- Trading or playing the auction house
- Experiment with alternate specializations and talent builds
- Obtaining transmogrification or vanity gear
- Mastering or picking up new professions to possibly expand one's role in the realm economy
- Leveling secondary professions such as Fishing, Cooking and Archaeology
- Pet battling and obtaining pets either for battle or companionship
- Role playing
- Unique activities such as Sunsong Ranch or the Garrison